Dorcas Mulenga works for Twende Education for All, an NGO supporting children’s learning while they are admitted to the Children’s Cancer Hospital, part of the University Teaching Hospital of Zambia. Twende was founded in 2016 by Andrea Mwalula and is located in the children’s playroom. iSchool Zambia donated 10 tablets at the start of the project in 2016 and another two tablets in May 2018. Dorcas shares here how the tablets have helped the children.
‘The Mwabu educational tablets have been a great source of help and joy for the children admitted at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. We have children like Namukolo, a Lozi girl who travelled to Lusaka from Mongu with her family to seek medical treatment. She stopped school in grade three because of her illness and has been in hospital for over five months. Namukolo cannot speak any other language but is able to learn using the tablets because some of the lessons have been interpreted in Lozi. When we give her work, she is able to answer it in her own language. At times I’d have my doubts if the child is really understanding what she is learning, but when I check the marking key after she attempts the quizzes on the tablet, and see that she has got most of them correct, it makes me smile. It reassures me what a great help these tablets have been to the children, even those that can’t understand English.
When I first came to work for Twende, I thought I was coming to teach about nutrition and environmental health, but instead I found myself teaching the young patients primary school lessons! Twende has been open for over two years and I have been here for eighteen months. When we just started, it was very challenging because some of the parents didn’t allow their children to go with a stranger, when we would invite them to join us for lessons. Eventually, the parents understood what we were trying to do, especially after visiting the playroom and observing what we did with the children. We also assured them that they were free to collect their child from class any time the doctor needed the child.
A typical day at the hospital runs like this; the first thing my colleague, Frida Bwalya Mumba and I do is go to the wards, greet all the children and parents, check which children are fit and well enough to learn, and take them with us to class. Next, we have Bible study and divide them according to their grades and begin our lessons. After lessons, the kids go to the reading corner where they read stories on either a book or tablet.
Some children may be weak, but insist on joining the class and we lay big pillows for them on the floor where they lie down with their tablet to learn. As for those few that are just too weak to leave their bed, but still want to learn, we leave the tablets with them for the entire evening. For example, 10-year-old Kashimbi who is very sick, but cries for the tablet so we often leave it for her in the evening. She was in grade two when she had to stop school because of her illness.
I remember we had two blind patients, Rebecca and Janet, the blindness must have been a side effect of the medication because it was temporary but they still wanted to learn. Their sight is back now but during that period when they were blind, we’d turn on the tablets for them, put headsets over their heads and play a lesson or story for them and they’d be laughing and enjoying themselves. The two girls didn’t want to be left behind and would come to the class feeling the walls or using their stick to guide them to the playroom. They wanted to learn despite their challenges.
When you get attached to the children, it feels like they are your own. They open up to us and tell us anything. It’s heartbreaking whenever we lose any of them and many have died in the time that I have worked here. But even when we are mourning, we try not to show a lot of emotion to the surviving children. We need to keep their hope alive through school lessons, stories and songs. Thank you iSchool for helping us with our mission.’
Lackson trying out the iSchool tablet.
Mwabu Trainer Ruth showing Dorcas Mulenga how to use the tablet.
Ruth and Hazel teaching Lackson how to use the tablet.
The children watching a film with Roberta – a volunteer who visits the ward every Thursday, bringing her television and a movie for the patients to view.