Rising Fountains Development Prog Weblog

September 10, 2008

My first village experience!

Filed under: Africa, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 2:23 pm

On the Sunday before last I was able to meet the other volunteers in Lundazi area, Robert, Kerry and D. They are all from the USA and work with either peace corps or VSO. They invited me to a ‘party’ for all of the new peace corps volunteers on Monday, which was to be hosted by D in her hut in a village called Kapachila- not sure how you spell it! It was 16km down a dusty road, very bumpy but good fun! I was able to meet the 4 new volunteers that would be spending the next 2 years here in Zambia. We got on well; it was good to meet some fellow Mzungus!

 

Upon arrival at the village, we were introduced to everyone and my Tumbuka (local language) was very quickly put to shame. In fact I have set myself the challenge of actually sitting down and learning it over the next few weeks. Wish me luck! There was then some singing from the women and children. Just beautiful. Apparently they don’t get many visitors, so had spent all day preparing our meal and even slaughtered a pig. We had Nshima, with a rape relish, a chicken relish, a cabbage relish and then the pork relish. We were slightly pushed for time, so went straight into D’s hut, which is made from mud, just moulded upwards, no bricks and a thatched roof. It must take so much skill to make a house from nothing but mud, the walls were so straight, it was perfect. Thye are decorated too; traditional Zambian huts are usually painted with orangey earthy colours and a black ring around the bottom of the hut, decoration varies depending on the area but looks nice. 

 

After Nshima, we sat outside on some mats and all of the women and children began singing and dancing. There was clapping and beautiful African rhythms, just a great atmosphere, I thoroughly enjoyed it. After making a sufficient fuss of the babies and puppies, we had to make a move home as it was getting dark. I got the numbers of the peace corps volunteers and hopefully will be seeing more of them in the future!

 

Last week at RFDP, I researched a ‘project of my choice’ and after a few meetings, made some really good progress on the micro loans and income generating schemes. I created a new, simplified database which should be far more efficient and easier to use. I then spent the rest of the week continuing writing a big grant proposal.

 

Last Wednesday ex President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was buried. It was a national holiday so all shops and businesses were closed, including RFDP offices. In fact, it seems every Zambian in the whole of the country found a tv to watch it on. Me and Rose went to her Uncle’s house and watched it in a room with 9 other neighbours! We watched from 10:30 -15:30, was pretty hot and cramped! I was really proud to have watched such a momentous event in Zambian history. It was so important to everyone. It’s worth checking out the RFDP newsletter too, which has more information on the president, his death and this whole issue.

 

This week has been an exciting one for RFDP. On Monday morning Mathias had lots of news to tell us. The most exciting being that a big grant proposal for Water and Sanitation has been accepted. Work will begin next month and I am really looking forward to seeing the valley and meeting the people that we work for. Another piece of really great news was that we received a donation of $500 for RFDP’s OVC sector, from a Canadian charity called ‘One Moment’. Both will make such a significant difference to people’s lives.

 

On Tuesday, I went to visit Kanele Middle Basic School. Me and Dorothy went to collect the exam results of a girl called Flata who is sponsored through RFDP. Unfortunately they were not ready, but it was good to see the school and meet the head teacher. Although that wasn’t my official introduction, in which Mathias would come too and introduce me to everyone. I am hoping to help out with extra Maths and English lessons there, but it’s a good 40 mins walk so I will have to invest in a bicycle!

 

This week Dorothy and I have spent hours creating a database for all of the OVC that we have information about. There were literally hundreds and hundreds. Previously the details of the children were just written in huge, messy tables on paper. The other tables were pretty inconsistent, so there are gaps. We need to collect lots more information when out in the field if we can give these children a chance of sponsorship.

 

On Friday, we are going to have the Thandizani (HIV/ AIDS local NGO-a partner of RFDP) volunteer come to RFDP for a HIV/AIDS workshop. With his help we are going to construct a plan for our future HIV/AIDS programme.

 

 

I was able to meet with the peace corps volunteers again this week which was nice. We just played some board games at their house. Kerry and Robert the VSO volunteers are leaving on Friday, which is a real shame. They, very very kindly, gave me some furniture for the house, cook books and even some games. Me and Rose played connect four and dominoes last night, but I think she’s still getting the hanging of it! They’re having a leaving party tomorrow too- really looking forward to that!

September 1, 2008

ARRIVAL!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rfdp @ 6:19 am

Hello from Lundazi! First let me introduce myself- my name is Fiona Robertson and I am the new international volunteer for RFDP! I come from Bath in the UK and have just finished my A levels. So that is me.

 

Okay so let’s start with Zambia. What an amazing country! I must say that my first impressions of Lusaka somewhat confused me! I was expecting the usual overcrowded craziness of a developing city- lots of idle people, dirt, rubbish, harassment by shop/stall owners, insane driving etc etc. None! There is also a great feeling of space- the roads are so wide and clean, lined with mature green trees. Really beautiful. The roads are also very calm and safe, really shocking but good.

 

Anyway, I arrived in Lusaka last Thursday morning and was greeted at the airport by Mathias. We went and dropped our bags off at the lodge and proceeded to the bank to sort out my work permit. Things went very smoothly for Zambia and we got that finished within the day! However, whilst sorting the fee for my work permit, we discovered that my Maestro card (which was recommended by HSBC international banking ‘expert’ in the UK, who changed my account and made me this card especially!!) only works is on bank- Stanbic. This bank only operates in Lusaka and the copper belt. Thank you HSBC! SO I have had to open an account here in Lundazi and transfer the money, so at least things have worked themselves out- but it all costs money.

 

The next morning we caught the bus to Chipata. The bus was meant to leave at 10 am, so we got on at 9:30 , waited until 1 (or 13 hours as they say here!) for the bus to leave and didn’t arrive in Chipata until 12:30!! Yes, not much fun, but the scenery was very beautiful, it really made me realise how vast this country is. The trip to Lundazi flew by in comparison, although it was very bumpy and dusty!

 

My house is pretty basic. I mean I suppose it’s all relative. Compared to the rest of the houses here it is pretty good, but compared with home..! I was surprised at how helpless I am! Things like cooking and washing that you do without thinking at home are suddenly a huge challenge- heating water to wash, using limited supplies to cook, coping with sporadic water and electricity supply. When I first arrived, I was just completely useless, I was very grateful for John, who had to explain even the most basic of things to me- thanks John! Now, I learn from my maid, Rose. I’m getting used to it now and learning this new way of life.

 

On Monday, I started work at RFDP. After a meeting, we discussed my contract and I drew myself up a work plan. I will mainly be involved in writing grant proposals and micro loans and income generating schemes, then helping out with Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) child sponsorship and creating media for distribution in the valley. Micro loans and income generating schemes is a new project for RFDP, I will be working on it with Jack and am really excited- so will keep you up to date on it’s progress!

 

On Monday night, we held a goodbye gathering at our house for John. Everyone from the office came, as well as Mathias’ wife. It was really lovely; we had Fanta and biscuits, with everyone saying their piece. John is going to be missed here. I just hope I can work as hard as he did! John left for Chipata the following morning.

 

I am also taking over from John in holding computer lessons. Yesterday we held our first- we covered all of the useful keys on the keyboard, then manipulation of images in Microsoft Word. Only Jack and Dorothy were able to make it, but I think it was successful!

 

At home I have already been visited by various bugs- spiders and a cockroach in my room so far! I don’t mind as much as it thought I would! I managed to chase the cockroach and catch it- I couldn’t believe how brave I was! Ha, the spiders are a different matter though, I have had to get John or Rose to deal with them so far.. they’re big and black and weird, really flat. It’s okay until they move and I totally freak out! …who knows, maybe I will overcome my fear. There are also a few lizards that live in the house. I love them. Night lizards are yellowy with big black eyes and in the day they’re greyish brown. I have one that comes and clings onto my curtain every morning. Since he’s been there, there have been no spiders! I hope he stays!

 

On Wednesday I tried Nshima, the staple food, for the first time. It’s Mealie meal or Maize Meal as it’s sometimes known. Literally just ground maize and water, but with different relishes. The rape and pumpkin leaves are really good here, as well as the various beans. I really like Nshima- in fact I think too much. I can’t stop eating! It’s tasty and you get to eat with your hands, what more do you want?! Yes food here is really good; locally sourced, natural, organic. My favourite purchases are Luangwa valley ‘It’s Wild’ Honey (which you can buy in the UK as fair trade!) which supports wildlife conservation in the valley. They also do ‘Jungle Oats’, which makes breakfast! Yum, so that’s food so far.

 

As far as life in Lundazi goes, I think I am settling in now. I didn’t get lost yesterday at least! Yes, I am making friends too, slowly. I’m really excited about working with RFDP and will keep you updated on my progress!

August 25, 2008

Goodbye

Filed under: Volunteers — rfdp @ 6:05 am

My Last Day

I’m filing this entry on the morning of my last full day at Rising Fountains. A new volunteer arrived on Saturday, so today is her first day at RFDP. Yesterday I showed her around town a bit to get her oriented with the market and shops, and she’s all moved into the house and ready to go. I’ll let her fill you in on the rest when she contributes to this blog.

Wrapping Things Up

Last week I collected some general observations and recommendations that I made after being here all winter. The comments have been printed out and handed to each staff member. Jack (water and sanitation) and Isaac (accounting) also had a spreadsheet lesson on the computer last week, so they know how to put together a budget now on the computer. Around lunchtime today, I’ll try to buy a bus ticket so that I can attempt to leave Lundazi for Lusaka early tomorrow morning.

Thanks

All the staff here have been helpful and welcoming during my time in Lundazi. Thank you! I hope that my contribution to RFDP ultimately is beneficial to the poor, sick and hungry.

John

August 18, 2008

Another Trip to the Valley

Filed under: AIDS, Education, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 9:58 am

HIV/AIDS Meetings and More

We went on another trip to the Luangwa River Valley, leaving on a Sunday, working Monday and returning on Tuesday morning. It was funded largely by the Limavady Parish in Ireland. For me, it was my second trip to the catchment area and a change of pace after being in the office most of the winter. I was picked up at home around one o’clock in the afternoon on August 10, and we set off to pick up the others who were planning on coming: Lackson for HIV/AIDS prevention and information meetings, Jack for inspecting latrines and wells undergoing repair, and Dorothy for distributing exercise books and chalk to community schools. A few hundred meters after picking me up, the vehicle broke down. A mechanic was called after an hour or two, and with more time and effort, the lame truck sprang back to life. In the end, Dorothy did not come with us, and we arrived at our destination around 1:30 AM after stopping many times on the way to deal with mechanical problems. Several times we got out to push the vehicle to fire it back up. Our late start the next morning did not prevent us from holding a great HIV/AIDS information meeting with the public in the village of Zokwe, though. Over eighty adults attended, and their children of all ages were also in the audience. Time pressure pushed us to cancel the second meeting of that morning, and we hurriedly moved on to distribute the school supplies and inspect the latrines and wells. Most of this went quite smoothly, and I saw that the community schools we visited were very basic: mud floors, no desks, thatched roof, and an earthen wall that doubled as a chalkboard. Sunset approached as we finished the day by rushing through two remaining HIV/AIDS community meetings, and as night fell, we chose to sleep there and push on in the morning rather than risk getting stranded at night with a dead battery (the alternator had a problem and wasn’t charging the battery). Fortunately, the only problem on the way back was a leaking radiator and overheating engine, something we dealt with as we limped home.

 

More Computer Lessons

Computer lessons are coming along, and last time we covered the copy and paste functions and how to change fonts, font sizes, how to select bold and italic and underline, and so on. Everybody seems to get a kick out of the typing tutor program, so I expect them to be touch-typing if they stick with daily practice.

 

Proposals Coming in and Going Out

The Albert Schweitzer proposal I mentioned in the preceding blog entry has been submitted, and we are just starting to put together another proposal to submit to a donor named Misereor. Although still in its infancy and subject to change, we plan on proposing a project that addresses the unmet basic needs of orphans and vulnerable children; assists grandmothers incapable of meeting their own basic needs such as clothing and food; provides HIV/AIDS education for the kids, their guardians and the grandmothers who attend when a woman is in labor; and initiating RFDP’s own microloan program.

 

A New Volunteer Expected

Mathias, the director, is out of the office this week and will travel to Lusaka to greet the next international volunteer at the airport and escort her to Lundazi. The timing is quite good for Rising Fountains, because I will make my exit before the end of the month just as she arrives.

John

August 1, 2008

What’s the Point?

Filed under: AIDS, Zambia — rfdp @ 10:33 am

Thank You

In the past week or two some personal donations have come in — thank you! Also, thanks to the readers who have contributed comments below. If last week you read my summary of The White Man’s Burden, you might be interested in the reader comments that add to the picture.

 

Grant Proposals

Recently we finalized and submitted a grant proposal to the Egmont Trust. If accepted, the funds will support an RFDP project to educate villagers in the Luangwa Valley on HIV/AIDS and introduce voluntary counseling and testing, among other things. Some areas in the valley (the Chitungulu and Kazembe Chiefdoms) have already been covered, and we will augment existing education and services there. But there is one area (Mwanya) covered in the proposal with villages that have never been taught anything about HIV/AIDS. We expect Egmont’s decision before 2009. A different proposal to the Albert Schweitzer Foundation is almost ready to send off. Albert Schweitzer donated earlier to support an RFDP project that rehabilitated two wells, built two pit latrines and formed village-level water and sanitation committees to maintain them. Albert Schweitzer liked the results and asked for a second proposal, and it is in the works and nearing submission. If those funds come through, RFDP will go to the valley ten times over the course of one year to rehabilitate ten dilapidated wells, assist the communities in constructing ten pit latrines, and help them form self-managed water and sanitation committees to maintain the wells and build more latrines.

 

Computer Lessons

This week I started teaching computer lessons to RFDP staff. Jack (water and sanitation), Dorothy (orphans and vulnerable children) and Melina (administrative assistant) started with hardware. We cracked open a desktop machine to learn about the main components inside. After that, Jack and Dorothy learned some Windows basics and got started on a typing tutor. I also taught Melina what Google search is and how to use it, a one-on-one lesson that is planned for everybody. In the next lessons, we’ll move to specific applications like Excel and Word.

 

From a Slum to the World Stage

In my last entry on this blog, I mentioned a theater group from Musonda Community School in Kitwe. You might remember that the kids performed well at a regional event and were invited to compete at the national level in Lusaka, but they found themselves in a quandary. They gave their performance in their regional language of Bemba, but the national competition requires all plays to be in English. Recently I heard some news about what they did and how things turned out. With the help of the director, they rewrote their play a bit to switch to basic English, practiced during the two weeks preceding the competition, and went to Lusaka. And they won first place! These kids from a shantytown are now scheduled to advance and represent Zambia in the international ASSITEJ competition next year in India. I understand that expenses are taken care of, so I expect them to be able to go. How about that?!

 

Lundazi Hospital Laboratory

I’ve been trying to set up an appointment with the doctor at the hospital in Lundazi so that I can observe there. He is also the district health commissioner, though, and this job requires him to travel a lot. This means that the hospital usually has no doctor. So I visited the administrator’s office and asked about observing, and he put me in touch with Frank Kapeka, head of the medical laboratory, who has been there since 1991. Mr. Kapeka has generously taken hours of his time to show me the lab, let me observe, and explain in detail what he does there. I learned that national policy places importance on standardization, so laboratory equipment and methods are uniform across the country’s government hospitals (according to the three tiers of hospital capability). Among other things, the lab has a blood bank with supply from Chipata (four-hour drive on a bad road), HIV tests that don’t require refrigeration for storage, and a great biochemistry machine that can do a lot but lacks reagents for many of the tests it was built to perform.

 

What’s the Point?

Many of you know that tackling the problem of HIV/AIDS, to choose one out of many issues crying for help, is formidable. The battle against the epidemic has been described in other dark terms: daunting, impossible, immense, an Augean task. Can I end it? No. But that’s not the point. I’m not worried about “I” or “can.” Instead, that which should be done is the imperative. What ought to be done is the focus. Notice how it strips away “I” and “can.” Purpose isn’t about those two things. They seductively lead me astray, so I try to remain untouched by their influence. “Just because something is impossible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” someone said. And I think that’s starting to get to the point. There is something that ought to be done…so do it.

Here in Zambia and elsewhere, work on the HIV epidemic is being done. But as the world uniquely presents itself to you, maybe the imperative is something other than fighting disease. It could even be something that doesn’t get headlines but is no less noble, like being a loving parent, speaking truthfully to yourself and others, or preparing someone or something a nutritious meal. To those searching for what should be done and those already doing it, I salute you. You’re getting right with everything.

 

Lundazi News

Oatmeal is back!

Do no harm,

John

July 17, 2008

A Trip to the Copperbelt

Filed under: Copperbelt, Education, Zambia — rfdp @ 10:34 am

First to Lusaka

I have spent ten or twelve days since my last blog entry traveling in Zambia. I went to Lusaka and beyond, but am now back in Lundazi. First was Lusaka: upon entry to Zambia, I was granted a thirty-day stay with option to extend if I filed for an extension with support from RFDP and paid the fee of one million kwacha (US$314 at 3180:1). Of course, I’d like to stay longer than that. So, gathering all the documents that the immigration officer told me I needed, I went to Lusaka, the capital city, to process my application. During the preceding days, I weathered a storm of activity with RFDP supporting me as I tried to get a banker’s cheque for my one million kwacha. It ended well after a flurry of uncertainty and last-minute bank deposits, account transfers and ATM transactions. I went to the immigration office with all the required documents plus one in particular that was not required, but I had a feeling about it, so I brought it just in case. Guess what? The document I brought just in case was suddenly required. Why was it omitted from the list of required papers? Who knows…I say to my Zambian friends and colleagues only half in jest that there is no accurate information in Zambia. Finally, my application was filed on the last possible day in my 30-day window, and I was given a receipt that I will use to try and pick up my finished permit sometime after the three weeks needed to complete it have passed.

 

New Friends

Following that bit of business in Lusaka, I rushed to the bus station and grabbed a ticket for the city of Kitwe. Kitwe is north of Lusaka in a region known as the Copperbelt. Large-scale copper mining has been this region’s economic mainstay for decades. It is also home to a Zambian friend of friends, Prisca Kambole and her husband, Chewe. Prisca visited my home state of Montana, USA a couple years ago, and although we did not meet then, someone back home recently put me in touch with this energetic, educated, straight-talking, service-minded woman. She and her family graciously invited me into her home where I stayed for several very enjoyable days while RFDP was taking a break on holiday (I didn’t go there on RFDP business). Taking time to show me her community and her work in it, Prisca personally led me around Kitwe and also arranged for others to do so when she was too busy (details below). I am very grateful for all that she, her family, and her friends and colleagues did for me. Thanks, Prisca! Interestingly, I noticed that she, her highly educated husband and their three young children often choose to speak English among each other (not for my benefit), making it a first language for these educated and delightful kids. In general, this region of Zambia is better off economically than the eastern province where RFDP is. I was told by Chewe, a lecturer at Copperbelt University in Kitwe, that most Zambian university students are from the Copperbelt, midlands and Lusaka because they are the most academically competitive.

 

After spending a few days running around with Prisca, I saw that she is very active in her community and plays a leadership role in an organization called Pro-Life Advancement and Education Project (PLAEP). PLAEP is a community-based Christian organization that endeavors to improve the social, spiritual and economic well-being of localities in Kitwe. Despite the “pro-life” moniker that might suggest active involvement in an anti-abortion campaign, PLAEP instead assists AIDS patients, distributes mosquito nets to prevent malaria, helps women start small-scale income-generating activities like bead-making and garlic cultivation, and has adopted a community school (more below on what I saw…keep reading if interested!).

 

Religion, Justice and Judgment

Prisca invited me to attend a church service at Riverside Chapel in Kitwe, the church she and her family attend. I accepted and was curious and looking forward to comparing and contrasting what I had seen in Lundazi. I knew ahead of time that the day would be full, because Prisca told me that this particular Sunday was one of four each year with a potluck lunch scheduled between the two regular Sunday services — one morning and one afternoon — that are normally given each week. But before the morning service began, things started first with Chewe heading off to teach Sunday school and Prisca joining her bible study group. I sat with the bible study group and listened to their discussion about potential conflict between local tradition and the teachings of Christianity. An example came up of a traditional funeral service involving crawling on all fours and burying a relative’s hair and nail clippings. The discussion of tradition and culture reminded me of what one of the Lundazi pastors said at the first service I attended. At that service, the African pastor spoke of the importance of knowing one’s roots and respecting them. He did this as he spoke to his African congregation (minus only me) in a non-African language, wore a non-African suit and tie, and preached a non-African religion. In contrast, I’ve heard Zambians refer to themselves as Africans, and I wonder if some Zambians struggle with confused self-identity views. In any case, the bible study group session lasted not long, and soon we were off to the morning service. A visiting pastor originally from the U.K. but with experience preaching in Angola and other countries gave his fifth and final guest sermon at this chapel. The chairs were all occupied, the singing was loud and frequent, and the assembly was sharply dressed. I was warmly welcomed and mingled with them for lunch during which one of the churchgoers gave me a bible. The crowd dwindled to a couple dozen people before the second afternoon service started, the service with communion. It was not Catholic. When I asked, I was told that their beliefs and practices approximate those of the Baptist church. This more intimate afternoon service invited individualized participation, and many people stood in turn and spoke on a number of things ranging from personal news updates to scripture interpretation to corrections on how long to pause between stanzas of a certain hymn. Many speakers called on the group to stand and sing after they had said whatever it was they wanted to say. When Zambians pray, whether it is at church, before meals, before embarking on a road trip, or under other circumstances, their words are unscripted (I’ve never heard the same prayer twice), and it seems that they usually put thought into the words.

 

But prayer and church services aren’t the only manifestations of religion that I’ve seen here. While in Kitwe, I also listened to a pastor deal with accusations of theft in the leadership of his church. Chewe, Prisca, and their immediate neighbor became suspicious of their gardener when jewelry and other items began to disappear mysteriously and occasionally reappear stashed in very unlikely and suspicious places. Their suspicions were reinforced when the gardener apparently equivocated under informal questioning. The accused, a person I never met, is (was?) a leader in the pastor’s church. Accusations of theft directed at the assembly’s leadership disturbed the pastor, and a meeting was called with him, Chewe, Prisca, and their neighbor. My presence was welcome, and after listening a bit, it appeared that the pastor had previously heard the accused give his version of the story elsewhere. The three of them laid out their accusations and evidence, and the pastor seemed to conclude tentatively that indeed the gardener had stolen and lied. But the pastor reminded the others that there were still “one or two biblical steps” that should be taken before going to the police, much to the dismay of Prisca, who vigorously protested and lobbied for going to the law because she felt he was not a Christian and therefore need not be treated as a Christian. The pastor replied, “God has exposed him so that he can be helped.” She shook her head and smiled in defeat, saying, “Now this is the heart of a pastor!” It immediately reminded me of an interview from another time and another country of a political prisoner who was tortured. He was asked what the greatest danger he faced during incarceration was: “The greatest danger I faced was losing compassion for my torturer.”

 

The Mines and the Hospitals

I took Kitwe out of my schedule for one day and went on a short trip to Chingola, a small town also in the Copperbelt, accompanied by a man who grew up there. We walked around the town a bit and made our way to a viewing point from which we looked upon the Nchanga mine, a massive open-pit operation that dominates the landscape. I was told that it is the second largest open-pit mine in the world. I also heard many times during my few days in the Copperbelt that Chinese and Indian businesses have large stakes in the mines in the area. Apparently the hospitals and schools used to be supported and well-maintained by mine income, but after a transfer of control some years ago, these public service entities have fallen into neglect. Public pressure has pushed the mines to pick up some of the slack, but apparently most citizens are not satisfied. As you might expect, though, the roads leading to mines and smelters were all beautifully maintained, unlike the  wrecked roads I’ve traveled on in the copper-free eastern part of the country. On the ride to Chingola, my companion for the day told me acidly that there is a Chingola University in India thanks to mine profits but no such institution in Zambia. I tried to find information about this university with Google, but nothing like what he described came up.

 

On the same day, I visited a mine hospital and then a government hospital in Chingola. My timing was bad, though, and because I came on a holiday, there were only skeleton crews. The few that I spoke to seemed caught off guard by an uninvited guest and told me to come back later and talk to others. One doctor originally from the Congo who happened to come in because she was on call did take some time to chat briefly about her government hospital, but she evaded the meaty questions by deferring to the hospital director. I didn’t learn much other than that the staff didn’t want to be bothered.

 

After returning to Kitwe and on another day, Prisca escorted me to Kitwe Central Hospital, reportedly the third largest hospital in Zambia after Ndola Central and Lusaka Teaching Hospital. We sat down in the office of the person in charge of public relations, a visit I would rather have avoided but one that seemed to be a necessary stepping stone to gaining access to patient wards in this government hospital. He printed out two sheets of information that needed a lot of proofreading while giving pat answers to my questions. “How many doctors does this hospital need?” “According to W.H.O. standards, this hospital requires 150 doctors and 1500 nurses.” How about according to actual need? We asked to see patient wards after a few basic questions and answers. He gave us visitor passes, and Prisca and I set off while he smiled and stayed behind without protest. She and I went through some patient areas but walked quickly to avoid being late for our next appointment, and the limited time gave me only a brief glimpse of this very large hospital. While moving from one patient area to another, I saw no doctor attending to any patients. I saw about three or four nurses all working without gloves. Although I didn’t count, I estimate that there were more than one hundred patients tightly clustered together in a few large rooms with no partition whatsoever to separate one patient from the next. It gave the impression of a warehouse of sick people. Most patients were lying on closely-spaced beds — not proper hospital beds with hangers for IV drips, but simply four legs and a flat surface. The patients outnumbered beds, so some were lying on the floor. I remember seeing only three pieces of medical equipment: one IV bag and drip line attached to a patient, one needle and one syringe. Not one bed that I saw had a mosquito net (Zambia has malaria, a potentially fatal disease transmitted by mosquito bite). I asked a nurse how she does her work. She replied, “We improvise a lot.” Prisca and I finished our self-guided tour and returned the visitor passes before walking out. As she started the car and we began pulling away from the hospital, a grief-stricken wail emanated from an open or broken window in one of the adjacent patient wards. “Someone died,” Prisca said. I fear that the health care professionals there double as mortuary attendants. Improvisation indeed.

 

In contrast with the blank looks and misdirection I got at Kitwe’s government hospital and Chingola’s hospitals, the orthopedic surgeon at Wusalike Mine Hospital in Kitwe, Dr. Mugala, gave me a wonderful guided tour of the facility and generously took time to chat in his office. I thank Prisca for the introduction and for coming with me. Wusalike Hospital, funded by a mine in Kitwe, is primarily for those employed at the mine but accepts paying patients not affiliated with the mine as well. My layman’s impression is that the facility is maintained and clean. According to Dr. Mugala, Wusalike is a good option for those who can afford it but still not adequately staffed and equipped in all areas. On the upside, the three ICU beds (with mosquito nets, renal dialysis and a standby electric generator!) are rarely all occupied. His surgery load is light with about five non-elective surgeries and one elective surgery per week. There are about 12 to 15 doctors for the 250 patient beds. He said the two operating rooms are not enough, and the operating crews are understaffed. Surgeons jockey for time to schedule themselves and patients in the operating rooms. There is an emergency room, a modern ultrasound machine and an x-ray machine. However, the hospital lacks an MRI machine, CAT scan machine and arthroscopy equipment. Nurses were gloved and had equipment with which to work, patients had proper hospital beds and blankets and an adequate number of beds were empty and ready for the next patients. The overall environment was one of calm, organization and care. My impression is that this is the best hospital of the four I walked into in Chingola and Kitwe.

 

Discretionary Income is Spent on…

Prisca attended a session of a regular widows’ group meeting in her community to meet them and determine if they are genuinely needy and therefore worthy recipients of free mosquito nets that she might deliver to them. I tagged along and listened when they weren’t speaking Bemba, the local language in which most of the meeting was conducted. There were perhaps two dozen widows, and some had brought along their orphaned grandchildren that are now under their care. I learned that the widows weave doormats as an income generating activity and sell them for 10,000 kwacha (US$3.14). They have sold over forty, said the leader of the group. In addition to this, she said that each woman contributes 1000 kwacha per week to the group in dues (US$0.31). Prisca wonders if this figure is accurate — it seems too high to her. She asked what they spend their money on, and they replied, “Funerals.”

 

An Orphanage Visit

While in Kitwe, Prisca also took me on a visit to the Renewed Hope Children’s Home (REHOCH), a Christian faith-based orphanage. She and I sat down briefly and chatted with the director, Annie Sheba, a woman who impressed me with her caring attitude for the kids. REHOCH is relatively new and now houses about six kids or so, at least one of them HIV positive and one of them physically disabled. The orphanage also gives education support to 85 kids with a target of 250 orphans and vulnerable children. It has plans for the future, but like more than one aid institution I’ve seen here, the motivated and caring director with a forward-looking administrative eye cannot guide the orphanage to meet community needs much less move forward without funding.

 

Two Struggling Schools: One in the Now and One in the Future

Aside from the orphanage, I also got a quick tour of Musonda Community School, started in 1999 in a shantytown. As a community school, it receives no government support, charges no school fees, and relies on whatever the community can muster to stay afloat. The landlord demands months of rent paid ahead of time in this growing region of high and rapidly increasing real estate prices. The three classrooms were very overcrowded with students. There are about four or five untrained volunteer teachers who, I was told, struggle even to teach the hundreds of pupils how to read. I learned that generally speaking, community school teachers jump ship for better pay at government schools once they receive training. When I think about what I saw and get angry, I feel like saying that this grossly and categorically inadequate “school” is a babysitting operation that at least for now keeps the future of Zambia out of the taverns next door. But whether I’m angry or not, I find nobody out of those who I met in Kitwe to condemn for the poor condition of the school. To the contrary, I see that like the director at the orphanage, there are bright, motivated and caring people working with very limited resources to accomplish the Herculean effort of building Musonda into a genuine learning institution for the benefit of the kids. For example, a young man I met has organized some of the kids into a theater group. They practiced their play, competed and won a place to advance and perform at the upcoming national competition. Great news, but there is a problem: the national competition requires performances in English. These kids haven’t learned English well enough to perform in it, so they do it in Bemba. They now don’t really know what to do with their Bemba play and hard-won invitation requiring English (English is an official language here).

 

I saw the site of another school, but this one has more work to go. Next to Riverside Chapel, the church I attended in Kitwe, is a plot of land with two unfinished buildings on it. One of them has three rooms which are slated to become classrooms. The other structure will be administration for this prospective private, self-sustaining school. The funding and planning comes largely from Riverside Chapel, and Prisca hopes that construction will restart when more funding comes in. Currently the classroom building has walls and awaits a roof; the administration building stands at a slightly more advanced stage of construction because it has a roof. Incidentally, I noticed that Prisca commented at least twice that she is impressed with the high quality of Catholic schools in Zambia.

 

So Why is Zambia Poor, Hungry and Sick?

I don’t know yet. But I tend to agree with William Easterly in his book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Here is my summary: He argues that the Big Solution to the world’s extreme poverty is that there is no Big Solution. Individuals know their own personal poverty best and know how best to get out of it rather than big, clumsy agents such as governments, the U.N., or the W.H.O. Big top-down plans implemented from the outside can’t understand the specific and utterly foreign and complex social, political, cultural, geographic, and economic environments in which individuals operate. This is why trillions of dollars of aid to poor people over the decades have not had an impact on their grinding poverty…they’re still poor! It’s not working. So, let individuals figure out how to solve their problems on individual and village levels with many incremental improvements as opposed to utopian, sweeping reforms that the rich have tried. There must be feedback from the individuals (there isn’t when the U.N. does its work, for example), and there must be accountability for the implementation; that is, someone listening and acting on the feedback (this is also missing). He says the best vehicles for this feedback and accountability are markets (the familiar economic one as well as a political “market” like democracy). He concedes that just turning over responsibility for poverty eradication to the individuals in poverty doesn’t mean it’s going to change with a snap of the fingers: it’s still hard. But the top-down model has failed many times and continues to fail. That’s my summary, and his book makes sense to me.

 

So what do people here make of Easterly’s ideas? Well, on my trip to Kitwe, I heard comments from Prisca and my companion to Chingola that echo this but add complexity to the situation. My companion to Chingola believes that Zambians have what he called an “inferiority complex,” something which he explained as an inability to imagine possibilities and work to achieve them with confidence. Apparently, some Zambians cannot even imagine something better for themselves. Ponder this: Prisca, an observant person who holds a university degree and has spent significant time on several continents, told me about a meeting she had with a group of Zambian women. She asked them, “If a donor came to you and said, ‘I want to help, here is some money,’ what would you do with the money?” The response was a deafening silence. The scenario flummoxed them. This could be a case of one not achieving what one cannot imagine. Prisca told me about another incident that also puzzles her. She played an instrumental role in organizing an income-generating activity for a group of Zambian women. They made ornamental tablecloths with beads on the fringes — light handiwork that can be done at home. These were sold for a significant profit which Prisca delivered to the women’s hands in the form of cash and told them very clearly that the money was the result of selling their work for profit. The women, however, were not interested in continuing and remain uninterested. Prisca can’t explain it. She thinks it’s possible that previous handouts may have conditioned them to sit and wait for another handout, but she’s not sure. Despite these mystifying occurrences, she believes that ultimately only Zambians can develop Zambia.

 

Rich-poor Divide

If you read my first blog entry, you might remember a bit about my surprise at how expensive some things are here. I’ll let you decide if cellular service costs are high: For example, I bought a Celtel SIM card here to put in the cell phone that I brought with me to Zambia. I paid 10,000 kwacha (US$3.14) for the card, and it came with 10,000 kwacha worth of pre-paid credits. Last week, Celtel advertised one billing scheme that charges at 18 kwacha/second (US$0.34 per minute). A different company, MTN, advertised cell phone plans with rates of 13 kwacha per second or late-night calls at 5 kwacha/sec (US$0.25 and $0.09 per minute). I don’t know what lurks in the fine print of these service plans.

 

While in Kitwe, I spent time with Zambians who clearly have higher incomes than both residents of Lundazi as well as the subsistence farmers I saw in the Luangwa Valley when RFDP went to conduct a water and sanitation class. Who is filling the seats of the expensive bus rides, filling the motel rooms, driving the cars in Lusaka and shopping for luxury goods? I think there is a rich-poor divide here. Some can afford eyeglasses, attentive health care, broadband and a computer at home, and even an automobile and custom-built brick home with indoor plumbing and appliances. Contrast this with people who can’t afford eyeglasses, shoes, a school uniform or a glass of milk that a doctor prescribes (many people walking around Lundazi are barefoot, sometimes with both feet, sometimes with one bare and one wearing the remnants of a tattered shoe). As Zambia tries to develop its infrastructure but runs into problems, what will happen to the magnitude of this divide?

 

Follow-up to Reader Comment: Prices

A reader commented to me after reading my first blog entry that I shouldn’t be surprised when I get overcharged for things in Zambia. I’m obviously a foreigner, and some merchants see an opportunity to get extra cash out of a naive tourist. This is true, but the prices I report are prices paid by Zambians with their own money. I saw them pay it with my own eyes or I checked and asked what they pay.

 

Chickens, a Mattress and Vomit

I started the long journey back to Lundazi when I left Kitwe on a ride to Lusaka with a new friend of mine and old friend of Chewe and Prisca. I enjoyed the luxury of legroom in the front seat of his company car, something that the buses here don’t have for people who are tall like me. There were other differences, too. The car ride didn’t have: live chickens among the passengers, innumerable delays preceded by innumerable promises of no delays, unfortunate passengers miserably suffering from motion sickness and vomiting (the bus doesn’t stop for that), and passengers’ goods piled high on the seats and in the aisle — people in the back walk on luggage and boxes instead of the bus floor to get to the front, and I once rode with a mattress big enough for two people that somehow got stuffed in the passenger compartment rather than down in the cargo hold. You might not believe that I’m not complaining, but I’m not — just painting a picture for you. The only thing that really tests my patience so far is sitting with no legroom whatsoever for ten hours, and I’m getting better at enduring that. Anyway, on the bus ride from Lusaka to Chipata, a town on the way to the town where RFDP is, the bus sailed past a man filling potholes with dirt. He saw us coming and stepped to the side of the road. The bus driver honked and tossed a water bottle out to him while we drove by. The man on the road had his eyes fixed expectantly on the bus and spotted the bottle immediately. He broke into a fast run and chased after the bottle. As the man closed in on his prey, the driver did something that really quickened him: he crumpled some money into a ball and sent that out the window, too, honking again to make sure that the man saw it. The man had not taken his eyes off the bus, and he dashed for the cash, pouncing for the kill as the breeze competed to claim the loose bills. There is a market for road repair and someone is taking advantage of it! I arrived in Chipata at night, and a kind gentleman accompanied me while I searched for a place to spend the night. He asked for nothing in return for his help. The next day at the bus station, I waited through a series of delays but finally set off and made it back to Lundazi. The next Monday I was back in the office after being gone for well over a week. I and others at RFDP are still working on a pretty big grant proposal for HIV/AIDS work. As far as life outside the office goes, things change slowly here, so even my biggest local news is pretty mundane: Oatmeal is sold out, so I’m eating baby food and brown rice for breakfast these days. Lately we have had unpredictable power cuts more often than usual, and I haven’t heard anybody guess as to the reason yet. And that’s about all the news I have for now!

 

John

June 30, 2008

A Clarification: John’s entry

Filed under: Uncategorized — rfdp @ 8:02 am

In my post “Arrival of New Volunteer” dated 26 June 2008, I wrote, “Microcredit loans for women already freighted with caring for many children seem like nonstarters to me.” A reader said in response that my statement is “a blanket denial” of loans from willing lenders to women with many children. In case others among you had this interpretation as well, I’d like to clarify here what I intended to communicate. A denial of loans is not what I meant, and I should have been more explicit rather than rely on the subtlety of writing about how things “seem to me.”  What I meant by the phrase “seem…to me” is that this is what I perceive, and I hoped that the reader would bear in mind as I do that not all is at it seems. In other words, I stated my mere perception knowing that it might be wrong. Instead of denying these loans, I am very supportive of women with many children who borrow money to start businesses even though what I have seen in the catchment area and Lundazi thus far — and what little I’ve seen certainly is not the full picture — gives me the perception that their existing responsibilities make their proposed endeavors nonstarters. I hope that they prove me wrong. If a willing lender took on the risk of loaning money to a mother already busy with many children, I would not try to dissuade them. I would be impressed with the can-do attitude of all those involved but skeptical of the prospect of success until proven otherwise. If her business endeavor succeeded, I would deferentially applaud her and the lender and try to find and understand the discrepancy between my perception and reality.

John

PS: Feel free to write your comments on this blog by clicking on “comments!”

June 26, 2008

Arrival of New Volunteer: John’s Entry

Filed under: Africa, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 9:15 am

Introduction and First Impressions
Hello from Zambia! My name is John Fuhrman, and I arrived in Zambia on June 6, 2008 to volunteer with Rising Fountains Development Program (RFDP). Mathias Zimba, the director, and a couple of his friends were at the airport to pick me up. The luggage I checked in at Kathmandu was not with me, so we spent the night in Lusaka waiting until we were able to pick it up the next day (the South African Airlines staff were very courteous and helpful). In the meantime, I tagged along with Mathias and saw a bit of Lusaka while he and I ran some errands. I noticed the orderliness of traffic, absence of unnecessary honking and general good appearance of the city: Lusaka appeared to be better off economically than what I had expected. The price of our “cheap” motel was also unexpected: 100,000 kwacha per room per night with no private bathroom (equivalent to US$31.45 at 3180 Zambian kwacha to one US dollar). I don’t need a private bathroom and was satisfied with the room, but this was the first of a few things that have puzzled me with unexpectedly high prices. While in Lusaka, we went to a government office to extend my permitted stay of thirty days to three or four months in order to accommodate my entire planned stay in Zambia. The official, though, refused on a technicality and told me to return after four weeks.

The morning after I arrived, we grabbed my luggage at the airport and set off for Chipata, a waypoint on the journey to our eastern destination and the location of RFDP’s offices, Lundazi. We rode a public bus, and from my window seat, I was able to observe the countryside as we traveled. Very quickly my impression of a relatively economically well-off capital city in an underdeveloped nation was contrasted with rural areas that clearly do without motorized vehicles, running water or electricity. We arrived in Chipata at night, so we stayed in a spartan motel for 80,000 kwacha per room (US$25.16), another high price that baffles me in a country where the average income is around two or three US dollars a day. The following day, we got a ride in a private car to Lundazi with other friends of Mathias who were traveling in the same direction. For us, this made the trip cheaper, more comfortable and more convenient despite getting a flat tire (we had a spare). The road was paved, but the entire stretch of road is so full of potholes that now only a percentage of it has intact asphalt pavement. The rest is closely-spaced, deep potholes, and driving on the dirt shoulder is often better than driving on what remains of the road. It would probably take less than two hours if the road were maintained, but we did it in about four hours. Note that this is the main road connecting the district seat of Lundazi and many towns north of it with the capital. North of Lundazi, though, the pavement ends and becomes maintained dirt road.

Rising Fountains had arranged for a rented house to be ready and waiting for me (I pay the rent), and it is quite nice and much appreciated to be in a home with plumbing and electricity, both of which have been working most of the time during my first two weeks here. To have a night watchman and maid as well, both arranged by Rising Fountains despite my insistence that they are unnecessary, makes my living situation downright luxurious. I was warmly welcomed by both of them as well as the staff at the office on my first day here. We held a staff meeting that morning, and I was impressed when each person told me what is expected of me; I was asked what I expect of them as well, which is that everything done here is done for the people we serve.

A Trip to the Valley (the destitute, rural area that RFDP serves)
Just two days after my introduction to the staff, we set off on a three-day, two-night trip to the Luangwa River Valley area that Rising Fountains serves to hold a water and sanitation program for outreach workers. Outreach workers live in the valley area, and they are the bridge between Rising Fountains and the rest of the residents of this remote area. On this trip I saw that it is impractical for RFDP staff to visit every village, so instead one outreach worker comes to a scheduled meeting with RFDP, is educated and reports to RFDP, and then returns to his or her respective area to disseminate information to the rest of the residents. We traveled in a rented 4×4 loaded with people and cargo and drove first through the Kazembe chiefdom on a path through the woods that had been cleared of trees. I call it a “path through the woods that had been cleared of trees” because most readers will get the wrong impression if I use the word “road” to describe the route. Here in Lundazi we call it a road, of course, and from a utilitarian standpoint, it indeed is a road, because vehicular traffic travels on it. To someone who grew up with and is accustomed to the roads found in developed nations, though, full appreciation of this “road” requires traveling on it personally, but if you imagine roots, ruts, logs, flowing streams, dry streambeds, boulders, deep sand, and steep uphill and downhill pitches, then you will have an idea of what this path is like. A good 4×4 is absolutely necessary, and the shockingly dilapidated one that we rented overheated and broke down more than once. More than once we pushed it and popped the clutch to start it, and this was all done while deep in lion territory. Despite the remote location and risk from wildlife, we saw at least one traveler making the journey by bicycle from Lundazi. He was traveling in our direction, and kept up with us for many tens of kilometers: the nimble bicycle can bob and weave among the rocks and ruts in contrast to the lurching truck that can only tackle them head-on at slow speed. But a cyclist must reach his destination before nightfall or face increased risk of encountering lions.

All along our journey, we stopped and said hello to important community figures such as school headmasters. We also stopped and inspected two pit latrines that had been planned and built by RFDP. We arrived at Chitungulu, another chiefdom and the site of the next day’s water and sanitation workshop, after nightfall and immediately tried to find a place to stay. Apparently, this village with no electricity or running water has a guest house. But the person with the keys was nowhere to be found, so we asked to stay in a teacher’s home, and he and his family graciously welcomed us.

The next morning I helped gather firewood for cooking and also went to fetch water from the hand-driven borehole pump. I noticed that the well had a metal plate riveted to it showing that it was installed by the Luangwa Valley Borehole Project in 2007, a project of Rotary Club Beveren-Waas (Belgium), Rotary Club Chipata (Zambia), and the Luangwa Valley Project. After everybody in our party had woken, bathed and eaten (there was vegetarian food, and I wonder if they spent extra effort to provide it just for me!), we held a preliminary meeting with four outreach workers and went over RFDP’s project areas and the organization’s goals and raison d’être. I listened and solidified my understanding of what Rising Fountains tries to accomplish. One area that RFDP works on that I was particularly glad to see was women’s development. The RFDP programs for women include microcredit loans for women to start their own profitable businesses, support for grandmothers caring for AIDS orphans, encouragement for girls to stay in school and for their families to support them in doing so, and countering the tendency to pressure girls to marry at early ages like 14 or 16 and leave the education system after marriage. I mentioned that one potential obstacle to a woman’s personal development here is the burden she carries when caring for a steady stream of newborns and her ever-growing number of children — a number of children quite possibly larger than the number she might have wanted. She must have sole control over whether she becomes pregnant in order to gain a foothold and find time for a business, education, or whatever else she might have in mind for herself. After saying this, others at the meeting agreed, and I hope that the concept of family planning controlled unilaterally by the woman is planted in the collective consciousness. Maybe Rising Fountains can introduce this idea — another way to live — in conjunction with contraception options that the husband cannot control or detect. Ideally, the husband and wife talk it over and make a joint decision, but because she inevitably is charged with taking care of the kids and because he could rape her and therefore nullify her “no,” she must be able to control her fertility. Otherwise, she has more children than she wants and is locked into spending the prime of her life doing nothing but caring for several kids. Microcredit loans for women already freighted with caring for many children seem like nonstarters to me. I don’t want to impose anything or come across as holier-than-thou, but this is what I see, and the idea can be presented as an alternative lifestyle with pros and cons and placed in the basket of options. I’m going into depth here, because this issue stands out to me: on this trip to the valley and in Lundazi, the town where I live, I have noticed that many of the women who are walking with containers to fetch water or carry goods also carry infants slung to their backs with toddlers in tow. All homes that I’ve seen have a handful of youngsters. I was told at the meeting that many couples in the valley use no family planning method whatsoever and are not aware of family planning. I don’t see how these women can start educational or entrepreneurial endeavors when their minds and hands are busy with several mouths to feed. Made aware of a different way to live, what would these women choose?

After that morning meeting, we delivered hundreds if not thousands of pencils to the local school that had been donated and mailed to us by The Pencil Project. That day we also paid respects — “paid katesko,” as it is called even when speaking English — to the local chief and gave him a requisite gift as custom demands. The gift was two bottles of a juice drink brought from Lundazi. In turn, he listened to our plans and intentions for conducting the water and sanitation meeting in his chiefdom and cordially sanctioned our presence and efforts. I have seen that connecting with local community figures such as chiefs, school headmasters, parish leaders and the like is important for RFDP to operate effectively. These people appreciate knowing what Rising Fountains is doing in the area, and we benefit from their support. A good example is how we were able to go to a teacher’s home unannounced in the late evening and request lodging for two nights.

We conducted the main event, an educational workshop on water and sanitation that lasted about half a day, in a large, thatched-roof hut that the parish owns and granted for our use for the day. About twenty people from the surrounding area attended, and they learned about the benefits and importance of water wells, water boreholes, well maintenance, clean drinking water, proper sanitation and pit latrines. Most of the information was presented orally in the vernacular (for this region it is Tumbuka), but I spoke in English to teach three methods for making water safer to drink (I greeted and thanked them, though, in Tumbuka). From the material I presented, the 20 attendees learned three main points: that boiling water for ten minutes yields potable water that will not make someone sick, that six hours of direct sunlight can kill some but not all germs in water in transparent plastic bottles, and that allowing silt to settle overnight eliminates turbidity but does not kill pathogens. The audience asked me good questions and appeared to have no problem understanding. Before the talk, I was assured by Rising Fountains colleagues that one of them would step in as an interpreter if I used terminology that escaped the audience, but no interpreting took place. English is an official language in Zambia and is taught in school. I have found that most people speak English well enough to communicate effectively on a variety of topics, but I have met some Zambians who speak little more than courtesy phrases. During the workshop, the students were shown how to wash hands properly with a live demonstration, and a song was sung with lyrics that translate roughly to, “If you don’t sweep your house, I won’t be drinking water at your house.” The meeting concluded with a meal provided to the attendants by RFDP. We got back on the truck and headed for home right away but took a different route back to Lundazi. This time we were on a maintained dirt road and had no problems with boulders and ruts. I noticed that several of the small culverts that were along the way bore signs indicating that they had been put in with international assistance, and if memory serves, it was from the Netherlands.

After being dropped off at home, I did not learn until later that the truck actually broke down shortly after arriving back in Lundazi. This trip to Kazembe and beyond showed me that Rising Fountains genuinely needs its own reliable vehicle to conduct operations in the area. Trips to the remote areas that RFDP serves are necessary because staff and supplies must go there to do their work, which includes distribution of materials like pencils, clothing or food; sending staff on trips to conduct educational workshops that last up to five days; and conducting needs assessments at regular intervals as well as when disasters like floods strike. I was told that hiring a 4×4 costs between 1.5 million to 2.5 million kwacha per trip, or US$472 to US$786. This chronic money hemorrhage heavily impacts the budget and is the limiting factor for RFDP operations now. I have traveled the “road” that they must travel, and an RFPD vehicle would be put to good use to help AIDS orphans, the sick and the destitute.

Back at the Office
Since the trip to the valley, I have spent the last week and a half working in the office. Currently I’m focused on helping write a grant proposal that would fund an HIV/AIDS effort in the valley. This prospective project would complete a half-finished introduction of basic HIV/AIDS education to the area served by RFDP. Currently, only some of the residents know what HIV and AIDS are, know how to prevent the spread the virus, and have access to counseling and testing. That some people do know these things is the result of RFDP’s previous efforts, but not all of the area RFDP serves was covered. Specifically, Mwanya remains untouched in contrast to Kazembe and Chitungulu; consequently, widespread ignorance and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist in Mwanya. If these funds come through, this remaining area will be educated on HIV/AIDS basic facts, prevention and treatment and will have HIV testing brought to its health centers. In addition to working on the proposal, I’m reviewing the RFDP website with the hope that we can improve it. The website is maintained by an off-site volunteer, so we’ll see how it goes when we deal with internet connections dropping intermittently. I’m also wading through pages of government-speak as I try to figure out if RFDP can be registered as a 501(c)(3) in the U.S. so that charitable contributions are deductible on U.S. federal income tax returns. I tried calling the IRS, but the connection dropped because our prepaid account ran dry just as I was taken off hold and halfway through my first question!

On the morning of Friday, June 20, I was unexpectedly pulled out of the office and made photographer for the commemoration of the Day of the African Child, a holiday that passed by earlier this month. The kids put on performances, including drama, dancing, singing, speeches and poetry. The district commissioner of education and his guests (four staff from RFDP and about a dozen others) sat and viewed the performances. Strangely enough, each performing group faced the commissioner so that he and his guests could hear and see the performance better than the congregation of hundreds of kids that stood exactly opposite to us. The kids saw their fellow students’ backs and certainly had difficulty hearing the singing while we got all the attention, giving me the strong impression that the performances were for the commissioner and his entourage rather than the children. I wondered if it was a commemoration for Day of the African District Commissioner. I mentioned this and was assured that the performances were for the kids, but I remain disappointed at the apparent charade…what message does this send the children, folks? In any case, I learned what netball is when I watched a team sponsored by RFDP play a game against a rival team after the singing and dancing performances. The sponsorship came in the form of a donated ball, another item that we deliver to remote schools. RFDP’s team lost, but the girls were up against a team of older, taller and stronger girls, so it was hardly a fair match!

Life in the Town of Lundazi
For me, things outside the office are good. Shortly after arrival, the friendly nature of people I had met became amplified by the people I had not met: wherever I walk, I hear strangers calling out, “Hello, Mr. John!” It’s a small town, and life moves slowly here, so my arrival must have become a bit of a news item. Being introduced to a congregation of a couple hundred churchgoers also got word out: I accepted an invitation to attend a Sunday evangelical church service and was curious to attend after seeing that Christianity is widespread here. As is done each Sunday, interpreters stood with the Zambian pastors and rendered their English into one of the vernacular languages. There were two pastors who both spoke at length, there was energetic singing and dancing, and the whole shebang lasted for about three and a half hours. At home my mosquito net works well, and I am unbothered by mosquitoes or fears of contracting malaria. Nature visits me on a daily basis inside my house when tarantulas, geckos, cockroaches, wasps, crickets and praying mantises find their way inside. I stumbled on a trader based here that sells soybeans, among other things, which was a happy find for me. From conversations with locals and what I observed at his warehouse, I surmise that he is the most prosperous businessman in this sleepy town. He is second-generation born-and-raised here, but his family tree has roots in India and branches in the U.K., so maybe his overseas ties give him an advantage over competitors. With soybeans from him and fresh vegetables from the market, a lot of good dirt roads suitable for jogging, and my mosquito net, I’m staying healthy.

My electricity got cut off on June 24, so I went to the appropriate office to clear things up with RFDP’s accountant as my backup man. I learned that I pay a flat rate of over 187,000 kwacha (US$59) per month for unmetered electricity, but two of my colleagues who have big families and watch TV, therefore undoubtedly using more electricity than I do, paid 40,000 kwacha and 57,000 kwacha last month on their metered bills (US$12.59 and US$17.92). So, naturally I asked to get a meter, but learned that RFDP and the landlord have been asking for a while already. Apparently, a meter will arrive when a customer is disconnected from the grid and that former customer’s meter is taken down and installed at the house I rent. Sounds like a good deal for someone! I wonder if RFDP will hit any corruption roadblocks that I notice while I’m here and how they will deal with them. In any case, my connection was restored in less than 24 hours after settling my bill. Incidentally, I’m told that Malawi supplies electricity to Lundazi, and the Zambian city of Chipata that is south of us supplies electricity to Malawi. People tell me that this arrangement exists because Malawian power plants are closer to Lundazi than anything Zambia has, and the Zambian plants in Chipata serve outback regions in Malawi. I noticed that gasoline is sold here by individuals with hand-carried cans (they compete with the lone filling station in town), because they can get it cheaper across the border. My guess is that Malawi subsidizes fuel and Zambia does not.

More later as things develop!

June 20, 2008

New Website Developed www.risingfountains.org

Filed under: Volunteers — rfdp @ 6:13 pm

Rising Fountain Development Program has a new website www.risingfountains.org

Rising Fountain Development Program would like to thank Digit Art Designs, http://www.digitartdesigns.com/ a Canadian company that donated their precious time and resources to volunteer and design our wonderful new website. We are now able to receive on line donations through a secured pay pal account. We are accepting as little as $10 or more towards our programs in rural Lundazi.

For all the volunteers (present/past) we thank you for all your wonderful work and we continue to ask you to share our work with families and friends.

Mathias Zimba

Director

March 29, 2008

Jeannie’s Blog – The Forgotten Floods

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 9:37 am

March 2008

Over the last few weeks we’ve been really bad at keeping this blog up to date.  I’ve long accepted that there’s no such thing as an average day here so as you can imagine it’s difficult to know where to begin in updating you all on what we’ve been up too.

As the two previous blog’s centred on the flooding in Kazembe, its best to start by bringing you up to date on that.  After collecting all the data and writing the needs assessment on both the immediate and long term needs of the affected communities we submitted it to international donors.  Unfortunately, we are still waiting on fed back.  We also haven’t heard any reports of relief being administrated by other stakeholders so the people of the Valley have just had to cope with the flooding, just as they have had to in previous years.  Government relief and Aid Agencies are giving priority to Southern Province where a greater number of communities have been more heavily affected. 

While the water may have receded from the fields and villages, communities still, and will continue to feel, the impact of the floods for some time.  Crops have been destroyed so while households may have some food from remaining crops or the support of extended families after harvest in April/May, by the time the ‘hunger period’ comes back in December, these are the households which will be affected worse.  For the households whose homes have collapsed, they now face the task of rebuilding their homes, not knowing if they will have to do the same thing next year.  Many pit-latrines (toilets) have also collapsed resulting in many households and communities being without proper sanitation installations so they have to use the bush.  If there is an overflow of affluent from the collapsed pit-latrines this can lead to water contamination and obvious hygiene risks.  RFDP will continue to seek funding to help these communities and work along side them to recover from these floods and seek alternatives to help limit their impact in the future.  For me, the hardest thing to accept is that we went and saw the devastation but still couldn’t help, at least in the short term.  Despite the frustration at that, it just makes you all the more determined to continue to work with these communities and help them find sustainable, long term solutions to their problems.

Back in the BOMA there has been little rain, despite the floods in the Valley.  I don’t think the maize that was planted in our garden will be good.  It’s become a discoloured yellow, as if it is becoming withered.  I think the major problem is that it was planted too late and missed the rains in late January, early February.  It’s OK for mazungo’s though – of course we’ll be fine whether the maize is OK or not.  It’s the families who depend on their crops for their family’s survival who will not.

The other major thing which happened in the last few weeks was Josée’s departure.  She left on Tuesday after working at RFDP for three months.  She’s left a big gap in RFDP – and in our house as well.  We’re all missing her a lot!!!  On her last week in Lundazi, Josée’s facilitated a workshop for RFDP staff and Community Outreach Workers on project management.  We all learnt a lot during it – on the development of projects, report writing and proposal writing to mention just a few things.  So now it’s our turn to implement the things we learnt which will help RFDP develop and grow. 

Aside from learning at the workshop, it was also a great opportunity to spend time with the Community Outreach Workers.  When we go to the Valley we normally only get to spend a few days with them individually.  Living and working in the field they are the back bone of the organisation and are fundamental to the daily running of projects and collection of data.  During the workshop we got to get to know them as a group and thank them for all their hard work and commitment to RFDP. 

When Josée’s travelled to Lusaka last weekend, Anna and I accompanied her as we had some meetings with donors after the Easter Break.  As usual our journey to Lusaka was another African adventure – over sixteen hours this time.  The road between Chipata and Lundazi has continued to deteriorate with the rain.  There are many pot-holes and the bus has to drive on the side of the road to avoid them.  About eighteen months ago the journey took around two hours.  Last Saturday it took us four and a half hours!!!  Apparently the government has set aside money for the improvement of the road.  Work is supposed to start shortly which is crucial for the development of Lundazi – both the BOMA and the Valley area.     

It was strange being in Lusaka – a city with lots of people… and vehicles!!!! We visited Manda Hill Shopping Arcade and it really was like stepping back into Europe for the day, with more mazungos than Zambians.  It was a culture shock going back to that, a complete world away from Lundazi, even the real Lusaka for that matter.  While we were there, we had few reminders that we were in Africa.  We had no “how are you?” or few truly friendly faces welcoming us as we have grown accustomed to in Lundazi.  Equally, the street children are kept away by security guards so the affluent can shop without reminders that the amount they spend in one shopping trip, most people don’t earn in life time here.      

After our meetings, which were very interesting and productive, I was glad to get back to Lundazi last night.  I’ve just over two weeks left here and want to get a lot of work before I leave.  I can’t even begin to think what home will be like or how I’ll adjust back to life there.  One thing is for sure, part of Zambia will always stay with me no matter where I go.    

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