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Education as the Instrument for Poverty Alleviation: The Other Side Foundation, Zambia.

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Article by Flavia Russo

As the ancient Chinese proverb by Laozi states- “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Education is the most important investment a country can make for the efficient and effective development of its people, economy and future. It is the most powerful of instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and the foundation for sustained growth and development (Patrinos, 2016).

It is educational programs exactly like the ones The Other Side Foundation, (Lusaka, Zambia) endorses, that invest in all individuals within a community, that are instrumental for effective, inclusive and, crucially, long-term poverty alleviation. Educational programs that emphasise the importance of values and building networks to support all members of the community; that not only offer funding to start agricultural markets and sales but also provide key skills and advice for self-sufficiency; that empower grandmothers, single mothers and women and that give new hopes and opportunities to all children.

The Other Side Foundation was born while Leela Singaram Champ (a Singaporean) was volunteering for an American NGO in 2006, in Lusaka, capital of Zambia. Along with her husband Denis Champ (a French), they witnessed countless scenes of poverty, most striking perhaps of street kids sleeping in monsoon drains during the night and living under plastic sheets withstanding cold Lusakan winters. These children of economic migrants come from rural Zambia to “the big lights of Lusaka, thinking that the capital would be their Eldorado”, not knowing that at that period the AIDS pandemic in the country was at its peak, with approximately 23% of the population dying of HIV (World Atlas, 2017). Employment was at its lowest, forcing these migrants to live from hand to mouth and squatting in markets like Buseko in Matero, one of the poorest places in the outskirts of the capital. AIDS also gave rise to numerous orphans and child headed families.

During her time volunteering for the American NGO, Leela was approached by a lady who owned a church in the Buseko slums, one of Lusaka’s poorest shantytowns, who asked her to set up an orphanage to help bring some sort of alleviation to the devastating situation. However, understanding that an orphanage would only have provided shelter and food temporarily, her foresight directed her to a more long lasting solution: EDUCATION. Leela knew that education would give these children a more solid foundation and help them break from the poverty rut. It was this immediate, spontaneous and reactive response to a grave situation of disease, poverty and unschooled children that gave rise to The Other Side Foundation (TOSF), based in Lusaka, which today develops projects in the fields of education, health and micro-financing to support particularly children and women.

Registered in 2007 with the Zambian Registry of Societies, TOSF started to grow between the walls of a church’s shed; a long hall where six classes were held, including adult literacy. There were no classrooms, just one big, bustling and noisy church hall filled with small groups making up each class. In just six months, the small number of 15 students grew to 65 children, young adults and mothers.

Since 2008, thanks to TOSF’s patron and sole donor Daniel Sigaud, a friend of the Champs, TOSF bought land and constructed a school in George Compound, an impoverished area close to Buseko. The new cohort of 7 Zambian teachers and 5 support staff (cleaners and security guards) operating from The Other Side Foundation School provide free education, a daily nutritious meal and access to medical care for about 500 students, all of whom are either orphans or vulnerable children (OVCs).

TOSF’s goals are in line with the UN MDGs (United Nations Millennium Development Goals) seeking to contribute to the eradication of poverty and hunger; combating disease; the provision of primary school education and the empowerment of women. The non-profit provides a clear, structured plan which allows students, staff and volunteers to work comprehensively towards achieving its goals. The Foundation aims to deliver viable and sustainable solutions by empowering OVCs through an integrated values-based education, cultivated in a nurturing environment where basic healthcare and the provision of at least one nutritious meal a day are accessible to the marginalised. TOSF strives to include all types of learners, from young children to teenagers including adults, guiding them to take their studies to the next level. Lately their grassroots outreach program is also targeting gender equality issues catering to teenage girls through their Girls’ Club at school and to young single mothers and widows. TOSF also strongly believes in empowering families headed by grandmothers and single mothers giving them seed funding to start small market sales of vegetables or groceries in the shanty towns. A literacy program aimed specifically for widows and single mothers, whose only source of income until then was selling empty bottles and weaving brooms to feed their children, is also ongoing. Empowering the women in the community to learn to speak and write in English enables them to find employment as house help within the capital city, elevating their income and providing new hope for their children.

After all, as Leela rightly emphasises: A Literate, Educated Mother is “the source and pillar for better educated, happier and healthier children”. TOSF is the only community school in Lusaka that provides a Values Based Education, founded on Education in Human Values (EHV), a UNESCO endorsed program. All of their students are either orphans or vulnerable children coming from very dysfunctional families, thus they are disorientated and some have aggressive tendencies. Some children who are abused at home by guardians

and extended family members come to school hungry, tired and shattered which triggers violent disruptive behaviour. However, with the EHV programme and the help of their caring and understanding teachers, who themselves were once OVCs, counsel and manage the situation at hand very well. Many students have learnt to seek help at school and live by values that are taught in the classrooms enabling them to be happier, less violent, more

disciplined, sharing and caring children. The EHV programme thus provides a values-based foundation for their lives ahead in society. TOSF’s learning ethic enhances team work and good morals among staff and students, thus creating a family-like environment. Through the Caring Hearts Group TOSF school teaches the students to share what little they have. This encourages the students to always share; no matter how little they have, enhancing support networks within the Lusaka community. Since its foundation, TOSF has fed over 1 million meals, provided 6,000 children with primary education and sponsored 500 more to secondary schools. Their value-based education system, nutrition programs, medical care

access and vocational training creates a community in which all individuals are empowered. TOSF foster an attitude of gratitude towards all, so that the children and their caregivers can be a force for change, not just within their community but also within their nation. The community at large is benefiting from TOSF’s presence in Zambia.

Fundamental to growth and poverty alleviation, all development achievements are possible through education; from health advances such as combating diseases like HIV and AIDS, to agricultural innovations, efficient public administration and private sector growth (King, 2011). Moreover, education promotes values essential for gender equality, empowering women and girls, reducing child marriages as well as [gender based] violence (Global Partnership for Education). Values that are transmitted through education are vital for the

happy livelihood of individuals, allowing for the promotion of peace and security which are essential for sustainable socio-economic growth (Patrinos, 2016).

Restricted access to education transmits poverty from generation to generation. Thus projects that allow and encourage schooling form a young age are essential to generate sustainable livelihoods for young people across the developing world. However, while enrolment in schools is a critical first step, growth, development and poverty reduction depend on the knowledge and skills that individuals acquire, not just the number of years that they sit in a classroom (King, 2011). Therefore, to make a long term impact on global poverty, it is essential to sustain inclusive educational programmes that empower, foster and teach entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency. The story and philosophy of The Other Side Foundation, vividly portrays the essentiality of education for effective poverty alleviation. It is a clear reflection of the successful impact on local development that results from access to education and consequently healthcare, inclusive participation and empowerment of women and girls and investment in manual and entrepreneurial skills.

TOSF is undeniably giving foundation and support to the lives of many orphans

and vulnerable children who live in precarious conditions. The work of the

Foundation for over 12 years has been phenomenal and has given new

opportunities and opened vast horizons for many of its students and their



Global Partnership for Education. “Education is a vital human right and plays a

key role in human, social, and economic development”. Available online:


King, E. (2011). “Education is Fundamental to Development and Growth”.

World Bank Blogs. Available online:



Patrinos, H. A. (2016). “Why education matters for economic development”.

World Bank Blogs. Available online:



World Atlas. (2017). “Leading Causes of Death in Zambia”, Apr. 25. Available

online: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/leading-causes-of-death-in-


The Other Side Foundation, Official Website:


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