Banani International School: 30 years of empowering women for social progress
LITETA, Zambia — As societies globally grapple with achieving equality between women and men, the role of education in empowering women is vital. Well known for embracing this principle, the Banani International School in Zambia, a Bahá’í-inspired endeavor, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. The school’s multifaceted educational approach integrates intellectual pursuits with the acquisition of moral understanding and spiritual insights, cultivating a rich learning environment.
The school’s anniversary was marked by a recent event, bringing together the Chief of Liteta, representatives of the Ministry of Education, and other government officials, dignitaries, representatives of various educational institutions, students, graduates, and staff.
Margaret Lengwe, a member of the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly in Zambia, speaking with the News Service, highlighted the school’s primary objective: “Banani School strives to develop the intellect and character of young women, nurturing their aspiration to contribute to their communities and the country at large.”
Reflecting on her transformative experience, alumna Thandose Nyathando, now a compliance and operations manager at a major bank in Zambia, says, “We were taught to view ourselves as mines rich in gems of inestimable value, a belief that has empowered us in our various professional fields around the world.”
Principal Amita Yaganagi adds that Banani School alumni work in many fields across diverse sectors in Zambia and globally, including education, banking, entrepreneurship, communications, and law. She says that by excelling in areas such as math, science, and technology, alongside social sciences, students challenge traditional expectations for girls.
Ms. Lengwe further observes that Banani School’s environment fosters deep contemplation in students about the purpose of their lives from an early age. In this setting, academic learning advances alongside personal and spiritual growth. As students progress in their educational journey, they acquire not only knowledge but also develop a vision for their meaningful contribution to society.
Tracing its origins to 1993, the Banani International School was founded on principles of the Bahá’í teachings, with a special focus on empowering girls through education. Opening its doors to an initial cohort of 65 students, the school has grown to a vibrant educational community, serving over 300 students at any time in both primary and secondary programs, including 10% of young people from international backgrounds.
Reflecting on the school’s vision, Maame Brodwemaba Nketsiah, a Director of the Bahá’í International Development Organization, states: “The aim has always been to provide Zambian women with a kind of educational experience they may not have otherwise had, preparing them to make significant contributions to the country’s progress.”
The school operates under the auspices of the William Mmutle Masetlha Foundation—a development organization established in 1983 to contribute to social and economic development in Zambia.
Integrating academic excellence with moral empowerment
Principal Yaganagi explains that Banani’s curriculum covers a broad academic spectrum, placing a strong emphasis on character development. From fostering foundational moral values in early education to exploring spiritual identity and encouraging involvement in community life in higher grades, students engage in a holistic educational journey.
Ms. Lengwe, highlighting the broader impact of this approach, says, “This fosters values of truthfulness, generosity, and kindness, creating a nurturing environment for both students and teachers.”
Merina Phiri Ndumba, reflecting on her time as a former student at Banani School and her career as a chartered accountant and central banker, speaks to the lasting impact of her education: “The focus on character development and service at Banani profoundly shaped my life, as well as my approach as a parent.”
She adds: “I strive to impart the same values to my children, such as resilience, grace, and a mindset focused on making positive contributions, values which I believe should be more prevalent in all schools.”
Applying principles beyond the classroom
At Banani, applying moral principles in everyday life is a cornerstone of the educational experience, extending beyond academic lessons in tangible service projects.
Principal Yaganagi highlights the role of senior students in community engagement: “Our students in Grade 11 and 12 offer weekly English and Math tutorials to younger pupils in neighboring schools.
“This initiative helps prepare the younger pupils for important public exams and cultivates a deep sense of responsibility and desire for service in our own students.” She notes plans for extending these activities to include environmental initiatives, such as tree planting.
Younger students at Banani also participate in service-oriented initiatives, contributing within the school through activities such as assisting in the primary school, maintaining the school environment, and helping in the kitchen and gardens.
Reflecting on the impact of her time at Banani, Ndinawe Ruppert, another former student and now a solicitor, says, “The sense of unity and world-embracing vision fostered in us at Banani significantly influenced my career path. It inspired me to commit to pro bono services, even at a time in my life when I did not have many resources.”
At the recent celebration, Ms. Nketsiah shared her reflections on Banani’s journey and its future direction, emphasizing the role of education in social betterment. “The future fortunes of a nation are intrinsically linked to the ability to provide a growing number of women excellent education, in its intellectual and spiritual dimensions.”
She added: “The influence of women in shaping society and the character of future generations cannot be overstated. Banani International School’s contribution to Zambia’s development is exemplified by its graduates, women who are motivated by service to their communities, who possess an upright character and play pivotal roles in the advancement of society in every sphere—including the family, the local community, industry, and government.”
Echoing these sentiments, Sylvia Masiye, a Banani alumna and now an international tax practitioner, shared her perspective: “I can think of very few learning institutions that equip the girl child with a mindset to pursue individual excellence yet remain alive to the need to be of service to society.
“In an increasingly challenging world, my hope is for Banani School to continue to gift the global community with young women with bold dreams to transform our common home.”