In Zambia, the range of communities and groups that have a voice in the public sphere is restricted. The Zambian PEN Centre, ZAMPEN, since its foundation in 2004, has promoted the development of young voices and their ability to fully participate and be heard in society through the creation of school clubs focusing on creative writing, poetry and leadership, as well as the weekly meetings of Writers Circle and the restoration of community libraries.
Based in Lusaka, this PEN Centre actively promotes freedom of expression and literature by engaging children in reading and creative writing by running PEN school clubs. Although, according to UNESCO, literacy rates and school enrolment in Zambia has significantly increased in the last 10 years, reading culture has stagnated. ZAMPEN has strived for the stimulation of a reading and writing for the enhancement of personal, social, cultural and educational development in the country.
With the support of PEN International ZAMPEN now runs six PEN Clubs in high schools: Kabulonga Boys, Kabulonga Girls, Munali Girls, Munali Boys, Matero Boys and Churdleigh House High Schools. The Clubs have reached more than 2,000 children to date. Through a series of events in 2009 where kids and family as well as the broader community including media, NGO and government representatives, support the inclusion of young voices in Zambian society.
Zambian Pen Project Manager, Morgan Chipopu, explains that the rehabilitation of community libraries can play a key role in the development of a reading culture, something which ZAMPEN’s flagship ‘Poceza M’mdzulo’ (‘Storytime event’) addressed:
“Our community library programmes raised a lot of debate in the media about the reading habits of Zambians, and at the same time inspired other organisations to get involved in the rehabilitation of other main libraries in Lusaka like Chilenje, Mtendere and Kalingalinga”, Chipopu said.
Through community literary events held in libraries, the borrowing of books has increased and ZAMPEN is now working with the Lusaksa authorities to apply their expertise to additional libraries.
Pen Charter Award 2012: Writers of the future
After running a series of successful creative writing competitions for young people in recent years, involving PEN International partner Clifford Chance, in 2012 Zambian PEN will award children in poetry and short story writing as part of its school programs.
For ZAMPEN, this is a way of celebrating writing and nurturing young talent. The PEN Charter Award 2012 is a collaboration between Zambian PEN and the South African PEN Centre, putting into practice PEN’s aims of promoting mutual understanding through literature and supporting the participation of young voices in society.
As the Centre aims at encouraging literary-related activities in schools, Chipopou explains: “We [Zambian and South African PEN] have put our little resources together to continue with our creative writing workshops and competitions in schools. These programmes involve sending mentors to these schools on a monthly basis to sharpen reading and writing skills at early ages”.
Writers’ Circle: Celebrating African literature
Since 2006 ZAMPEN has been running monthly Writers’ meetings where members and non-members gather to discuss topics of common interest. A particular subject is chosen and debated, and its popularity amongst writers has grown greatly in the recent years and many people travel great distances to attend these meetings.
The Circle was conceived as a literary platform where members and friends could share and enjoy their work, share skills and experiences and encourage each other in “their lonely literary endeavour”, as Zambian PEN members have expressed.
As part of its strategy to support and promote African literature ZAMPEN as developed “Folktale Storytelling Nights”, a celebration of oral literature. The project brings together accomplished storytellers from the community to help keep the tradition of passing wisdom through folktales alive.
“Zambian Pen thought of driving on this old form of literature brought into town, drawing participation from both the old and the young to maintain this very valuable piece of art”, Chipopu said.
The Writers’ Circle, the school programmes, the community libraries and the Folktale Storytelling Night are the main projects run by Zambian Pen in its aim of promoting and defending the free and responsible exchange of thought and literature.
Working in partnership is at the heart of ZAMPEN through its PEN Centre Exchange Programme, whereby different PEN Centres have visited and exchanged experiences and lessons in the administration of centre activities and strengthening local and regional networks of Pen Centres. Since 2010, Malawi, Ugandan, Sierra Leonean and Morrocan PEN Centres have taken part in exchanges with ZAMPEN.