“This is one of the most memorable JA events I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in,” said JA’s CEO, Elizabeth Bintliff. She was talking about the 9th annual “First Lady for a Day” program which took place at the State House of the Republic of Zambia on 13th August 2019.
The program was attended by 60 children from all ten provinces of Zambia. At the request of the First Lady, all participating students this year were differently-abled. The students met and interacted with the First Lady, Mrs. Esther Lungu, along with her invited guests, including Mr.Thomas Mtonga, a member of faculty of the University of Zambia, himself a blind man. Mr. Mtonga spoke about his challenges growing up blind, and inspired the children to overcome their challenges by referring to his successes. Other dignitaries present included executives from Stanbic Bank and staff of FAWEZA (Forum for African Woman Educationalists in Zambia), who were partners in the event. In her remarks to the participants, the First Lady encouraged them to dream beyond their disabilities, and encouraged them to learn from people like Mr. Mtonga.
According to the International Labor Organization, between 785 and 975 million people with disabilities are estimated to be of working age, but most do not work. As a group, they often face disproportionate poverty and unemployment, as society generally limits their career options available. Disabilities are still stigmatized in many parts of Africa, including Zambia, and many children born with disabilities often stay home long past when they should start school, because of the shame and stigma that parents and society often projects on them. To spend a day at the Presidency exceeded their dreams and was just the kind of experience that makes them know that they matter and they can do anything they choose.
Prior to their day with the First Lady, the students had a day-long ‘Careers with a Purpose’ program that took place at Stanbic Bank’s Yamene Leadership Center in Lusaka. The students had the opportunity to engage in close learning interactions with executives of Stanbic Bank Zambia, who shared their career trajectories and the challenges they had to overcome to get to where they are. This helped students understand that challenges come in different forms but overcoming them should be their aim because it is possible to overcome them.
JA Zambia Executive Director, Teddy Nyasulu said “no disability can stop anyone from achieving their dream in life. It’s a matter of making a decision about what they want to achieve and it will happen when they have made up their mind.”