Saturday, March 06, 2010

The People at My Door - Clifford

Clifford first came to my door in 2008. A church leader in Kalomo had sent me Clifford’s grade nine results—no application, no explanation, just a handwritten page that showed Clifford had done well on his grade nine exam way back in 2002. A sponsorship opened up, and I notified the church leader to send Clifford out to talk to me. Handsome, well mannered, and articulate, Clifford explained that his single mother was unable to pay for his school fees.

Clifford started at Namwianga in 2008 when he was 19 years old. Even though he had been out of school for six years, he made excellent grades from the first term. Now in grade 12, he is second in his class and is also the Vice Headboy, a top leadership position. The teachers and administrators have nothing but good things to say about him.

When he showed up at my door a few weeks ago, he was distraught. The Zambian educational system will not allow anyone with an examination number from 2002 to take the regular grade 12 exams. Instead, he was told that he would have to be an external candidate. This meant that he could only take four of the eight required exams this year, and he would have to wait another year to take the other four. Besides delaying him from college for an additional year, the cost of external exams is very high, and he would have to pay it two years in a row.

Clifford and I visited the education official in Kalomo to plead his case. The officer very nicely explained that old examination numbers like Clifford’s would be rejected by the computer system, and there was nothing that he could do about it. I asked if there was any way Clifford could be issued a new number. Probably not, the man said, but you could go to Lusaka to the Examination Council of Zambia and talk to someone there. He warned me that I would be wasting my time and money.

I went anyway. Last week David and I made the five-hour trip to Lusaka. I expected the worst and prepared myself for hours of battling with the Zambian bureaucracy. Instead of hours of battle, I was in and out of the Examination Council offices in less than 15 minutes. The assistant director assured me that it WAS possible to get a new examination number. All we had to do was to provide her with a letter from the Head Teacher and a letter from me explaining the situation. This week we sent a representative to her with the letters, and she issued the new number right then. Clifford will be taking his exams just like all the other grade twelve students, and we expect him to do very well.

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