When my subject arrives I am at first a bit confused because my preparation notes say the man is 70. Instead the man I meet is spry-looking, wearing a trim gray goatee, a mischievous grin and a red bucket hat. After we exchange greetings and have a seat on opposing logs, ingeniously supported about a foot and a half above the ground by separate, y-shaped logs, I ask him about this apparent age discrepancy. “I am 70!” he tells me, “though I feel younger than that. Look, I can even run!” he says as he springs back up from his log and gives a demonstrative lap around the collected audience who clap and laugh in approval.
He attributes much of this energy to his having been a teacher for 20 years, first in Zambia’s Western Province and then in its Southern Province. When Mr. Mwiinga was a boy, his uncle was a teacher, and he envied the man, who he saw as getting to spend enjoyable days with the children of his class, having fun while passing down knowledge. So go into teaching he did, and successfully, rising through the ranks of teacher and head teacher and, eventually, school principal. He says his job was difficult at first – the schools at times had no materials. As the years went on, the job got easier as he knew more of what to expect.
In 1990 he retired from teaching and decided to return home. He had grown up in the village and he wanted to return. “I was brought up as the son of a farmer so I decided to come back and farm,” he said. “We depend on the farms. We grow what we eat.” He now grows cabbage, tomatoes, onions, rape, and sometimes carrots. Though he had begun his new “retired” life as a farmer, Charles was still a connector of people – he maintained his teacher’s proclivity for explaining things in ways people could understand. (He has been given the nickname “The Professor” in his community as a result.) It was likely for this reason that the Environmental Health Technician (EHT) for his community chose him to attend a workshop in Mazabuka when the first training for Community Champions began. “I didn’t know exactly what it was but I went,” he said.