Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Tearfund home

How Ruth became mum to 100 girls (including Margret)

A story about how Tearfund training and a desire to see girls educated safely resulted in a church-led living solution.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 26 Jan 2024

Margret, a young woman with dark curly hair, smiles as she stands between shelves of books in the library, reading a book.

Margret enjoyed having access to the library at Serenje Girls’ Dormitory. The dormitory was set up with the support of Tearfund to make sure that girls like Margret have a safe place to stay while finishing their education. Credit: Chipema Chinyama/Tearfund

Ruth tells us, ‘Everyone addresses me as mum!’ She’s the matron at Serenje Girls’ Dormitory in Zambia. It’s a place that offers safety and the opportunity of a secondary education to as many as 100 teenage girls at a time. Many of the girls are orphans. All of them come from backgrounds which would bring significant challenges to being able to continue their schooling.

‘If a girl made it to go to the higher grade, it meant coming to Serenje,’ Ruth explains. But many of the girls live in villages outside Serenje that are too far away to make travelling safely to and from school each day possible.

No [safe] room for girls

There is a boarding school in Serenje, but it’s only for boys. For young girls eager to continue their education, Ruth says they faced significant risks to their safety. ‘They had to squat* or pay to stay in compounds,’ she says. ‘But, houses in those compounds are not made with any protection. Elderly drunken men would bang on the doors and abuse the girls.

‘If a girl became pregnant, out of desperation, they would join with the drunkard. That was the biggest danger in these compounds: a girl, far from her village, leaving school and becoming a drunkard because there was no one there to instruct or to be a mother to them.’

The church bringing community transformation

Fortunately, the local bishop, Samson, started noticing what was happening in the community.

His church, along with others, had already received support through a Tearfund partner project and started making a difference in the lives of many young people. ‘We were sponsoring thousands of girls and boys to go through school, paying for their school fees, buying school equipment and everything they needed,’ says Bishop Samson.

Inspired by the training he had received from Tearfund, he decided that he and his church should provide a solution for the accommodation problem too. ‘We were paying for these girls,’ he says, ‘but then some were being abused, so they could not continue at school.’

A solution and a safe haven

‘We began brainstorming,’ Bishop Samson says. ‘We had many conversations and decided we could build a dormitory. Thankfully, Tearfund mobilised the resources to build the dorm. Now, it provides a safe haven for girls as they go to school.’

Through the generosity of Tearfund supporters, the church was able to employ Ruth as matron to give the girls parental care and protection. ‘The girls who come to the dormitory are safe,’ Ruth says. ‘We give them counselling and guidance. We also provide cooking lessons, so those who don’t know how to cook can learn those skills.

Inspiring women

‘We sometimes invite women of God and others such as teachers and police officers to come to speak to them, so they can discover their talents and what they can do when they leave school.’

Ruth says she is inspired by the story of Hannah in the Bible (1 Samuel). ‘I love Hannah,’ Ruth says. ‘She is a woman who depended on God. Hannah stirs my spirit to pray. Just to pray. Instead of complaining – just to come before the Lord to pray for this dormitory.’

‘I’m a girl with a dream of changing the face of my family in future!’
Margret, 19, Zambia

Margret’s success story

Margret is one of the many young women for whom the dormitory has provided a safe place.

‘I am 19 years old and the third born in a family of five children, she says. ‘My father passed away and my mother is a subsistence farmer.

‘I’m a girl with a dream of changing the face of my family in future!

‘My life has become better since I came here. Because the dormitory helps me in a lot of ways – like being able to complete my schooling here, which I couldn’t have managed living at home.

‘I am proud of the dormitory because it has given me a lot of hope and benefits. It gave me shelter – without which I wasn't going to manage. I would have been staying in the slums alone. It provided security for me from abuse. It helped me in managing my time in studying and I was able to use the library for research. By reading different books, I’ve learnt things I’d never heard before. I could also share notes with other girls at the dorm – and this helped me to attain good results.

‘And the dorm provided time for praying, leading me to know the love of Jesus.

‘I really appreciate the people who made an effort to set up this dormitory, because it helped me to complete my school – through paying my school fees, offering food for me and [giving me a place where] I was able to study properly.

‘My hope for the future is that I should succeed and be able to help my family in many different ways.’

*Squat: to illegally occupy an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building that the squatter does not own or rent.

Pray with us

    • Thank God for churches like Bishop Samson’s who are taking up the responsibility to bring practical transformation in their communities. Ask God to bless the work that they’re doing and for more local churches around the world to take up the call to be salt and light in their communities.
    • Pray for Ruth and all the girls in Serenje Dormitory. Ask God to provide the resources they need and to give them continued safety.
    • Lift up girls around the world who struggle to access education because of issues like safety and sexual and gender-based violence. Pray for more solutions and safe spaces like the dormitory.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

Share this page

Share this page to spread the word and help support those in need.

Get our email updates

Learn about our work and stay in touch with Tearfund. Hear about our news, activities and appeals by email.

Sign up now - Get our email updates

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.