You are here: Home » Resources » Oral Testimonies » Benson: people need jobs

Benson: people need jobs

Benson: 'The biggest problem we come up against is financial assistance'

Benson was a soldier for 32 years and now plays an active role in his community. By saving some money while he was in the army, he managed to buy a few cattle. But now, like everyone else, he is”struggling to make ends meet”.

Benson blames the “serious food shortage” arising from bad drought for a lack of motivation: “nothing can be done on an empty stomach.” But he also feels strongly that “people need jobs, it doesn’t just help to be given mealie meal once in a while…”.

He thinks that the increase of HIV and AIDS is a cause as well as a consequence of poverty, robbing the community of its most productive age group. And he’s worried that poverty is driving crime – so many young men are involved that a thief could well be “your good friend’s son”.

I am married and I have six children, three girls and three boys. I’m Vice Chairman in Tukonkote Branch [one of five sections in Mwapona compound]. I’m also the chairperson of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme and the neighbourhood health committee information publicist.

Because I am involved in the community, it is easy to say that a lot of what I go through in terms of hardships is experienced by almost everybody in the compound…

Lack of food saps energy and motivation

We – the people in this compound – want to see development in our sector and are eager and willing to work towards meeting some of the most urgent needs, but the biggest problem we come up against is financial assistance.

For example, as a community we decided to build a clinic with the help of the main hospital in town. But because we didn’t have enough materials, and also because of lack of motivation, the project has come to a halt…

Most people do not have any source of income… we can’t make any more bricks because we are a poor community with no money… [So] although we very much needed an under-five clinic for our children, the men wouldn’t work because we were not getting paid and obviously nothing can be done on an empty stomach.

There is a serious food shortage here…because we experienced a bad drought and last year also wasn’t good for farmers, so people had to find other ways of sustaining themselves…

Army savings

[Because I went to school] I was able to get employed in the army for more than 32 years and stayed in the city until I retired and came back here… I was privileged when I was in the army so I used to put my savings in the bank for a rainy day and by the time I retired I had a bit of money to buy myself a few cattle… [Even so] we are always struggling to make ends meet…

I grow a lot of vegetables which my wife sells at home to get some money for our up-keep. Apart from vegetable gardening, I also collect firewood for charcoal which we later sell as well. These are our two major sources of income to send children to school and buy food and clothing for my family.

Poverty drives crime and prostitution

Because of poverty, our children, especially girls, have taken to prostitution as a profession and are selling their bodies just so they can get a small pamela (1 kg packet of maize meal) for their families, and this tendency unfortunately has given rise to the HIV infection rates.

The majority of our [male] youth have taken to theft as a means of livelihood. This place is a haven of thieves and there is nothing that anybody can do about it – because they have no jobs to keep them busy like in the past, and most of them dropped out of school due to lack of finance…

In the past we would investigate [crimes] but most people in the Neighbourhood Watch Club wanted to be paid if and when they were sent to investigate. The other thing is that sometimes one would find that the person who had broken into your house is your good friend’s son, so to save his name one tended to keep quiet about the whole thing…

Eventually, we thought that investigating was financially draining…it was also breaking up friendships so although the committee is still there, it is not active.

HIV and AIDS: the vulnerability of young women

Everybody in this compound knows about [HIV and AIDS]: how it is contracted, transmitted and how to prevent it. No one here can say that they have never heard of it because we personally go around the five sections of the compound distributing condoms, demonstrating how to use them and [stressing] the importance of always using them…

The men with a little money in their pockets are the ones that our daughters are busy sleeping with and spreading this dreadful disease……It’s just the young women who are mostly infected, especially those who are single…[I have protected my daughters] by being open with them and teaching them the principles of life. Also I think [what’s had] the biggest impact is that I taught them that education is very important and that once you get educated no one can take that away…

AIDS is one of the biggest problems that we [are] facing because the community has been robbed of its able-bodied productive men and women… We are now working very hard to encourage voluntary counselling and testing so that they can access drugs early, because early detection of the virus can save lives…

Water and food shortages

Water is another one of our problems… The wells have dried up. Our women walk long distances to the dam where they draw water, but it is almost drying up now and is full of mud. So the women go to draw water at around 5:30 in the morning and come back three hours later.

The other reason why our women take such a long time to get water is that the whole of Mwapona compound depends on one water hand pump. Imagine!

[And] because there is no water right now we can’t plant our crops, meaning that we won’t have enough food this season or the next one…

Representatives do nothing

We have a bad road network, no water, no food and no employment… Land is a declining resource… The schools here are lagging behind. We don’t have proper desks for our children and most of what is left is broken beyond repair so the children sit on bricks or on the floor, even when it is cold… and again we don’t have enough teachers.

We have been to our Member of Parliament but he doesn’t do anything about it. He is supposed to talk on our behalf, but because he rarely comes here he doesn’t know what we are going through as a community… even if we complain to our headman to talk to him nothing happens. That is the problem we are facing from our leaders as well; they are not doing their jobs properly either.

I can give you an example of [how] sometimes [our] houses, because they are made out of mud, collapse when we experience heavy rainfall but people in power like the headman and the area MP don’t do anything to help… The community sometimes helps but the affected family has to pick up the pieces on their own… The community can only sympathise for a while but after a bit life has to go on…

Maybe the people who are supposed to be making the decisions on our behalf are not doing their jobs as well [as they should], because if the community has a serious water problem a branch chairman is supposed to inform the ward chairman, then the ward chairman will in turn inform the councillor, and then finally the councillor is supposed to inform the MP…

We try [to vote the right people into power but] the government is a very strong institution so no matter what we say or do the wrong MP always takes over…

Jobs not welfare

We have welfare societies here but I am sure they’re not as effective as those in towns… Even there though, the people aren’t really given the type of assistance that they need.

Like the vulnerable women and orphaned children – sometimes they are just given food and sometimes all they are given for the schoolchildren are a few books… I guess that is the reason most orphaned children don’t go to school…[and] enter theft and prostitution… the rate at which young girls are dying due to HIV and AIDS is really high …

I think that most of the problems that people are going through could be avoided if government took a particular interest in developing the rural areas. People need jobs, it doesn’t help just to be given mealie meal (maize meal) once in a while…

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate’inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.

Project

Benson: people need jobs is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Zambia oral testimony project.

Testimonies

Anna: strong and hardworking

Benson: people need jobs

Dominic: valuing tradition

Edward: anxiety of poverty

Gilbert: cattle is wealth

Grandwell: sustained support

Mirriam: dedicated to others

Ruth: a mother’s struggle

Sara: coping without family

Utrina: working the land

Warren: the HIV burden

Grace: an open approach

Key themes

Introduction to the project

HIV and AIDS

Food security

Agriculture

Water and drought

Development

Survival strategies

Self-help and community support

Gender

Loans and debt

Political representation

The cycle of poverty

Education