By Mable Sichali.
The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) is a faith-based organisation which has been in existence for 51 years, with the mandate to preach the gospel. 11 years ago the UCZ created a department for Community Development and Social Justice programmes, with the view to address the many social ills that communities face. For a long time the church preached the gospel without offering practical and psycho-social help to its members and communities. During 2010/2011 the church, with the help of Gossner Mission and Church of Scotland, partnered with Training for Transformation and sent 5 participants to study community development education at TfT. I happened to be among that first group and graduated with a diploma with good grades. After the training, I continued co-coordinating a congregation and running an organisation I founded in 2007 through the social services committee. I served as an Executive Director and congregation chairperson as well as zone leader for Christian Women Fellowship. Two and half years later, I was appointed as Community Development and Social Justice Secretary, breaking the record because since the church’s inception, I am the first deaconess to hold a senior management position – a position I still hold today; all because of TFT. They wanted someone with an undergraduate degree or Master’s degree, but with my TfT Diploma I surpassed highly qualified Reverends with Master’s degrees, emerging as the best candidate and getting the job. I would like to believe that I have proved that indeed I was the best candidate for the job.
My challenges go back to when I was in South Africa during TfT. Many people back home were not happy and questioned the integrity of the criteria used for my selection. Some of the respected leaders were so annoyed that my education was never recognized. Also, while I was being trained at TfT, our domestic worker accidentally dropped my baby daughter without disclosing this unfortunate incident. This led to an injury that developed into a serious brain tumour. We struggled with the illness for a year, during which I was reduced to pleading for help to take my daughter for an operation in India. Because all my financial resources were going towards my child’s medical care, my financial status grouped me amongst poor women, even though I had worked for many years. Tragically, my baby girl died. I remember that I was hospitalised in the University Teaching Hospital for four months before she died and that I was writing my research paper while in the hospital. This was the hardest moment for me and during this time I saw dozens and dozens of children die hour after hour. I saw the abuse of women by some medical personnel. I remember one day crying to God that I had seen enough. That experience has deeply impacted me in many ways.
Through the skills and knowledge I gained from TfT, I have become brave to face the challenges with boldness. My dialogue, advocacy and facilitation skills have improved tremendously. My writing and English language has also improved, I am no longer ashamed to speak in public and I am able to address any audience. I am more focused than ever. I always have relevant information at my fingertips and am ready for any situation. My research and public speaking skills have greatly improved and have enabled me to represent the church in high profile meetings, both at local and international levels. Below is an excerpt from the conversation between one international partner and my immediate manager, Peggy:
“Dear Peggy, I wanted to write to let you know that Mable did a fabulous job in representing the UCZ. I am grateful to you for sending her to take part in our conference. The Church of Scotland has truly been blessed. Mable interacted with many people whilst she was here and all were taken with her commitment, dedication and ability. We are thankful to you and UCZ for the work that you do.” And Peggy’s reply: “Dear Jennie, we thank God for the good report about Mable…she has also shared with us the good program that you put in place for her and that she was enriched by her interaction with a lot of people”.
My facilitation skills have given me a platform to conduct workshops in many places. My negotiations skills have also given me an opportunity to work with different partners both at local and international level and one such interaction resulted in me sourcing funding to buy a wafer-making machine. I recently also found sponsors for the construction of a ‘Child and Mother Care Centre’, to mitigate the impact of teenage pregnancies and early marriage. The project will receive 120,000 pounds over three years.
From the time of my daughter’s death, I have developed a passion for children. I have become an activist and initiated the formulation of a child protection policy which my church has never had. I now speak with so much passion and dedication all because of TFT. In November 2015, I lobbied to go to Geneva to high profile meeting, for a stronger voice for Children’s Rights. I went with my 6 month old baby and was the only African woman challenging the activists (and doing so with my baby on my back!). My son was one of the delegates representing children the world over.
It is gratifying to say that during my tenure of office, UCZ has more community projects than before and I have managed to send 9 Deaconesses for TFT, with 6 ready for the 2017 intake. I supervise more than 50 deaconesses. Under my leadership UCZ have more than 200 self-help groups of between 15 to 20 members each. I have managed to train 720 leaders in missional congregations, among which are 30 reverends and 50 deaconesses.
I am now a member of a circle of African women theologians. My preaching is no longer that of control. I am very practical. I now listen a lot and respect everyone. I work with more satisfaction now than before. TfT made me discover myself. I have found meaning for all that I do now and I feel called to serve.