“Taonga!” … We Are Grateful (in Chinanja)

It’s been nearly a year since eighteen small Zambians carried their brightly-colored plastic chairs into a makeshift, mud-walled room to start their education at our farm’s new preschool and day care center. Such a lot has happened since writing my first school post back in March. It’s been named Taonga Day Care — taonga meaning “we are grateful” in Chinanja — by the Zambian mothers who reside on the farm. The shy, nervous children that refused to speak to us and avoided any eye contact have transformed into miniature friends. Friends that giggle and hold our hands; that call out our names in Zamglish and demand “aelopranes, coins, eggies, and kek.” As Chris said to me about the children visiting him in his office before and after school: “They are really happy counterpoints of the day.”

In the beginning at Taonga
In the beginning: the makeshift, mud-walled classroom.

“I want KEK!” one squealed to me on my recent visit, swinging my hand and jumping up and down.
“What’s the magic word?”
So cake they all got, baked here last week by Adelina Banda and me. A huge chocolate cake, with balloons and paper whistles, for an end-of-year school party; a party celebrating a metamorphosis; a party celebrating the send-off of the six-year-olds, moving confidently into their futures at “BIG school.”

Chris arranged for the building of two schoolrooms, one for the preschool and one for daycare, which the children moved in to just over a month ago. It still isn’t finished, but all the fundamentals are in place. There are little desks and chairs, posters, books, chalk, and a blackboard wrapped all the way around the four walls and positioned at small-kid height.

The new school building, which opened last month.
The new school building, all set about with guava trees.

The blackboard was the suggestion of American teacher Alison Curtis, who, along with her husband, John, has performed miracles among many grassroots education and health projects in Africa. We met Alison at a lunch, after which she visited the farm to give us some pointers. Since then, she has organized donations of books and pencils from the United States, coordinating the delivery with two other young American friends of ours, Elyse and Aidyn Morris.

Alison Curtis entertaining the schoolchildren.
Alison Curtis entertaining the children.

Elyse and Aidyn are the daughters of close friends of mine, who were neighbors when I lived in Bluemont, Virginia. I first met them when their mother, Cynthia, knocked on my front door a couple of days after I moved into my old stone house in September, 2003. In one hand Cynthia had a bottle of wine, in the other she held the handle to a plastic trailer in which sat two pretty toddlers. It was the beginning of a treasured friendship, one that I hold today with such gratitude on so many different levels, with a family that invited me in as one of their own.

Young American friends, Elyse and Aidyn Morris, have committed to raise awareness about, and fundraise for, Taonga Day Care.
Our young American friends, Elyse and Aidyn Morris (with Dudu, my beloved Jack Russell I had to leave behind in Virginia).

I have watched Elyse and Aidyn turn from toddlers, to children, to teenagers. Teenagers who, to me, defy the word “teenager” in its behavioral meaning: they are thoughtful, considerate people, always looking for a way to help others. When I first told these sisters about a pair of Zambian sisters taking the initiative to educate their children, they asked if there was a way to join the sisterhood.

Taonga - the Banda sisters
Angelina and Jenny Banda, two sisters changing the lives of the children on our farm.

They asked if they could come out and help at the school. Of course! They asked if they could raise money among their fellow students. Of course! They asked if they could build a website to raise money. Yes, please! Elyse and Aidyn’s interest led to the naming of the preschool; it led the Banda sisters to identifying what they really wanted for the future of the school. Earlier this year they designed and built taonga.org, while also working on a fundraising initiative for a garden in which each child will have his or her own patch, a bathroom, and a store room. Next year, during their summer holidays, Elyse and Aidyn are flying out to Zambia to spend a month here helping at the school. The kids won’t know what has hit them.


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


  • Great – wonderful!

    • Thank you so much, The Phraser! x

  • Inspirational work you guys! And as always – beautiful pictures Bella!

    • Thank you, dear Bridgie … as always. xo

  • Oh isn’t his all such wonderful news. My parents started their school in much the same way as yours and over 40 years the school morphed into a fully fledged primary school hot seating 400 pupils!!! Are you keen????

    • Thank you, Dal. A friend and neighbor here did exactly the same, and her special school, Tujatane, now has 250 pupils and is regarded as one of the best in Zambia. On my part, I am grateful she lives nearby, haha!

  • Lovely story, and good work by everyone involved. xx

    • Thank you, dear Louise … it’s very rewarding! xo

  • In a world oft so senselessly cruel and harsh especially where children and their acceptance whatever their race, colour, sex or faith is concerned . . . how fantastic to just look at those wonderful, happy and secure faces and truly say ‘taonga’ . . . all the very best for the future . . .

    • What a thoughtful, kind comment. Thank you very much, Eha. Happy holidays to you, and all the best, Annabel

  • Taoga is not a Tonga word, it is a Tumbuka word meaning thank you. The Tonga word for thank you is twalumba.

    • Hi Peggy … thank you so much for pointing out my error. I checked in with the Banda sisters, who are Nanja, and they concurred. They told me it is both a Chinanja and Tumbuka word. For some reason, because we live in the Zambezi Valley, I thought it was Tonga! As you will see, I have now corrected my mistake. All the best to you, Annabel

  • Thank you for all the great work you are doing!

    • It’s hardly work, but thank you!

  • Great work will be rewarded by the eagerness of the little students to learn. Love the fact that your Virginia friends are helping spread the word and raise money.
    It can only go from strength to strength.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Gillian … and please forgive my tardiness in responding. Our internet was struck by lightning … and still hasn’t returned. I have had to travel to Livingstone to correspond. Sigh. That said, I am happy for the rain! Happy holidays to you and yours. Annabel

  • Good old lightening. Hope you get hooked up again soon. I certainly don’t expect a reply so don’t worry. Enjoy the rain.
    In a wet Wales at the moment where the “lawn” is more like a bog although very mild. Not normal for Dec. Same mild weather in Spain but no rain which is a bit worrying.
    Wishing you well over the Christmas hols and a happy New Year.

  • What beautiful children! I want to squeeze each and every one of them!

    • Aren’t they just! Thank you for your kind comment, and happy holidays to you, chef mimi.

  • […] often supporting their children by themselves. This was a large reason why Chris and I created Taonga Daycare and Preschool: to give these kids a fair start, having been born into unfair […]

  • […] behalf, and friends took impromptu turns recounting stories from our past. The preschoolers from Taonga enacted a performance in celebration, while Chris and I were shadowed all day by Scarlett Gibson, […]

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