Herding cattle instead of going to school was his lot in life. But Golden Lubuwa has fought, and continues to fight, for an education. ‘I want to understand the world,’ he says
When Golden Lubuwa was eight, his father died and he had to leave school to herd cattle. But he never stopped longing for an education and, at the age of 12, left home to seek one. What unfolded over the next few years – and is still unfolding now – is a triumph of determination over circumstance. Read his story as told to ROSE COHEN and watch our brief video to get a sense of a man who refuses to let life keep him down
Golden, 26, was born in Lusaka in Zambia, the second youngest of nine children, and grew up in the village of Baambwe in Namala District
‘EVERY CHILD DESERVES a chance to go to school, but I was denied that privilege. The trouble began in Zambia, my home country, when I was only eight years old. My parents were separated and my father, a soldier in the Zambian army who had remarried when I was little, died suddenly. Just like that, funds were not available for my schooling and I was told I had to stay home and herd cattle. My mother was living far away in a rural area and had no money to help me with my schooling.
Life felt bitter for me. I was desperate to go to school. I wanted to understand the news and learn more about the world, to understand what other people were talking about. I also knew that education was essential if I wanted to get a good job and live a better life. Things weren’t easy with my step-mother once my father died so at 12, I left home with a deep desire to find a way to get myself through school.
‘I was 12 and I was alone. It wasn’t a smooth ride. I had to borrow things and work hard’
It wasn’t a smooth ride. I was alone, I had to borrow things from people, rely on the support of other families and piece jobs to survive and work hard just to put food in my mouth. First I lived in a village, and then I went to a township. I fetched water for people, then stayed with a man, helping him look after his cattle. I also worked in construction, making bricks and working with Chinese builders.
The possibility of me going to school was laughable at that stage, but I never gave up on my dream. I had to fight a lot of negativity and work hard, but at the age of 14, I committed my life to God and kept faith that He was leading me and would provide. All through the tough times, I never stopped going to church. Initially I thought that going to church was just an exercise for people to do on a Sunday but when the preacher preached, I started to find relief. I could see myself in biblical situations and characters and over time, I started to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I realised that God didn’t say we would never suffer in life, and that perseverance was important.
Golden also worked in construction to keep his dream of an education alive. ‘The possibility of me going to school was laughable at that stage’
My friends encouraged me constantly and when I was 17, a miracle unfolded in my life. I met an ‘earth angel’, David Mukena. He worked for an NGO promoting HIV/AIDS education, and he convinced his manager to support my deep desire to be schooled. This made me very happy. Thanks to this guy, my bright new journey began.
Golden: ‘A miracle unfolded in my life. I met NGO worker David Mukena, who convinced his boss, Wisdom Syaamuchimba (right), to assist with my school fees’
And so I started school! There were many mountains to climb. I felt shy because I was so old. All the lessons were in English and I couldn’t speak or write a word of it. There were so many difficult words I couldn’t understand, like ‘reaction’ and ‘oxygen’. I would stare at a word on a page and pray for the wisdom and knowledge to understand it. My prayers were answered: in just one year I learnt how to read, write, understand and answer tests – all in English!
I was mocked constantly because I was very old for my grade. The other students told me that I must be lazy, that I was in the wrong place and should be on a farm. It was hard to have children laughing at me but I humbled myself and prayed for faith and courage.
Golden: ‘When I finally started school at 17, there were many mountains to climb. All the lessons were in English, which I didn’t speak, and I was mocked because I was very old for my grade’
Then another answer to prayer: I happened to meet the boss of Namwala District’s social welfare at church and through that connection I received sponsorship for my school fees so that David’s boss didn’t need to pay them any longer. This covered fees and accommodation, so to pay for other needs such as food I asked the teachers for manual and gardening work.
I was very lonely, I lived by myself, cooked for myself, girls didn’t want to know me because I was so old for the class. But when I wasn’t working for money, I focused on getting through my school work until it paid off and I learnt a lot from other people. And then I was appointed head boy of the school, a school of 3 000 pupils. This made me very happy. I discovered 73 out of 80 teachers had voted for me!
Golden with teachers on a visit to his former school: ‘Being appointed head boy made me very happy. The thing I enjoyed most was how people gave me responsibility and trusted me. It was very satisfying that teachers with degrees came to me for help with pupil issues, and I was able to solve them.’
The people in my community who had mocked me now praised me. They would look at me and say, ‘Golden, you’re the man. You’re going to go far.’ I had already decided to follow the ways of the wise and keep silent and never responded, either to their mockery or their praise.
I was determined to do my best to ensure the justice and security of the school were protected. The thing I enjoyed most was how people gave me responsibility and trusted me. It was very satisfying that teachers with degrees came to me for help with issues they were having with pupils, and I was able to solve them. I did my best to ensure that everyone benefited and was happy in some way.
Determined to go places: Golden ended up completing his entire school education in just six years
In 2015, I completed Grade 12 at Namwala Secondary School. In six years, I had managed to start and finish my entire school education. Good final results gave me a rich opportunity to leave the country. Times were tougher than ever in Zambia and without a family support network to give me a good chance of employment, I needed exposure to new opportunities.
So I travelled to South Africa, but life was harder there than I expected. I had to sleep outside for up to four nights in a row and at times was ostracised for being a foreigner. I washed dishes and worked as a runner in restaurants to pay my way. I always made sure I looked smart wherever I had been sleeping, but I found that it’s hard to find a good job without a degree. I have been longing to study management, business administration or finance because I did well in accounting and maths at school and I like to lead people. I got to know a masters student called Jeremy Bingham who encouraged me to apply for a B.Comm business degree at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, and the great news is that I have been accepted for 2020!
It’s a great start, though many more hurdles lie ahead. I don’t actually have the money to study or support myself so I am looking for a sponsor. But I will never give up, I want to be educated. It’s not only about enjoying money but about helping people as others have helped me.
‘I feel that I’m a human being’
While I was working in a restaurant in Cape Town, I was fortunate enough to meet a student called Tim Treagus. He was waiting for someone and I was reading a novel outside on my break. We struck up a conversation about it. Tim invited me to his church small group and introduced me to his family and friends, who have become my friends too. He’s taken me out for coffee, helped me with my university application and driven me around town. The members of the church group sponsored me to come back to Zambia to apply for a police clearance certificate and a South African student visa, which should be mine on 1 December 2019.
Tim’s help in introducing me to a supportive new community has made me feel that I’m a human being after being rejected for a long time. He studies hard but always spends time with me to see what’s happening. I have huge gratitude towards him and the group. Two young ladies called Laura and Margie have also been so kind to take me to their families and encourage me. I really appreciate them all.
New South African friends Jeremy Bingham (top left), Tim Treagus (top right) and a church home group (bottom) encouraged and assisted Golden in his successful application for a B.Comm business degree at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, starting in 2020. Golden is now seeking sponsorship to help him realise this dream (see info at end of this article if you feel moved to donate)
I am keen to use my talents and my story to encourage others to a better life. I’m passionate about human rights and treating people with respect. My dream is to fight injustice, especially to help women everywhere access equal opportunities. If my mother had been able to earn money, my life would not have been as difficult as it has been. I’ve spent time with her while I have been back in Zambia to apply for my student visa and she is so happy that I was offered a university place as it means I’ll be able to take care of her one day.
I have discovered that a number of children in my family and community started school when their families saw that I had made it through.
Despite the hurdles I still face, I believe God has big plans for my life. I’m planning to stay positive and keep my dreams alive. If history is anything to go on, I’ll get by with hard work and a little help from my friends! My humble advice to anyone is this: don’t be entitled. If life offers you opportunities, take them!
Golden with his mother, Rosenah. ‘She was so happy when I told her I had been accepted to university,’ he says. ‘Despite the hurdles I still face, I believe God has big plans for my life. I’m planning to stay positive and keep my dreams alive’
HOW TO BE A GOOD LEADER: 3 TIPS BY GOLDEN
1. Do not favour
2. Be courageous, if your best friend messes up, you need to tell him or her, ‘This is wrong’. The Bible says in John 8 verse 32: ‘The truth shall set you free’. When I was head boy, pupils used to complain and even hit me when I enforced rules, but I recently bumped into a group of my school peers who told me, ‘If you hadn’t been so strict, we wouldn’t have made it!’
3. Consider following the example of the greatest leader of all, Jesus!
GOLDEN ON VIDEO: MEET ONE VERY DETERMINED GUY!
If you’d like to help Golden realise his dream of attending university, you can contribute directly by SnapScan or depositing into a bank account belonging to Tim’s mom’s church in Cape Town