As Zambia schools take on climate change, one teen is spreading the word in sign language

Every Morning, bridget Chanda places her artificial legs near her bed, pulls up her socks and pushes the remains of her limbs as far into the prostheses as possible. After six years they no longer fit, and standing or walking for too long is painful, but it doesn’t bother him much.

“I still somehow manage,” she said. “I’m a girl on a mission.”

Chanda, 18, intends to help educate Zambia’s deaf community about climate change. as southern African The nation continues to suffer from extreme weather, including the current severe drought, this has prompted the Zambian government to include more climate change education in its school curriculum.

But to share it with the deaf community, it’s up to people like Chanda to help with translation — and it’s a task that’s more difficult because sign language doesn’t include many climate-related words.

She is a student at Chileshe Chapela Special School in Kasama, northern Zambia, where many students are deaf or hard of hearing. After Chanda enrolled there in 2022, learning sign language was a way to socialize and connect with her classmates, even though she wasn’t deaf herself. Around the same time, climate change was becoming a more topical issue in the country, and Chanda – who finds it perplexing that her hometown in the south near Lusaka – has been devastated by drought, while Kasama is expecting a bountiful harvest. Has been – wanted to talk about this.

“Climate change affects our way of life,” he said.

The country is suffering from severe food shortages as water has become scarce, leading the president to declare a national emergency in February.

Chanda has worked as an interpreter as climate agriculture expert Elizabeth Motley visits communities and schools to educate people on climate change. On a visit to a garden outside Chanda’s school, she showed Motley to the students how drip irrigation gets precious water where the plants need it. Students smiled and laughed as they cut holes in plastic bottles to drip water onto the roots of plants.

Chanda has also taught Motley some sign language which can be used when an interpreter is not available.

“Bridget has been a blessing to me,” Motley said.

Sign language is not recognized as an official language in Zambia, but the government has taken steps to ensure its recognition and has also made it mandatory to teach in sign language for climate change education. But language lag can make teaching new concepts a challenge.

Chanda recalls that she struggled to find words to explain mulching, for example – adding organic matter to the soil to help trap moisture – or climate adaptation, the way people adjust to more extreme weather. can do.

“It’s hard sometimes,” Chanda said. “I sometimes have to finger spell and when I miss a letter or two it makes it difficult for some deaf students.”

The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), a pan-African movement promoting girls’ education, launched a new climate education program in schools in March led by young female graduates. programme, in partnership with ministries of education in Zambia zimbabweaims to help youth – especially marginalized girls – build climate resilience and explore green careers.

The climate education that CAMFED seeks to promote is practical. It runs an agricultural guide program that aims to promote climate-smart technologies such as drip irrigation that use less water, and teaches entrepreneurship skills that can help young women start agricultural businesses that use such skills. Is.

Helena Chandwe, an enterprise manager at CAMFED, said it is important to improve how information is delivered to students with special needs, and that means having interpreters who can deliver it correctly and with enough context.

Chanda hopes to join the agricultural guide program after completing her education.

His lower legs were amputated after he developed gangrene at the age of 7. After being stigmatized and bullied at school in Lusaka, she eventually ended up in Chileshe, where she found a far more welcoming environment at a place that mixes students with special needs with mainstream students.

Her prosthetic limbs don’t stop her from helping her friend Juliet Nankamba in Juliet’s wheelchair. The two often sit next to each other in class, share books and participate in class discussions and assignments. Juliet smiles, laughs, and shows the peace sign when asked about her friendship with Bridget.

Chanda struggles to hold back tears and tells how Camfed has helped her with her tuition and boarding fees. She was appointed head girl at the beginning of the year, and said she dreamed of becoming an orthopedic surgeon one day, and would travel far beyond Zambia to make her mother proud.

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