Who needs Hollywood when you’ve got Tujatane?

Live entertainment of any kind is a luxury here in the upper Zambezi Valley. Theater nights are nonexistent, as are movie houses, while exhibitions and concerts, usually arranged within a small radius of Victoria Falls, are marked up on our calendar as a rare one-off treat.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered we lived nearby an award-winning troupe of performing artists? A group of talented kids who’ve competed and won national competitions for traditional dancing, drama and poetry, over and over again?

I’m talking about the students who attend Tujatane, a local school that offers education to underprivileged children who live within walking distance of its premises. A couple of weeks ago we attended a program of performance arts organized to not only celebrate the school’s 18th birthday, but also to raise funds for the students to participate in Zambia’s 2015 national competitions.

If what we witnessed was anything to go by, then the Tujatane Troupe will be winners again. We thought they were brilliant!

A Tujatane student presents Deputy Sydney, the Performing Arts guru, with a model of the school he crafted as a thank you gift.
A Tujatane student presents Sydney Himwiita, performing arts guru and soon-to-be headmaster, with a model of the school he crafted as a thank you gift.
TUJATANE means "togetherness" in Tonga, this regions local dialect.
TUJATANE means “holding hands together” in Tonga, one of this region’s local dialects.
Tujatane is providing an education to 241 children whose ages range from 2 to 16.
The school is providing an education to 241 children whose ages range from 2 to 16.
Tujatane competes annually with all primary schools across Zambia in national performing arts competitions. The school holds the title for ‘Best traditional dancers in Zambia' for primary (2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013), and it second nationally in Drama & Poetry in 2013.
Tujatane competes annually with primary schools across Zambia in national performing arts competitions. The school holds the title for ‘Best traditional dancers in Zambia’ for primary (2009/11/12/13), and it came second nationally in Drama & Poetry in 2013.
The performing arts program includes poetry, choir, traditional dance & drama. It also includes a music scholars' program for exceptionally talented students.
The performing arts program includes poetry, choir, traditional dance, & drama. It also includes a music scholars’ program for exceptionally talented students.
One of the smallest performers with the biggest presence (and smile).
One of the smallest performers of the evening with the biggest presence (and smile)!
Through education, Tujatane becomes the starting point for change. The children and their parents understand that education will bring opportunity.
Performing arts are an integral part of the school’s curriculum.

Tujatane, the Tongabezi Trust School, is the brainchild of our friend Vanessa Parker, who landed in Livingstone as a volunteer teacher back in the 1990s. When she first opened its doors, Vanessa welcomed 15 preschoolers, having little clue that one day it would grow into 241 children.

Vanessa believes that through education Tujatane becomes the starting point for change among a community that has only really known poverty. She donates a considerable amount of time and energy to the school on a voluntary basis. What Vanessa has created and nurtured–the inspirational legacy she will leave this community–is nothing short of heroic.

Tujatane School has charity status in the United Kingdom, and is completely funded on donations. If you would like to donate, please click on the following link: Sponsor a Tujatane Child.

Tujatane's outdoor ampitheater where the students performed.
Tujatane’s outdoor amphitheater where the students performed for us.

Grateful thanks to Yomar Monsalve for allowing me to use his photographs and video in this blog post.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • What an amazing school! Thanks for including this – any chance of a video clip? Longed to see more …

    • Hi Georgie … Yes, what an amazing school, right on our doorstep. Lucky us. I tried to include a video clip in this post but failed. Do you have any helpful hints on how to upload one? If so, I would be most grateful if you could share your know-how. The performers were really terrific!

  • Is this the school that I might get to visit while I’m there? And where Elyse might get to volunteer in 2016? Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • It is indeed, Cynthia! So glad you enjoyed this post. I enjoyed writing it. It is truly amazing what has been achieved at Tujatane.

  • Annabel..it’s so evident that you have gone into your new life with such open eyes and heart. A really feel good story, thanks so much for sharing it with all of us. The pictures are great…..and I agree if you manage to upload a clip (but sorry can’t help you there!) I’d also love to see it. xx

    • Thank you, dear Hellie. What I find so extraordinary about living in an environment like this is that you want for very little … as long as you are able to slow down and ‘see’ that what is before you is a gift. In some ways it might be lacking the embellishments–and yes, there are many challenges–but the simple authenticity more than makes up for it. I am privileged to be a witness. I will certainly try to upload a video … but techie stuff is so not my forte! xo

  • Very inspiring – will have to visit the school – what about them performing at HIFA?? I can point you/them in the right direction??

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Moira. The children are outstanding performers, to be sure. I wonder if HIFA allows kids to perform? Thank you for your kind offer of help. I will certainly pass on your suggestion to Vanessa and her staff. I know they will be so grateful for your interest.

  • Hi Annabel – my slow-tech brain has only just seen your response! I thought I’d pressed the ’email me any response’ button but nothing happened. I have upgraded my wordpress site – it now costs a small annual fee and it is dead easy to add video. If they have a YouTube link go to that and a code should come up if you press the share button by the clip. That code is then just pasted into your blog where you want it to go. Does that make any sense?? I have spent a lot of time asking Google the same question and that’s where I’ve found most of the answers. Let me know:)

    • Hi Georgie … thank you! Ummm, if you revisit this post you will see I’ve added video (also on Facebook). 🙂 I figured it out last night. And I did it especially for you! Enjoy … xo

  • You’ve done it – tutto bene!

  • My wife and I stayed at the Tongabezi Lodge in May and had the opportunity to tour the school. We were very impressed with the facilities and the incredible programs that have been developed for these local kids. We decided to sponsor a student and are very excited about the opportunity to build a long distance relationship with him in hopes that we can in some way encourage him to continue to work on his education. Seeing this post really validates our decision to get involved.

    Jim and Jane Henry
    Jacksonville, Florida

    • Hello Jim and Jane … thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this blog post, and thank you, too, for the follow. I think your decision to sponsor a student at Tujatane will have life-changing consequences for the lucky child, and how grateful he will be. The school, its management, and staff, are indeed impressive, as you say, but even more so are those who visit Zambia and commit to helping someone less fortunate than themselves, like you’ve just done. This comes with my respect and gratitude, Annabel

      • Annabel, thanks for your kind words. Excuse my not knowing, but tell me a little about yourself, Savannabel, etc. You are obviously very ingrained in the local community.

  • I am actually a newbie to Livingstone, Jim. I arrived in February 2013. More information can be found on my About page. I just adore my life here! Thank you for your interest … Annabel


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