Humana People to People

Humana People to People

Local language education is key to better learning outcomes in Africa

On Tuesday we celebrated International Mother Language Day, in recognition of the multitude of indigenous languages spoken around the world. This year’s theme was “Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development”, acknowledging the vital role that local languages play in eradicating poverty and achieving the SDGs.


Maternal Languages1


On the continent of Africa, 2,144 native languages are in daily use, forming a cornerstone of local identity and a key tool for preservation of Africa's diverse cultural heritages. Yet the value of local language is not reserved for cultural preservation alone - local languages play an undeniable role in educational attainment, and their absence in education systems has the power to significantly hinder the academic achievements of children around the world. This must change.


Maternal Languages

Unfortunately, many African higher education systems still operate solely through a foreign language – Portuguese, French or English. These artefacts of colonialism continue to be taught on the belief that a working knowledge of an international language is helpful for students, and that one language can strengthen national unity, boost economic growth, and improve the career prospects of younger generations. Indeed, across sub-Saharan Africa, English is often the medium of instruction in basic education. Yet legitimate questions arise when assessing whether this is truly the most effective method to enhance education and communication for African children. 

In Mozambique, Portuguese is the language of instruction in most schools. When a child who speaks a local language at home enters a classroom where lessons are taught in Portuguese, they struggle to understand the teacher, which typically contributes to low academic performance. This is a scenario played out in schools across sub-Saharan Africa, where children suffer unnecessarily at the hand of archaic education systems. Thankfully, the situation is beginning to change.


As part of a USDA-funded consortium to support primary education, improve learning outcomes and assist in government-led literacy programmes, I have been a part of an ongoing project that is demonstrating the benefits of using the local mother tongue as the first language of instruction. Our project partnership - which includes Planet Aid from the United States, ADPP Mozambique, and Cambridge Education - have measured significant progress in learning outcomes when the local languages of Changana and Rhonga are taught in schools. Our results are consistent with an overwhelming body of evidence that indicates that those who are taught in their mother tongue fare far better academically. 

To make mother-tongue language instruction a reality in Mozambique, ADPP Mozambique, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, has produced teaching and learning materials in two Mozambican languages: Changana and Rhonga.  The materials include a sequenced array for both 1st and 2nd grades of reading practice books, read-aloud books and de-codable books. With access to these new reading materials in their mother tongue, children have developed reading and writing skills more easily and quickly, and are able to use it as a foundation for learning to read and write in Portuguese. This is a key and vital step in helping Mozambique achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

To help reach SDG 4, others are joining the mother-tongue movement.  Last week, the BBC launched two new language services – Igbo and Yoruba – that will join Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya among the other languages commissionedOther stakeholders strongly supporting bilingual education in Mozambique include USAID and UNESCO.

Of course, the question of mother-tongue instruction resonates deeper than achieving SDG 4, and the question of cultural identity remains an important one. Allowing students to learn to read and write in their maternal language is a crucial part of preserving Mozambican culture and identity. More widely, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity leads to peace, social cohesion and sustainable development. 


We cannot allow indigenous languages to fade; they carry complex implications for identity, communication, and social integration and are key to fostering sustainable development. It has been proven that children learn better in their mother-tongue, and, as such, colonial languages must not continue to dominate curriculums. Schemes that encourage learning in a student’s mother-tongue must become common practice for educational institutions across the continent, to ensure an inclusive and quality education for all.

Birgit Holm is the director of ADPP Mozambique, a Mozambican development organization that has been implementing education, health, agriculture and community development projects for more than 30 years.  Planet Aid, Cambridge Education, the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health and ADPP Mozambique are together implementing a comprehensive US Department of Agriculture–funded education project in Mozambican primary schools, which is providing students with a daily lunch, building needed infrastructure, training teachers, and, as described here in, developing a pioneering mother-tongue literacy program.


I am Roberto Neves Cuinica, a 35-year-old teacher at Manguendene Primary School. I have been teaching there for nine years, of which seven years were with grades one to three. During my teaching career, I have encountered many children who struggle with common challenges, a main one being low performance in Portuguese classes.

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Reinforcement of Reading and Writing, the literacy component of the Food for Knowledge Project (FFK), is being implemented by Planet Aid and ADPP Mozambique, in partnership with the Mozambican Ministry of Education and Human Development, and financed by USDA.

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ZAMFAM making a difference in Kabwe, Zambia

DAPP Zambia is implementing the Zambia Family South-Central (ZAMFAM) project reaching over 125,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) per year for five years, with comprehensive life changing activities.

The goal of the project is to improve the care and resilience of orphans and vulnerable children living with or affected by HIV by supporting, protecting, and strengthening the capacity of children, families, and communities. ZAMFAM started in January 2016 and is funded by USAID.

The ZAMFAM project uses the Humana People to People developed Child Aid’s holistic approach in community mobilisation and locals’ active participation. The approach engages children and youth, caregivers, community groups, teachers and local leaders, creating many frontiers for tackling community problems with a main focus on increased utilisation of the available resources.

ZAMFAM is working closely with the Zambian government ministries, Community Welfare Assistant Committees (CWACs) as well as with the District Welfare Assistant Committees (DWACs), and 600 Community Health Workers (CHWs).

The project partners with Creative Associates International which has the main responsibility to build capacity in sub-grantees as well as with Network for Zambian People living with HIV (NZP+), KAFHI and additional 13 local NGOs and CBO’s.

We share with you a life changing story of how DAPP Zambia is engaging Community Health Workers in universal access to health in rural Zambia. One such health worker is Mary Chabola, who is part of the ZAMFAM project activities in Kabwe district.

Mary Chabola is a 56-year-old lady of Kasanda community in Kabwe district. She has been a Community Health Worker (CHW) attached to Kasanda clinic for 6 years now since 2012.

Mary was recruited as a ZAMFAM Community Health Worker in June 2016 when the project was first introduced to her community.

When Mary was asked to explain more about her experience in working with ZAMFAM, she was not shy to say that the experience was totally different compared to the other projects she had previously worked with as a CHW. Mary explained that, “The ZAMFAM project is unique because it uses a holistic approach in trying to improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families. The project does not only focus on improving health, but also works towards improving their nutrition, Water, Sanitation and Health Education (WASHE), and economic strengthening”.

“Upon recruitment as a CHW under the ZAMFAM project, I went through an orientation and my capacity was built in HIV testing and Counselling, Behavior Change Communication and WASHE and as a good nutrition advocate”, Mary said.


She further narrated that, “using my skills built by ZAMFAM and in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, I have a catchment of 30 households having a total of 150 children. Of these children, I have already counselled their families and tested 100 children for HIV and AIDS, of which 5 have been found HIV positive.” Mary went on to explain that, “The 5 children that were found HIV positive have since been linked to Kasanda ART clinic and are all receiving medication.”

Mary recalls that, all the 5 children tested HIV positive where below the age of 14 and had a very low CD4T cell count at the time and looked unhealthy. “I encouraged their families to join the ZAMFAM Action Group so that they could learn more on how they could improve their health and welfare of their children. After about 12 months, the children are all looking healthy and are actively participating in both social and academic activities.”

Through home visits to households in Kasanda Community, Mary is reaching out to households with information on Behavior Change in order to prevent other children from getting infected with HIV and AIDS. “Through these visits I also talk to the families about the importance of eating healthy foods, having back yard gardens and the importance of observing good water and sanitation practices.”


Preparing small scale farmers to withstand climate shocks

Compost making in ward 11 during the garden period

DAPP Zimbabwe is contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger through training rural small scale farmers in Gutu and Mutasa districts of Zimbabwe to adapt and mitigate climate change impact.

Imagine the beginning of the agricultural season, the farmers have prepared and planted after the first rains. But the rains fail to continue or are not sufficient. We are seeing this more often as the climate gets warmer resulting in less food being produced. Farmers are usually left with limited options. However, DAPP Zimbabwe Farmers Clubs programme is at the forefront in offering farmers viable solutions to reduce the climate change induced shocks.

DAPP Zimbabwe, in partnership with United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), work together with small scale farming communities of Gutu and Mutasa districts in Zimbabwe. Through a 2 year Farmers’ Clubs programme which enrolled a total of 2 000 farmers running under the theme “Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programme”, farmers are trained on how they can stay resilient.

So, what have small scale farmers been taught to reduce crop losses under difficult weather conditions?

 Seedco field day in ward 37 Gutu

Supporting with natural soil fertility to withstand dry spells

Soil that has a mixture of animal and plant matter and a lot of life is good in storing water and nutrients thus allowing maximum growth of crops and plants. Farmers were taught ways to build up soils such as covering the soil with mulching, crop rotation, adding compost manure, minimal soil disturbance as well as planting fast maturing crop varieties. Farmers enrolled in the Farmers’ Clubs programme received training on water conservation and are encouraged to shift from conventional tilling, burning crop residue and cutting down trees.

Commenting on the benefits from the program to date, farmer Ackson Manjowe in Mutasa said “mulching iri kuti batsira kuchengetedza hunyoro mumakomba atinodyara zvinoita kuti mbeu dzedu dzive ne utano hwakanaka uye musanganiswa wemashizha nemanyowa watinoshandisa unopa chikafu kuzvirimwa” (mulching helps to keep plant moisture while the leaves and manure mixture provides the right nutrients for the plants).

Feeding the soil thus helps farmers build rich soils and ultimately reduce the impact of dry spells.


Adopting home grown solutions

As climate change continues to threaten food security farmers in our programme have adopted home grown solutions to mitigate the effects of some of these shocks. The farmers are encouraged to switch to small grains such as rapoko, root crops like cassava as well as early planting fast maturing varieties that guarantee food security in short rainy seasons.

They are also encouraged and helped to set up nutrition gardens to produce vegetables that thrive under low cost irrigation. A total of 100 rope-and-washer pumps are currently being installed in Mutasa and 7 bush pumps in Gutu to irrigate the gardens and to provide safe water for drinking.

Planting trees for a more stable environment

Trees are vital for our environment as they reduce soil erosion and maintain the water cycle that brings us rain. They provide shade and food for our animals as well as wood. They are thus worth conserving and replacing. Our farmers, in their groups, mobilize each other to construct firewood saving stoves and rocket stoves so as to reduce wood consumption. They plant live fences to reduce the cutting down of indigenous trees for poles. All open spaces are utilized to make sure that we meet our target of planting 200 000 eucalyptus for woodlots, 40 000 fodder trees, 40 000 fruit trees and 100 live fences. One of the trees that farmers are planting is Leucaena that can be used for livestock feed as well as providing green manure.


Sticking together to overcome challenges

The DAPP Zimbabwe Farmers’ Clubs approach encourages farmers to not only stick together but to also share knowledge and join hands in production and marketing. A club usually has 50 farmers who are divided into 5 groups of 10 called core groups who share information and train together. They work and learn in a common garden and a demo-field and go on to practice in their individual fields. During seed fairs they share crops that grow well under difficult conditions and learn from farmers around them.

soghurm field in ward 37 Gutu 

Women farmers take the lead in the clubs

Women are at the frontline of food production but are often sidelined and do not have a say over the produce. To counter this, the Farmers’ Clubs, benefiting Gutu and Mutasa districts, have 60% women and 40% men. The women are thus fully involved and equipped with skills that enable them to produce more and to transform their farming activities into a business.

Through the adoption of the above strategies DAPP Zimbabwe’s aim is to produce food even when the climate becomes warmer and the seasons end up being shorter.