As schools in Zambia grapple with climate change, one teenager is spreading the word in sign language

KASAMA, Zambia (AP) – Every morning, Bridget Chanda places her prosthetic legs next to her bed, pulls on her socks and squeezes the remains of her limbs into the prosthetics as best she can. After six years they don’t fit anymore, and it’s painful to stand or walk for too long, but it doesn’t bother her.

“I’m still getting up somehow,” she said. “I’m a girl on a mission.”

Chanda, 18 years old, wants to help educate the deaf community of Zambia about climate change. As the southern African nation experiences more frequent extreme weather, including the current severe drought, it has encouraged the Zambian government to include more climate change education in its school curriculum.

But to share that with the deaf community, it’s up to people like Chanda to help translate — and it’s a task that’s made more difficult because sign language doesn’t include many climate-related terms.

She is a student at Chileshe Chepela Special School in Kasama, in northern Zambia, where there are many deaf or hard of hearing students. After Chanda enrolled there in 2022, learning sign language was a way to fit in and relate to those school students, even though she herself is not deaf. Around the same time, climate change was becoming a more topical issue in the country, and Chanda – who points out that her hometown in southern Lusaka is drought-stricken and Kasama is looking at bumper crops – was not ask to talk about it. it.

“Climate change affects our way of life,” she said.

The country is suffering from severe food shortages as water is becoming scarce, prompting the president to declare a national emergency in February.

Chanda acted as an interpreter as climate agriculture expert Elizabeth Motale visits communities and schools to educate people about climate change. In one visit to a garden outside Chanda’s school, she signed on as Motale showed students how drip irrigation gets precious water right when plants need it. The students laughed and laughed as they punctured a plastic bottle to drill water onto the roots of the plants.

Chanda even taught Motale some sign language to use when an interpreter is not available.

“Bridget was a blessing to me,” Motale said.

Sign language is not recognized as an official language in Zambia, but the government has taken steps to recognize it and it is mandatory to teach climate change education in sign language as well. But with the language behind, it can be a challenge to teach new concepts.

Chanda recalls struggling to find words to explain mulch, for example — adding organic matter to the soil to trap moisture — or climate adaptation, the ways people can adapt to more extreme weather.

“It’s hard sometimes,” Chanda said. “Sometimes I have to do fingerspelling and when I miss a letter or two it makes it difficult for some students who are deaf.”

The Campaign for Women’s Education (CAMFED), a pan-African movement promoting girls’ education, launched a new climate education program in schools in March, led by young female graduates. The programme, in partnership with ministries of education in Zambia and Zimbabwe, aims to help young people – especially marginalized girls – build climate resilience and explore green careers.

Part of the climate education that CAMFED wants to promote is practical. It runs an agricultural guidance program that aims to promote climate-smart techniques, such as drip irrigation that uses less water, and teaches entrepreneurial skills that can help young women start farming businesses that use such skills to send.

Helena Chandwe, enterprise manager at CAMFED, said that it is important to improve the way information is provided to students with special needs, and that means interpreters who can deliver it correctly and with sufficient context.

Chanda hopes to join the agricultural guidance program after completing her education.

Her lower legs were amputated after she developed gangrene at the age of 7. She was stigmatized and bullied at school in Lusaka.

Her prosthetic limbs do not keep her from wheeling a friend, Juliet Nankamba, around in Juliet’s wheelchair. The two often sit next to each other in class, sharing books and participating in class discussions and assignments. When asked about her friendship with Bridget, Juliet laughs, smiles and makes a peace sign.

Chanda struggles to hold back tears as she describes how CAMFED has helped with her tuition and boarding fees. Appointed head girl at the beginning of the year, she said she dreams of one day becoming an orthopedic surgeon, going far from Zambia to make her mother proud.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is financially supported by multiple private foundations. AP is responsible for every single subject. Find AP standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and covered areas of funding at

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