Copper mining wealth does not trickle down to the majority of Kitwe’s population. Without access to basic services, the future of thousands of vulnerable children is at stake.
Violence, drug abuse and life on the streets
Kitwe is a key industrial and commercial hub and one of Zambia’s largest cities. Part of the Copperbelt Province, the city has a number of large mines in its west which helped fuel its economic development in the past. However, wealth from natural resources is not distributed evenly and the majority of the local population do not benefit, especially since the privatisation of the mining industry reduced the number of jobs available locally. Coupled with a shifting economic environment in which copper prices have been declining, unemployment levels have soared and urban poverty rates are very high. Living conditions in the townships of Kitwe, especially for children, are extraordinarily tough.
There are an estimated 100,000 children in Kitwe District living without the care of their parents in conditions of abject poverty. Many live in gangs on the streets, grouping together for camaraderie with others in similar situations, all the while becoming more marginalised from the rest of society. Drug abuse and prostitution are not uncommon with many children addicted to inhaling benzene and paint solvent. Some children are born into this life and the gangs, which are highly visible in downtown Kitwe, range in age. tough.
Rural poverty drives many to the city
In the extensive rural areas around the city of Kitwe livelihoods are often insecure. Local farmers are reliant on good rainfall and when rain is erratic harvests can fail, leading to food shortages. Rainy season brings its own problems as roads can become flooded, making it impossible to get goods to market to sell. Land ownership remains problematic as very few farmers hold title deeds to the land they cultivate, adding an extra dimension of insecurity as they could be ordered to leave the land at any time.
Availability of basic services is extremely limited in rural areas and people often have to travel very long distances to access hospitals or schools. Transportation costs are high, so parents often cannot afford to send their children on the long journey to school. HIV/AIDS affects many families in the region, and lack of crop diversification (many farmers only grow maize) can also lead to malnutrition in children. Inaccessibility of healthcare and high medical costs when it is available can lead to a downward spiral into poverty. Many people travel to the city to escape these issues.
What we do in Kitwe
SOS Children began working in Kitwe in 2004. We aim to maintain family stability and alleviate hardship to ensure children grow up safe and protected in a loving home; in recent years we have expanded our family strengthening programme in the region to do just this. We actively cooperate with local organisations to strengthen support systems for vulnerable families within the community.
Essential healthcare and nutritional services for children are provided alongside education in the SOS social centres in Kitwe and nearby Misaka. We also provide guidance for parents on parenting practices and income-generating skills, as well as psychological support and counselling where needed.
Additionally, we treat 10,000 families every year at our SOS medical centre, which provides preventive medicine, basic medical care, and voluntary testing and counselling for HIV/AIDS sufferers. All services are open to the whole community, enabling people access to treatment where they would otherwise not be able to afford it.
For those children who are no longer able to live with their parents there are 16 SOS families in Kitwe, providing a loving home for nearly 200 children. Children in each family live with their SOS brothers and sisters, cared for affectionately by their SOS mother. These children attend the SOS nursery with other neighbourhood children, ensuring integration into the local community begins at a young age. Later they go on to the SOS primary school, which provides education to almost 700 students from the area.
After leaving the SOS family home, young people remain supported via the SOS youth programme which helps them pursue further education or vocational training. Living together and guided by an SOS educator they learn to take on more responsibility and transition into independent life.
Kitwe is one of four location where we provide Zambia's most vulnerable children with a loving home. For over a decade, we have been there for those who have no one else; providing the love and support children need to thrive.