Maanza a Leza … Through Muka’s eyes


Muka Kambol's story illustrates connection between a jewelry ministry at Mullins United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, with her educational journey from Africa to the United States. (Submitted photo)

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By Margaret Carbaugh, Mullins United Methodist Church, Memphis, TN

Muka Kambol first heard of Maanza a Leza during a bitterly cold winter more than a decade ago.

The Zambian native now lives in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, with Debi Gray, the founder of Maanza, along with her children and husband Jacques, while he attends seminary.

Muka recalls the winter she was in the 12th grade and the almost-impossible journey that took her from life in the remote village of Sichebeya to university, a husband, graduate school, and then to Memphis.

“I was attending boarding school in Choma,” she says. “I was so cold that I could not study or sleep at night.
“Is it ok if I ask for a blanket?” she wrote to her sister and her brother-in-law, who was attending Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis. He passed along her appeal to volunteers with the grassroots group that would become the Maanza a Leeza jewelry ministry, housed at Mullins United Methodist Church. They decided it was very much ok, and sent the blanket.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Today, Muka enjoys luxuries she never dreamed of as a girl: clean water at the touch of a tap, warmth in winter and reliable transportation so her husband can attend seminary. Most importantly, she can take their daughters to preschool.

Back home, life in the village has also changed, thanks to the work of Maanza and other United Methodist churches in East Memphis.

“We now have our own well,” Muka says.This means that girls do not have to get up hours before dawn, as she once did, and travel for miles via ox cart, just to collect clean water for families in the village.
But like many other Zambian villages, Sichebeya still has no running water or connection to the country’s still developing electrical grid. Solar power is far from universal, but solar panels are available to the few families with the means to buy them.  In these houses, students who have access to books can read and prepare their lessons after dark.

At the same time, villagers still gather under the stars to pound out music on homemade guitars and drums, sing, and dance until campfires sputter out and leave the compound in darkness. Only then do they walk back to their homes, to sleep until daybreak and another day of farming and tending livestock.

Another thing that has not changed: Students must wake early to do their chores before walking to school. “The girls have zero percent time to study,” Muka says. “They do most of the work in the village, from gathering firewood and hauling water to cooking.  Many have to do these chores with a younger brother or sister strapped to their back in a sling.”

Muka recalls that options were limited for girls when she was in school. “Classes were available for only grades 1 to 4 before Maanza helped build additional classrooms and teacher housing,” she says. With few other choices, most of the girls dropped out of school and settled for a hardscrabble life in the village, which meant an early marriage and a lifetime of childbearing and hard physical labor.

There were times that Muka considered doing the same, given the obstacles that students had to overcome. They first had to get to a school that offered classes for additional grades, and it was in a community more than 6 miles away, along an isolated goat path through the brush

Muka tried to meet up with students from other villages, because it was dangerous to travel alone. “Most of the time, we had to go barefoot,” she recalls. “We had to cross streams of running water, which meant we had to keep from slipping on rocks and being swept away.

Muka remembers the time she saw a cobra in the brush, head poised and ready to strike. “Luckily, I was able to run backwards very fast,” she laughs.

Doing well after graduation from middle school was even more difficult. “Up to middle school, lessons are taught in the native language of each Zambian province,” Muka explains. “By secondary school, students are expected to gain proficiency in English, and entrance exams are in English.
“I had many friends who were bright, but they did not pass the exams for high school, because they had no time to study, and their education up to that point did prepare them well enough.”

Muka did better than many of her classmates, in part because she was encouraged by family members, such as her father and one of her aunts. As a result, she passed her exams for high school and received a scholarship from a Christian organization to pay for her tuition at the boarding school where she had first become acquainted with Maanza.

The same organization started out supporting Muka during her freshman year at the University of Zambia. Two things happened that threatened to slam the door shut on Muka’s education.

First, unrest on campus and student riots led to the university’s closure. Then Muka found out that she was no longer eligible for funding from the same source. Still, she applied for, and was admitted to, a different program at Africa University in Zimbabwe, not knowing where the money would come from.

Help came from United Methodists in Memphis. After high school, Muka had been recruited to work with Maanza as a field reporter, communicating back and forth between the villagers and volunteers with Maanza. “I prayed to God for sponsorship and also asked Maanza to pray for me.”

To Muka’s surprise, Maanza decided to sponsor her college expenses. Later on, the ministry also agreed to support her enrollment in a two-year’s master’s program in public health-global health at a Zambian University.

“Surely again, this was the Lord working in my life,” she says. “Though I had a good job, there was no way I could afford tuition.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, so I had a huge responsibility to help my siblings get at least a high school education. I come from a family of 10, and I am the fifth, so I had four young siblings looking to me for help.”
“Maanza not only transformed my life, and that of my children,” she says. “It has also helped the village lift its way out of poverty by building additional classrooms and recruiting teachers to come to the village.

“With the additional classrooms, children can continue their education through the ninth grade at Sichebeya School,” she says. “At that point, they have the opportunity to sit for competitive exams to continue on to high school and even college.

“Additionally, young girls have options to early marriages and child rearing. In short, Maanza has given hope to those who did not have hope.”

CLICK HERE to read more about Maanza a Leeza jewelry ministry.
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