Janet and Jerry’s update from Zambia

23rd Feb


Sunset whilst voluteering in Zambia

Janet and Jerry’s update from Zambia

Below we have an update from our volunteers Janet and Jerry. They are both at the City of Hope in Zambia.

This is an account of their fourth week as captured by Janet:

7 am – no early classes so I am relaxing and the power is still on. The birds are singing and the day is well underway. Outside the compound walls the noise of traffic hums in the background and I am reminded that here in the compound we are in an oasis of green, where workers are constantly keeping the place clean, weeding the pathways and flowerbeds, sweeping and washing the landings and stairs up in the school, and slashing the long grass to keep the snakes at bay. We have beautiful flowering trees and carefully tended vegetable patches, goats and chickens, avocado and orange trees, bananas and herbs.

Outside it is a different world, much harsher, unprotected, raw and at times scary. There are tiny broken down stalls immediately outside the gate, with torn and dirty coverings, where they sell fruit and vegetables. Further down the road there is a small kiosk where you can buy mobile phone top up and you can probably transfer money here though I wouldn’t guarantee the results. The road is wide, tarmacked and full of noisy traffic. On the smaller road beside it, where we walk, cars and trucks hurtle along and you keep well in. There is a small supermarket within easy walking distance where you can get the basics. Prices are not cheap once you move beyond the staple food nshima which is made of mealie maize and tastes like thick porridge/semolina. All European food, including milk, yoghurts, tinned fish and crispbread is much the same price as at home. We have been lucky in that we have been able to use the services of the convent driver and a 4 by 4 to do our main shopping in a European style mall about 15 minutes away by car. As we stop at traffic lights, young men come up, trying to sell us a newspaper, top up cards and even a pair of trousers. So many people here live a hand to mouth existence. You get the feeling that everyone is selling and no one is buying. Lots more stalls on both sides of the road.

As you approach the city centre, the traffic draws to a halt – congestion is the excuse used by everyone for being late and there never seems to be a calm time. Although many of the city centre streets are wide, there is no such thing as lane driving and traffic weaves in and out at a frightening pace. Brightly coloured minibuses, packed with people and bearing signs like the Paradise Bus, stop abruptly without warning and people hop on and off. We have to admit that we are cowardly and have not braved the minibus. The young volunteers who are here for a year and have very little money do use them but they say that they get jostled by young men and that it is not a pleasant experience.

Yesterday Jerry and I went into town by taxi to check out details given by a young woman who studied in the skills centre and now wants to set up her own business as a tailor. She gave us a business card with an address in the Lusaka city centre market and also a shop in Kamwala which turned out to be another market area. Lusaka city centre market is a maze of tiny covered alleyways about six feet wide, with miniscule shops on either side, selling old shoes, clothes, fruit, vegetables, everything under the sun, dirty and smelly. But what struck us most was the poverty and the struggle to stay afloat. Whereas the bazaar in Istanbul is colourful and noisy with young men everywhere, sights and smells to savour and enjoy, Lusaka city centre market epitomised the struggle to survive. We were the only white people and we felt very much the outsiders. In City of Hope we are welcomed and greeted, here we are the rich white foreigners who had no business in the market. There seemed to be far more buyers than sellers, and the whole place was heaving with people. We were not sure if we found the right place. Someone produced a business card the same as ours, but the details didn’t tally with what the young woman had told us. However, there was nothing more to be learnt there and we went on to Kamwala, another market area, but here there were real shops. We were looking for Sofique which had huge swatches of materials, and next door sewing machines, Singer, Flying Dove and Butterfly all made in India and China. There was just a small selection, and here again the prices didn’t tally with what Jerry had been told. We have been given money to help someone start up their own business, but it is impossible to tell who needs it most. Jerry has talked to a lot of young women and men who have left the skills centre and who don’t have a job and want to start their own business. This young woman seemed to have an idea which might work: with our help she could buy a sewing machine and start a small business. So this morning, with lots of questions in our minds, we met the young woman and went back to her small house so that we could see where she would be working. We had promised nothing and again it was very hard to know if we had the full story, probably not but then maybe it is the right thing to do to give her a chance. I find it very uncomfortable to be in the role of benefactor, and having to evaluate someone’s veracity. We could buy a sewing machine for 125 euro – and maybe she would make a go of it.

Today at lunch we heard from a volunteer about a small village in the north of Zambia where the villagers don’t have access to a water pump, for lack of 50 kwachas, the equivalent of 5 euro. The government repaired the pump but when they weren’t paid in full by the community they removed a spare part and the pump doesn’t function. The volunteer went up to help a Czech girl to distribute educational games and help the kids use them. The village in question is very remote and the teacher lives four hours away and spends every week at the school. The level of poverty is extreme but the volunteer found it a hugely rewarding experience; the family where she stayed was so welcoming and wanted to share their food, however little they had.

The Congolese woman I have been helping has again been absent. She seems to have a lot of sickness but I feel that my role is to teach her English and I don’t enquire. She has a job here sewing uniforms and she seems to miss a lot but it’s not my place to say anything. I will try again tomorrow.

I read a story with two of the young kids. Then we go over the Cinderella story and they know it and love it. They are very easily amused and seem very naive – I can’t help wondering about what will happen when they leave the orphanage. The rate of unemployment is about 80% though officially it is less than 8% as government figures include all women working at home and people helping family members on tiny subsistence plots. Lots of people sell along the roads, and the highest rate of unemployment is among the young. Fifty per cent of them are no longer looking for work, presumably because they know there are so few jobs. The school secretary/librarian did a three year marketing degree, could not find work, then got a job as a maid and got the job in the school through contacts. It seems that schooldays really are the happiest days of people’s lives here. The girls in the school laugh and joke, chatter and mess around, walk around hand in hand and seem quite confident. Some come long distances to be here, and it is clearly a struggle for many parents to pay the school fees, 65 euro a term.

On Valentine’s Day pupils and teachers wore red and black attire, in some cases what looked like long evening dresses. Many of the girls are stunning looking, with huge dark eyes and graceful movements. Laughter is never far away. The orphanage girls entertained us with a talent show. The local songs are so much more attractive than the American ones that are also favourites. They play a series of icebreaker games and get great fun out of the childish games they play with the young volunteers.

Today I observed a class with a very competent energetic teacher who encouraged the young people to think, to give examples rather than just definitions and who worked and got her pupils to work hard, to ensure understanding and not just rote learning. She asked if anyone had watched tv and several put up their hands, then she asked one pupil to describe the film. The pupil gave a brief response and the teacher used this as an example of a summary – which was her topic for the lesson.

No one was allowed to sleep, she didn’t spend the whole class writing on the board and she listened and worked with all pupil responses, right or wrong. I was delighted to be there and afterwards told her she was an excellent teacher. I hope to do some work with her.

The after school group continues – they are great girls.

Hard to believe that we have less than three weeks before we leave.

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