A BISHOPTON woman will travel to Zambia this month to visit a project which supports teenage mums.

Helen Eckford, 68, is looking forward to witnessing the “inspirational and empowering” work being carried out in Kanyama, a district on the edge of the African nation’s capital, Lusaka.

The retired teacher is a member of the Church of Scotland Guild, which has donated more than £40,000 to the Journeying Together project.

Run by the United Church of Zambia (UCZ), it supports 50 girls who live in a densely-populated area which is often struck by severe flooding during the rainy season.

Poor drainage and sanitation can lead to cholera and dysentery, with babies and small children most at risk.

The project, run by Deaconess Mable Sitchali, provides training in essential skills such as nutrition, parenting and sex education and challenges social injustice.

Girls are given the chance to return to school to finish their education or provided with vocational training in a skill to enable them to make their own money.

Mrs Eckford, an elder at New Parish Church, in Port Glasgow, said: “As a Guild member, I have always been involved in supporting the projects but this is the first time I will have the opportunity to observe a project first-hand.

“For me, it is a privilege to take part in the trip and get to know a new culture and lifestyle.

“It will be a life-changing experience and I look forward to meeting new people of all ages, passing on some of my skills to the girls and learning from them.”

Mrs Eckford also paid tribute to those who have shown compassion to others thousands of miles away by supporting the project.

“The Church and the Guild play a part in this, both at home and abroad, sharing time, talents and money to enrich and improve the lives of others,” she added.

“I have had amazing support from the congregation in my church, which has raised about £500 to help the girls involved in the project.”

The Gazette: Teenage mums in Zambia are being given help to thriveTeenage mums in Zambia are being given help to thrive

Scotland’s links with Zambia can be traced back to the 19th century, to the days of missionaries such as David Livingstone.

More than half of the population in Kanyama – around 365,000 people – are under 18 but there are only five primary schools and just one high school.

Karen Gillon, Associate Secretary of the Guild, said: “The United Church of Zambia is doing fantastic work to tackle the vicious cycle of poverty by providing opportunities for people who simply want the ability to help themselves.

“Some of them are victims of domestic violence or rape or sometimes they just fell in love with a boy, got pregnant and he then disappeared.

“It is about giving young women a hand up, not a handout, because what they really want is the chance to finish their education, get a job and give their child the best possible start in life.”

The seven-day trip to Zambia is being organised by the Church of Scotland’s Faith Impact Forum, formally known as the World Mission Council, which has partnered with UCZ since it was established in 1965.