Tobias Tembo is a 28-year-old senior studying psychology at the University of Zambia (UZ). “Toby” plans to continue on after graduation to earn his Masters. Understanding the difficulty of being accepted to the University of Zambia is one thing, but coming from the streets of Lusaka is a feat worth mentioning.
Against all odds, Tobias earned his place at UZ through sheer determination. “Even when I was sleeping on the street, I dreamed of going to school,” he tells us. Tobias represents one of the more than 20 million children in Africa who have been orphaned by the devastation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. After his parents died, Tobias was sent to live with an aunt. When he was in primary school his aunt denied Tobias the opportunity to continue his education. Instead of paying for his schooling, his aunt wanted him to help earn money by joining her business. Tobias rebelled and found himself on the streets of Lusaka. There, he was one of the many children sleeping in empty bus stops and sniffing glue and jet fuel to ease the pain brought on by hunger, thirst, and loneliness. All the while, Tobias held to the hope of going to school.
Tobias’ desire to be educated helped him conquer his addiction to drugs. He found shelter provided by an NGO and his education was paid by a sponsor. Tobias became involved in PCI through his activities with the Barefeet Theatre, a creative arts and performance project created for and by street children. The project uses theatre, art, dance, music and creative writing as a tool to engage with and support the development of children most at risk of disengaging from their communities. Barefeet offers them an opportunity to have their voices heard and a channel through which to express themselves. Tobias plays the drum and dances in these educational performances.
Toby also became an outreach worker for PCI where he was employed as a peer counselor; working with street kids to gain their trust and ultimately help them transition to shelter homes where they receive drug counseling, food, shelter and education.