Money is hard to find, everywhere. Most things we need to stay alive are going up. Kindness is fast becoming very expensive and rare! People are forced to become mean by poverty. More workers will lose their jobs as the cost of fuel makes running businesses hard, especially small business.

Things are not made any better by the presence among us of a tiny few families and individuals who seem to be swimming in money, an apparent endless supply of money, only they know which streams this money comes from.

A great advantage we Zambians have in these tough days is that poverty has been with us for generations, and we have acquired many ways of beating poverty and staying alive. It has almost become a mass social genetic quality to survive on very little. Besides knowing where to get the cheapest prices for the things we need, many of us have also acquired a remarkable ability to make very small amounts of money buy us as many things as we need.

Eating once a day, any food available, is enough. We have long left theories and practices of a balanced diet in the nutrition text books, where they properly belong; as theories. This requires the ability to suppress not only hunger for long periods of time, but also suspending the appetite and desire for good food, indefinitely. Some say we are the hungriest nation on Earth.

Our daily hardships are the perfect economic school for practical education about how to survive in conditions of extreme scarcity and want. Properly curated and documented, we in fact must export some of this knowledge to the rest of the world. We are experts at the efficient allocation of scarce household resources.

As a country, we must be celebrated by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for sustaining electoral democracy in conditions totally unfit for any kind of democracy; mass hunger and democracy are not friends!

Because of the prolonged period of mass hunger and poverty since independence in 1964, millions of Zambians do not know what it is like to be in a country where finding a job, buying food, drink, clothes, paying rent, raising children, paying school fees, and looking forward to a pension are not stressfully maddening things but perfect, ordinary, everyday, obvious human activities.

How, then, if you are very lucky to be in college or university in these conditions must you survive? That is the question you must answer every day of your study period, if you belong to the majority of Zambian youths who come from working class (employed or unemployed) or poor rural households. What is not at issue, though, is that study you must, and complete the studies, no matter what! It is the matter of how to thrive, daily, as a student in extreme poverty that you must deal with.

It is very easy to be tempted to opt to work and study at the same time, in order to be able to meet the costs of living and even being of help to family members in worse off situations. The difficulty with this option is that it requires almost inhuman forms and levels of personal discipline to balance school and work lives, at the same time. Depending upon the courses one is studying and the student abilities, it is virtually impossible to expect to complete studying in normal record time if one decides to work and study at the same time.

Unfortunately this choice is forced upon some students as they may have no one to pay for most of their needs as students, including fees. A small number of students manage to complete their studies this way; I doubt whether the quality of the academic results they get are a true reflection of their full abilities and potentials. Many do not make it.

Where school fees, study essentials, accommodation and some food are made available, it is always preferable to fight it out as a full time student whose time is 100 percent devoted to studying, rather than splitting oneself between school and work. The important question is how to survive without all the things a young person needs and craves for, usually hungry, poorly dressed, and even inhibited to fully socialise in college or university.

A college or university is a place where many people, usually young, congregate to acquire knowledge and skills preparatory to joining the national and global labour forces. Every college or university also reflects the quality of society in its country or community. It is “student politics” –how all young people see power in society and how it is distributed and therefor contributes to the quality of their student lives that matters the most.

The majority of our students must, besides focusing on their studies, use their time in the college or university to think about, and share ideas over the poverty situation in the country. Admitting that we are a rich country with the majority of its people immersed in extreme poverty is a good starting point. The questions are: how did we get here and what is to be done about this? Participating in such fruitful dialogues inevitably promotes and aids the formation of student consciousness and lifestyles that simultaneously embrace and reject poverty!

Embracing the poverty life of a college or university student means stoically surviving and sharing the little one has, while acquiring knowledge and developing a burning anger to contribute to abolish our distinctly ugly condition of a rich country with the majority of its people steeped in unimaginable poverty. Armed with this consciousness, much of the suffering while at college or university becomes not only manageable, but even a source of jokes, humour, satire, and inspiration for all kinds of music, literature and frugal lifestyles; poverty becomes a weapon to spur students on, to make the necessary sacrifices and complete their studies in record time to join the rest of the working class in combating the poverty which diminishes our lives. This way college and university campuses become breeding grounds for revolutionaries: young people fully committed to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to fight to change society and abolish poverty.

Lecturers and ordinary college and university staff are bound to embark on strikes to force managements to pay them a little bit more to enable them survive to run the institutions of learning. Students must not hesitate, as a united body, to support such strikes; happy lecturers and staff make for a happy institution! Never ever act to divide lecturers and staff from students! The lecturers and staff too, must always be sympathetic to the legitimate demands of students especially made to government for improved food allowances and accommodation. The symbiotic relationship between these communities must never be messed with, by either side; because together they are the college or university!

At a very personal level, spending money on alcohol, drugs and male and female prostitutes will only worsen your poverty! You will be amazed how half the amount you spend can be fruitfully shared with another student in need. It is not just the sharing of the food, drink, clothes, accommodation and academic resources that matters; it is learning the power and elevating quality of human solidarity with those in need that is so emancipatory and fulfilling.

Psychologically, your half empty stomach because you shared your food with a fellow poor hungry student feels fuller and your spirits lifted up compared to a full stomach because you selfishly ate alone, and so have no one to share the joys of a full tummy. Selfishness and greed slaughters the human spirit, always.

Be prepared and ready to suffer stoppages and disruptions in your studies as the cost of living forces millions of employed and unemployed workers to protest the hardships the best way they can, over your period of studies. Stay focussed, however, on completing your studies, to the best of your abilities, whatever the circumstances you are in. We Zambians are tough human beings!

Be cheerful always, it could be worse!

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