Dr. Richard Bail founded CWB in 1999 after working for the World Health Organization, African Regional Office as an African-region Health Strategy Officer (1991-1993) and in 1999 as a consultant for UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). In the latter position, he was charged with estimating the costs of a new 3-year plan for combating AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted diseases in Zambia employing “civil society” and not just government programs. On returning to his medical practice in Newton, Massachusetts, he and Peter Smith, a co-founder and civic activist, sought a way for a U.S. organization to help the orphaned children of AIDS victims of Zambia.
Zambia is one of the countries most heavily affected by the AIDS epidemic that peaked in the 1990’s but still continues today. At the millennium an estimated one million Zambian children, in a country of 10 million inhabitants, were left as orphans, losing one or both parents in the epidemic. Almost every family, rich or poor, was affected.
Since then, Zambia, with the help of the international community, has made notable progress in bringing the epidemic under control. Nevertheless, in 2015 UNAIDS reported that an estimated 1.2 million people, or one in 16, in a vastly expanded population of 16 million people live with AIDS. There is a particularly high incidence in Lusaka where CWB has concentrated its efforts. A estimated 380,000 children (2015) are currently considered orphaned by the disease. In Zambia’s vast shantytowns (known as “compounds”) single moms and dads, aunties, grandparents and others in impoverished extended families decimated by AIDS can’t afford educating orphans they have taken in and often give them the least attention. Many children end up on the streets, hungry, sick, exposed to the dangers of drugs, sexual abuse, prostitution and human trafficking.
CWB’s mission from its founding has been promoting education for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC’s) by providing school fees, tuition, books, uniforms, teachers and training for teachers. However, over the years its mission has expanded to provide health screening, psychological support, nutritional support, training in income-generating activities and, in some cases, construction of schools or health facilities to create a supportive atmosphere for learning.
Its current mission statement reads:
“Communities Without Borders is a non-governmental organization established as a 501
(c ) (3) nonprofit corporation. Our mission is to enable a better future for orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia through access to education and related care. Collaborating with community organizations and individuals, we build enduring personal relationships that foster mutual understanding and inspire a shared sense of responsibility as world citizens. CWB’s model pairs needy communities in Zambia with more affluent communities in the US in order to build trust and friendship between the two communities and increase opportunities for the Zambian children.”
In 2004, CWB applied for and received a U.S. 501(c)3 tax status, allowing it to receive tax deductible contributions.
Initially guided by a four-person working board consisting of Dick Bail as President, Peter Lloyd as Treasurer, Peter Smith as clerk and Al Jacobson as Chief Operating Officer, CWB expanded its Board, now consisting of eight people. Currently DIck Bail and Peter Smith retain their positions. Barney Freiberg-Dale is Treasurer, and Amy Archibald Chief Operating Officer.
From 2009 to 2012 CWB employed a part-time executive director. More recently, the Board and volunteers have shouldered the organization’s work in the U.S.
CWB approach of partnering Zambian community-based (non-governmental) schools with American institutions, such as churches or health clinics, grew out of Dr. Bail’s observation while in Zambia of the valuable work of local civic organization, and belief in the potential benefit they might receive from institutions outside the country.
In 1999, CWB began working with The Society for Woman and AIDS in Zambia (SWAAZ), a Zambian non-profit that had established family support centers providing various types of assistance to Lusaka “compounds.” Then, as now, the compounds experienced a vast inflow of rural people seeking employment and a better life in urban areas, but as often finding unemployment, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, absence of basic services, and the vices to which such conditions give rise.
With SWAAZ as an intermediary, CWB linked the Watertown Health Center in Watertown, Massachusetts with a SWAAZ-sponsored family support home in Mandevu, a compound on the north side of Lusaka. Like other family support centers, it included a pre-school for children aged 5 -10. This arrangement resulted in resources – -shoes, books, uniforms, and school supplies –for 50 children. It also helped Mandevu obtain electricity.
The partnership was so successful that other SWAAZ-associated family support centers sought similar partnerships. By the end of the first year the following institutions partnered together through CWB and SWAAZ:
Chawama Family Support Home — First Unitarian Society of Newton
Bauleni Family Support Home – Brockton Neighborhood Health Center
N’gombe Family Support Home – First Parish Church Lexington,
and Pilgrim Church Lexington.
In subsequent years the following relationships were developed with other communities, not all of which were under the SWAAZ umbrella.
Garden Community – First Baptist Church, Lexington
Linda Community – Eliot Church, Newton Corner, and First Parish Church, Lexington
M’tendere Community- Union Church, Newton
Fumbelo – Wellesley Village Congregational Church
During the period up to 2008, CWB strengthened partnership arrangements through memos of understanding with its Zambian intermediaries and agreement (covenants) with American partners.
The first formal agreement with a Zambian organization was with ZANCOB ( Zambia Nsunga Communities Without Borders, “nsunga” means “caring” in Nyanja). ZANCOB became the intermediary for the Garden complex school and the First Baptist Church, Lexington.
The most extensive agreement was with SWAAZ, associated with six family support homes associated with U.S. partners.
The Linda compound program became subject to a memo of understanding with the Chipego Women of Hope.
These Zambian organizations identified needy students and provided detailed reports on their individual progress as they proceeded through higher levels of schooling, as well as being the intermediary for teachers studying for professional degrees, and a few university level students
The American partner institutions agreed to pay a fixed sum of money to CWB to be funneled through CWB and the Zambian intermediary organizations to the schools where the American institutions had a particular relationship.
In 2009, in addition, a CWB Council consisting of representatives of the American partners of Zambian schools was established to provide advice and lend support to CWB.
Schools in Zambia
To fully understand CWB’s work, it is necessary to know something about the Zambian school system.
Pre-schools prepare children for entering government schools. SWAAZ in its family support centers and ZANCOB in Garden complex run such schools. They are considered “community schools” because they receive no government support. They are generally staffed by underpaid or volunteer teachers and have minimal facilities. Students are from ages 5 to 10, with some including children who are younger and some older who are unable to find, afford or meet the minimum requirements to enter government schools. Such pre-schools may serve between 20 and 100 kids, but can be larger. In order to enter government schools, students must in pre-school master some simple skills.
Formally, the Zambian public education system is organized into;
- Basic School (primary): grades 1-7 (ages 7-14) resulting in a Certificate of Primary Education
- Junior Secondary: 2 years (ages 14-16) resulting in a Junior Secondary School Certificate
- Senior Secondary – High School: 3 years (ages 16-19)
Advancement from one school to a higher schools is based on government administered exams at the 7th and 9th grade level. Passing the 7th grade and 9th grade exam is critical to a child’s education, and focus of much attention by parents and educators.
Beyond high school Zambia has a variety of institutions of higher education.
Availability and Cost of Education
A 2015 UNICEF report estimated that of 6 million Zambian children under the age of 18, one quarter are out of school, and only 47% finish Basic school. A 2015 Zambian government report noted the government “is yet to clear the backlog of over aged (above 7) children who are yet to enter the school system.”
Education is theoretically free for all Zambian children in basic schools. The government has declared that children should not be turned away for lack of uniforms or inability to pay fees. Nevertheless, basic schools often continue to make children responsible for certain fees, uniforms, books and school supplies, making school unaffordable for many poorer families. One estimate puts these items at $60 a child.
In Junior Secondary school and High School fees are required as well as other items, adding up to $140 according to one source.
Overall, community schools play a major role in filling the gap left by the inadequate number of government schools. Established by civic institutions, churches, parents and community leaders throughout Zambia, a number receive support from domestic or foreign charitable organizations, and foreign governments. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has an extensive program of assistance. Community schools are of particular importance in rural areas and marginal urban neighborhoods. Studies show their students are more likely to be orphans, from poorly educated and economically stretched families living in distressed neighborhoods. Community schools attract these students for a variety of reasons, including lower fees, more accessibility, or simple lack of an area school. Indeed, following the government’s 2002 program instituting so-called free basic education (FBE) and loosening some barriers to education, observers noted that more students moved to community schools from government schools, instead of visa versa. Notably, in recent years students from community schools have regularly outperformed those from government schools in English and math tests.
According the the Zambian government, the number of community schools rose from 38 to over 3,000 between 1996 and 2013. One estimate is that they currently educate 600,000 students. The government recognized their importance, for instance in a 2011 statement saying community schools are “legitimate players,” though a 2015 report states the “relief community schools have provided is temporal because the infrastructure and learning conditions are hardly ideal,” and that “even the dogged and selfless commitment of volunteer community school teachers cannot be sustained forever.” Recently, working through the Zambian Open Community Schools (ZOCS), a non-profit that advocates for such schools, the government has assigned some teachers on the government payroll to selected community schools.
Community schools themselves are guided by the Zambian education ministry’s prescribed curriculum, with an eye toward the important 7th and 9th grade exams. This guidance includes the recent decision to teach early grade in native languages before switching to English, the common second language, in grade 5.
CWB and Community Schools
CWB’s support of children’s education has been based on facilitating assistance to pre-schools with whom American institutions have partnered and of supporting individual students who have emerged from these schools as they proceed up the educational ladder in government schools, providing uniforms, shoes, schools supplies, books and, at the higher grades, tuition. In a few cases CWB has supported students through university.
In ongoing or past projects addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children, CWB since its founding has:
- assisted some 4,000 children to advance their education to achieve a primary education.
- established a tuition program to help kids pass 7th and 9th grade exams;
- given tuition for teachers to study for a certificate or degree at the Zambian Pre-School Association;
- established health screening in collaborations with the Angels of Mercy, a Zambian non-profit;
- built health clinics in a rural town, Simukanka, in Southern Province, and in Fumbelo compound in Lusaka;
- worked with Healthy Kids/Brighter Futures, an American non-profit, to do health screenings in the schools CWB supports; and
- provided psycho-social support, using a technique developed in Africa to bolster self-esteem among orphans and vulnerable children.
In 2013, CWB entered a new phase as it terminated its relationships with SWAAZ primarily due to management issues involving tracking students and other issues.
CWB established an office in Lusaka. Jessie Phirie, a Zambian teacher and Lusaka resident was hired as Field Operations Manager, becoming CWB’s only compensated employee either in the U.S. or Zambia.
With the termination of the agreement with SWAAZ, CWB’s link with six of eight pre-schools was broken and the partnership’s dissolved. Agreements with Garden and Linda remained intact. The Wellesley Village Congregational Church decided to maintain its relationships with Fumbelo compound by setting up a separate 501(c)3. Other partners discontinued their formal relationships, but continue to some extent to provide assistance to former partners.
Despite this split ,CWB and its America partner institutions recognized an obligation to students it had supported in the SWAAZ – related communities and pledged to continue to support those students through secondary school till 2018. Tuitions, books, school supplies, etc for these and other students continues to constitute more than half of CWB’s program budget.
In 2016 alone CWB provided support for an estimated 264 students in 26 schools in grades 8-12 who mainly emerged from primary schools where CWB had worked with SWAAZ.
CWB has continued to offer some teacher training to some schools which were recently affiliated with SWAAZ.
New Approach to Community Schools – Model Schools
Following the break with SWAAZ, the CWB Board decided to re-focus its mission, and give direct support to a few community schools that could eventually become model schools of their type. In doing so, it would continue to employ programs it had successfully developed in the past — student support, teacher education, etc.— while looking for new opportunities relevant to the schools it chose to help.
After interviewing schools in Lusaka in the summer of 201-, Dr. Bail and others chose the following schools with which to establish an special relationship.
The Living Hope Foundation School (LIHOF) in Lusaka in 2017 is serving 361 students from several surrounding compounds. The school is an outgrowth of a Zambian non-profit established in 1996 designed to promote community development in Lusaka’s compounds and elsewhere. The foundation’s executive director Geoffrey Kamutande, was among the 30 original founders, and has a staff of six under-compensated but highly dedicated teachers. Housed in a large, but leaky building, lent to it by a generous patron, the school provides education through grade 9 to students from surrounding compounds, or off the streets, who have been sent to it by the Zambian Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare. It also provides a transit home for a small number of boys age 6- 15. The government has not, however, provided the school any tangible support.
Sekelela Community School is located on the outskirts of Lusaka in a small village. The school serves some 350 children, through grade 9. The school is housed in fairly adequate rural buildings, but only recently has received adequate sanitary facilities. Residents of Sekelela struggle with irregular employment in construction and manufacturing, and operating street stalls to sell miscellaneous items, as well as raising animals and produce on their parcels of land. Many of them find it difficult or impossible to regularly pay the $100 annual student fees that the school asks for each child enrolled in the school. The school’s teachers often go without salary due to the lack of school fees, and must seek employment elsewhere to make ends meet.
At the Living Hope School, CWB has:
- provided 300 text books
- provided funds to install floor, paint walls and fix the roof in a room to be used as its first library and computer center
- provided books to start the school’s first library
- paid for repairs of sewing machines that can be used for training students and for income generating projects
- paid school fees for a teacher studying for a professional degree
- offered (due to the generosity of the Barney Freiberg-Dale family) to pay school fees for all children passing the 9th grade exams through secondary school
- provided funds to supplement the school’s lunch program
- supported girls’ education by providing menstrual pads in cooperation with a non-profit DAYS4Girls to prevent school absences.
- provided eye glasses to children and adults
At Sekelela CWB has:
- provided text books
- provided eye glasses
- built desks and benches
For both schools, CWB is exploring the possibilities of promoting computer-based learning and providing internet service.
Strengthening CWB in Zambia
In 2011, CWB and supporters in Zambia established a Zambian Board of Directors (CWBZ) to work in parallel with the U.S. Board. The Chair of the CWBZ board is the distinguished Zambian lawyer Patrick Mvunga who serves with seven other Zambian activists. Dr. Bail and Al Jacobson also serve on the Board.
While responsibility for CWB remains lodged in the U.S. Board, it is anticipated that the Zambian board will take a larger role in the future.
In 2012, CWBZ registered officially with the Zambian government as a non-profit, mirroring its status in the U.S.
CWB operates on a tight budget. In rough figures, program expenses in Zambia are in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Student fees take up a bit more than half of these expenses, with amounts in the $2,000 – $5,000 range for students supplies, shoes, uniforms and supplements for teachers salaries. Administrative costs are in the $10,000 range, the most part as salary for CWB’s single employee.
The major financial support for CWB comes from a yearly annual fund drive, supplemented by other donations, various events such as benefit concerts, sale of Zambian crafts, occasional grants, and required $500 contributions from first time travelers to Zambia on CWB’s annual trip make to CWB.
CWB’s annual trip to Zambia has since 2007 brought supporters of its effort from partner churches and organizations face-to-face with the reality of a country struggling not only with HIV/AIDS, but also with daunting challenges facing Southern Africa in general. Over the years travelers have engaged in numerous varied projects, and the trips have varied in size. Travelers have invariably helped in schools exposing children to English, valuable because it is the language of instruction in higher grades though not most children’s first language. CWB travelers bring school supplies. They have built feeding stations, latrines and a full health center. Travelers have been of all ages, and many have returned. The lives of some young people have been redirected to social service professions from their travels to Zambia.
Each trip has its own character in sync with CWB’s objectives and opportunities at the time and the interests and skills of travelers. Bearing witness, making friends, assessing needs, and providing some useful service are elements that are unlikely to change even as CWB transitions to support for model schools. Travelers help keep CWB’s mission alive in their communities when they return home.