Can you change a thousand lives?
Catherine Nachalwe from Zambia is from a poor background. Thanks to the charity Our Moon Education and an internship at SolidarMed, she now has a bright future ahead of her. In September, the 19-year-old embarked on a university programme in the United States and she hopes to help shape her country’s future.
Catherine Nachalwe’s eyes light up. She is happy when she looks back at her life so far, and ambitious when she looks to the future – her own but also that of many others. In an interview with SolidarMed, Zambian Catherine Nachalwe looks back on her past and the experiences that Our Moon Education and SolidarMed made possible. Our Moon Education is a charity that promotes education for promising young minds in Zambia (see box). Thanks to a gap year at this organisation followed by an internship at SolidarMed in Zambia, Catherine got the opportunity to study for a bachelor’s degree at Duke University in North Carolina. She has had to overcome many obstacles to get this far.
A turning point in life
Rewind 19 years: Catherine Nachalwe was born in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. She grew up with two older sisters and one older brother in a poor family. Her father died when she was five.
“It was really hard for my mother to provide for all her children and to get us a good education,“ Catherine explains. She therefore attended a village school. These are free schools for poor and disadvantaged children that are set up and run by local people and have few resources.
Catherine was a gifted pupil and could have secured a place at one of Zambia’s best schools, the David Kaunda National STEM Secondary School. But as her mother could not afford the school fees, Catherine went to St. Francis and Clare Secondary School instead. In 2021, she graduated with one of the top grades in her year. A schoolfriend therefore advised her to apply for a gap year at Our Moon Education, which she did successfully. Catherine took part in the programme and learned to be open-minded, cooperative and inquisitive. “The gap year was a turning point in my life,” Catherine explains. The organisation not only developed her skills but also opened the door to university.
“In Zambia, being a doctor is the most prestigious profession.”
Catherine Nachalwe, Former intern at SolidarMed Zambia
An internship at SolidarMed
To allow graduates of the programme to hone their skills and make a contribution to society, Our Moon Education works with local organisations that offer internships. This is how Catherine got the opportunity to do an internship at the SolidarMed office in Zambia in the first half of 2023. She was involved in a variety of tasks: from compiling questionnaires and scientific data, to landscaping and garden design, to examining how to make the clinical training centres initiated by SolidarMed more environmentally friendly and sustainable. She speaks very highly of her employer: “SolidarMed is a fantastic organisation. It improves the health of so many people.” She goes on to explain that experiencing this on a daily basis throughout her internship was both impressive and inspiring. “I too would like to help people in need one day.”
“I feel a responsibility”
For a long time, Catherine wanted to be a doctor herself. “In Zambia, being a doctor is the most prestigious profession,“ she explains. People with good grades at school generally study medicine. But Catherine now has other, equally ambitious plans. “After my degree in the US, I want to come back to Zambia and work to tackle deforestation at the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment,” she says. She is keen to educate her fellow citizens about nature preservation and climate change. She hopes that the master’s degree she is aiming for will help her develop her home village and her home country. She says she cares about future generations and feels a responsibility. The root of her passion for the environment does actually come from medicine. “As a child, I suffered from asthma,” she explains. “My grandmother would always be concocting drinks made from leaves and roots to alleviate my symptoms. I started to love trees because they protected me.”
Catherine is one of over 20 million people in Zambia. Yet she has big plans. Perhaps the vision of Our Moon Education will come true and Catherine really will be one person who can change a thousand lives.
Our Moon Education is a charitable organisation in Zambia whose vision is ‘We change one life to change a thousand’). Our Moon gives bright but financially-disadvantaged young people the skills, knowledge and dispositions to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, to become responsible leaders and to contribute to positive social change. In doing so, they become role models to inspire future generations of extraordinary young people.