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Local couple working to educate Zambian youth

January 7, 2018
By Melinda Brinkman
Photos courtesy Rick and Cathy Hatcher

When Rick and Cathy Hatcher first began their missionary work that took them to numerous countries around the world in the early 2000s, they were only looking to help rebuild churches and to bring the word of God to its people. That changed in 2013 when the Hatcher’s landed in Zambia, Africa, and discovered their calling of helping to educate its youth.

“We felt from the beginning that the people of Zambia had a special place in our hearts,” Cathy explained. “We have developed many friendships there and feel this is where God wanted us.”

According to the World Food Programme, Zambia, located in Southern Africa, has a population where 60% of its people lives below the poverty line. The country, suffering from a “lost generation” of middle aged people due to diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and polio, Cathy said, has left many children as orphans and with little means to support or educate themselves.

Though most children in Zambia grow up speaking their native dialects, the official language of the country is English.

This means that all official business, government and public schooling is conducted in English. Children are expected to not only understand English but read and write the language as well. This is especially important by the time they start taking required testing in the sixth grade.

Though public schooling is free for families and funded by the state up until the seventh grade, parents are still required to provide uniforms, books and other educational items for their children.

Due to this inability to speak English and the extra costs, most children in Zambia do not make it past the sixth grade. This huge dropout rate leaves a poor and an under-educated population with little chance to break the continued cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

In 2013, the Ed Project was formed while the Hatchers, former educators themselves, were visiting churches in the bush of Zambia.

By incorporating preschools to teach English in the churches that they were helping to rebuild, the Ed Project could help the Zambian children learn English by providing supplies, such as books, writing boards, desks and benches. The Ed Project could also assist with educational training for the teachers working with the children and providing food to help feed them also.

On their return to the United States, the Hatchers raised the funds to purchase materials and other supplies that they shipped back to Zambia when they returned in 2015. It was during this trip that eight preschools were started in the rural areas.

In these preschools, Cathy distributed supplies and began sharing basic teaching strategies with the teachers. While she with was working with the educators and often the children themselves, Rick helped build benches and tables to furnish the classrooms. Up until then, children had often sat on the dirt floors to listen to their teacher and did not even have writing boards to help with their work, much less books to learn to read.

In November, the Hatcher’s returned from their latest trip to Zambia and discussed their success as well as struggles with the Ed Project. As with all educators, watching your students succeeding under your help is always the greatest joy of all but even with that, they were still disappointed to learn that only four of the eight original preschools was still operating.

“Our teachers are all volunteers and they are having to give up their teaching positions to provide for themselves and their families,” Cathy said. “It takes about $75 a month to sponsor a teacher that would allow for them to provide for themselves, while continuing on with educating the children.”

Cathy went on to explain how back when they first started the Ed Project, the school supplies that they originally needed were not able to be purchased in Zambia. In those days, the best option was to acquire them in the U.S. and ship them over to Africa. Since that first trip though, Zambia’s cities have grown enough that almost all school supplies can now be purchased in country.

Today, back home in Idaho, the Hatchers are focused on raising funds to help purchase supplies for the Ed Project and to help provide an monthly allowance for their teachers. Cathy said there also is need of picture and activity books, written in English, but these books still must have a relatable theme for the African children, something that is most difficult to find in United State’s books stores.

To help with the fundraising Cathy has partnered with an illustrator and written a children’s book series titled "Mulenga." It is about an African boy named Mulenga and describes his life growing up in a rural village. These books are based on actual African experiences that were shared with the Hatchers while in Zambia and include stories about life with crocodiles and disruptive elephants.

The Mulenga series may be purchased on Amazon and proceeds goes towards funding the Ed Project.

For more information on The Ed Project, visit their website at edprojectzambia@squarespace.com, contact Rick and Cathy Hatcher, P.O. Box 1832, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805, or email EDProject.Zambia@gmail.com.

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