Project Concern International (PCI) has been taking a community-based approach to promoting health in Zambia since 1996. We recently celebrated the 20 year anniversary of PCI Zambia and reminisced on the transformational changes we’ve seen. PCI Interim CEO Mark O’Donnell went there to join the festivities.
There, he was reunited with former PCI beneficiary Tobias Tembo. Mark first met Tobias in the early 2000s during a visit to Zambia. Tobias’ story of growth has been intertwined with PCI Zambia and it’s been a pleasure to watch him excel.
Tobias was orphaned at an early age when his parents died of HIV/AIDS. He was sent to live with his aunt who wanted him to leave school to help with her business. He 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 joined our street children program in Zambia and discovered healthy ways to grow and succeed. He co-founded Barefeet Theatre, a creative arts and performance project created for and by street children. He also spent time as a peer counselor for PCI; working with street kids to gain their trust and ultimately help them transition to shelter homes to receive drug counseling, food, shelter, and education.
“How does someone who starts with so many disadvantages (lack of a traditional support network, no resources, limited access to education) thrive the way Tobias has?” asked Mark. “I believe PCI and the Africa KidSAFE Initiative had a lot to do with providing a safety net, a nurturing environment, skill development and even hope for a better future, but I also believe it was something Tobias found within himself.”
Tobias fulfilled his dream of getting an education and graduated from the University of Zambia in 2011. He is now working for the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs in Zambia’s least developed province. “My job is to help traditional leaders to engage government and other stakeholders in order to improve the quality of life for their subjects,” said Tobias. “I have also been working on various film projects of my own as well as collaboration with local and international filmmakers.” Last year he worked on director Rungano Nyoni’s upcoming feature film “I Am Not A Witch”.
His next goal is to earn a master’s in media and communications and was accepted to Lund University in Sweden in 2015, but was unable to attend due to a lack of scholarships. He is continuing to apply for more scholarships with the hopes of furthering his education.
“(Tobias) is enormously creative, caring and passionate,” said PCI Zambia Country Director Jo Musonda. “He has taken every opportunity that has been presented to him with both hands.”
We’re thrilled to see how far he’s come and to have him as part of our legacy of lasting impact. Following people like Tobias over the years motivates us to continue our work across the world.
“Too often we don’t get the chance to reconnect with the people whose lives we were fortunate enough to be a part of, but when that does occur it continues to be something very special to me,” said Mark.
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