Rising Fountains Development Prog Weblog

November 28, 2007

Another Busy Week!

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 8:07 am

November 17th-23rd

 

Last Saturday began with an early phone call from Mathias – he had just received an email about a water and sanitation proposal that had to be submitted very quickly.  It meant that most of Saturday was spent completing the proposal which was base on the Needs Assessment that Ketan carried before he left.  Zambia has a UN Human Poverty Index of 45.6 and a ranking of 87 among 102 developing countries, making water and sanitation access a major issue across the country. Vast numbers of people are without access to clean drinking water within the recommended walking distance of 500 metres and are forced to walk long distances, in extreme heat, to access the nearest water source.  Many water wells are in need of urgent rehabilitation as they have become dilapidated and the water contaminated.  In terms of sanitation, some rural communities do not have access to a latrine and often only a few exist in each village.  Moreover, many communities have constructed latrines in close proximity to their water points which poses obvious health and hygiene hazards.  Exposure to these circumstances can lead to potentially fatal diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea which puts improving water and sanitation access as a top priority for RFDP and made completely the proposal all the more important.

 

It was late afternoon by the time I returned home and as Melina and I were preparing dinner something blew in the fuse board leaving us without light in the communal areas of the house.  On Sunday, all the electric was off, along with the water, as is expected every second weekend so repair work can be carried out.  It was Tuesday evening before an electrician arrived to fix the problem.  By that stage we had got used to cooking and eating in the dark – we had even baked some bread the previous night by candle light!  On a serious note though, the whole episode enforced the importance of improving water and sanitation access.  In Zambia it is a luxury to have running water and electricity in your home and you don’t appreciate how difficult life is without them until they are gone.       

 

On Monday we visited Kanele Middle Basic School to continue the programme of distribution we had initiated in the Valley a few weeks previously.  I had visited the school on my first week in Lundazi so I was looking forward to going back.  As usual, we received a warm welcome from the staff and pupils with performances of songs, dances and poems to greet us.  We distributed pencils and books to twenty orphans and asked them to design Christmas Cards for our sponsors.  With the help of a very artistic teacher, the enthusiastic children made beautiful cards with Christmas trees and jingle bells on front.  At the end of the activities, Panji Chibeyo, a grade six pupil, read a vote of thanks on behalf of the school:

 

“The Director, The Head Teacher, our sister Jeannie, Pastor Chipeta, teachers and my fellow pupils, on behalf of my fellow pupils, I would like to thank RFDP for adopting Kanele MB School.  Lundazi District, like other districts in the country, is badly hit by HIV/AIDS, which has claimed so many lives of our beloved parents, leaving us as orphans. Your help has come at the right time.  We have really learnt a lot from the previous lessons, only to mention a few, HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation and also to love one another by sharing gifts as you have shared today.  As orphans we are really suffering and are in need of help and love.  As Kanele pupils, we are not going to entertain early marriages, just as you taught us.  We wish you a long life and God’s guidance as you do your work in Zambia.  Continue visiting us.  In all I say thank you.”

 

I found the thanks very poignant.  I’ve read many devastating statistics – 5000 men and women aged 15-59 die from HIV/AIDS every twenty-four hours in Sub-Saharan Africa (World Health Report, 2003), or that 71% of Zambia’s Eastern Province’s 1,440,604 people are poor, 49% extremely poor.  But these are just statistics.  The pupils of Kanele are the human faces and stories behind the statistics.  So too are the people who we work with in the Valley or the people who ask me for a job in the market.  HIV/AIDS and poverty are so widespread that few escape here.  It affirms the need for the work RFDP does, and the many other NGOs, CBO’s and FBO’s do in the area – but also how much still has to be done.

 

Much of the remainder of the week was spend in the office working on other proposals and preparing activities for World AIDS Day on December 1st.  Mr. Leonard returned from Malawi on Wednesday after travelling there to buy some timber which RFDP will now sell in the market as part of Income Generating Activity (IGA).  It is hoped that this scheme will develop and enable the organisation to continue to work when waiting for funding to come through.

 

In all, it has been another busy week, with lots to think about and contemplate.  Just as we were leaving Kanele on Monday, the Headmistress thanked me for coming as their enrolment numbers were increasing because the mazungu came.  At least I know I am making a small difference on some level here.  It’s all part of my experience as I continue on my journey in Zambia. J              

  

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November 19, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy!!!

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 8:14 am

November 10th – 16th

 

After all the drama of last week, this week has been relatively quiet!!  After returning from the Valley on Saturday morning, the remainder of the day was spent helping Melina to take the dread locks out of her hair.  It almost involved as long a sit as getting them put in, but at least it gave us the opportunity to probably catch up after being apart for a week!

 

On Sunday afternoon we went to the market to get a few things.  The stall holders seemed genuinely surprised to see me again!  I think them thought I had left!  In fact, the man in the bread shop asked me my name, which took me by surprise because normally we have a big conversation.  When I said Jeannie his response was hilarious!  “Jean… from Ireland…  I thought you had left!!  Where have you been??  I didn’t recognise you with your hair!!!”  It was then that I remembered that I had left for the Valley after getting the dread locks in and hadn’t really been seen in Lundazi!  I found it rather sweet that although I have only been here a month, I was missed already! J

 

After relaxing over the weekend, it was back to the office on Monday to catch up on all the work we missed while in the Valley.  My first task was to write the report on the trip.  As usual I wrote far too much and ended up spending longer on it than I had expected, but I found it really helpful in that I was able to collect my thoughts on the trip and understand exactly what we achieved and areas can be improved on.  Much of the remainder of the week was spent researching and emailing a few potential donors.  By the beginning of next week I should have responses back and hopefully they’ll mark the beginning of some progress on this front.

 

In the middle of the week a problem developed with the internet – it started charging!!  Until now we had been connecting with Mathias’ mobile phone and we hadn’t been charged anything.  On Wednesday however, his initial six months free conscription expired.  It means now that we are being charged per minute so basically we’re being very quick online – just doing the essentials, checking email and, as you can see, uploading the blog!  I had hoped to start uploading pictures with it but it’s not going to happen now.  The connection is just too slow so it would cost a fortune at the minute!!  

 

On Thursday and Friday we were preparing to go to Kanele Middle Basic School to carry out a similar distribution to orphans there as we had done in the Valley.  I was really looking forward to returning to the school as I had already visited it with Ragini and Ketan on my first week.  Unfortunately, the school was busy with other activities and our visit was postponed until Monday of next week.  Nevertheless, everything is ready to go, including cards for the children to make Christmas cards for our sponsors.  All this considered, events on Monday should be very enjoyable.

 

Friday marked the end of a very busy week in which I slowly managed to get caught up in my work.  However, as there is only one computer in the office, Melina is now behind with work because I have been on the computer all week!!  This just affirms, yet again, the urgent need for more office equipment for RFDP. 

 

Another busy week in which I have continued to learn lots about the work I am doing and the country I am visiting.  I’m sure next week will be no different!!! J J       

November 15, 2007

Stranded in the Bush

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 2:03 pm

November 3rd – 10th

 

Last week I ended my blog hoping we would travel to the Valley and I would have lots to report back on this week.  I could not have imagined at that stage what the week was to hold!

 

Most of last Friday evening and Saturday morning was taken up with me getting a truly African hairstyle – dreadlocks!!  It took five and a half hours to perfect the look.  Basically the hairdresser platted a wig throw my hair to a suitable length.  When I go to the hairdresser in Ireland I’m always told how thick my hair is – but it’s not compared to African standards.  It’s a bit too fine and soft for the dread locks and grows too quickly.  Zambian’s can keep the dreadlocks in for six weeks but mine have already started falling out at the back so it’ll be interesting to see how long I keep them in for.  Nevertheless, it was an experience getting them in and everyone’s reaction has been hilarious, especially children.  The first time I left the house our neighbours children shouted, “The mazungu has platted her hair!” and in the market I got even more stares than usual with people saying “Look, the mazungo wants to be like us!”  Well, that’s according to Melina’s translation! 

 

After all the drama of the new hairstyle, we finally received word that the vehicle had arrived and was ready to depart.  On Sunday afternoon, we finally left the Boma (Lundazi) for Lumimba, a village in the Chiefdom of Chitungulu which was to be our base.  Pastor Chipeta (RFDP HIV/AIS Coordinator), Mr. Leonard Kambwili (RFDP Programme Manager) and I were the three staff travelling.  It wasn’t long though the vehicle was full of people travelling to different villages along the root. 

 

The journey took approximately two and half hours meaning we reached Lumimba around 20:30hrs and as usual received a warm Zambian welcome from Mr. Bonda Zimba (RFDP Field Coordinator) and his family.  It was decided that we would depart early in the morning (05:00!) to travel to the Chiefdom of Kazembe which was around three hours away and begin to distribute school requisites to orphans in three schools in the area.  It was important that these orphans were not receiving any other sponsorship from other organisations or individuals as it is RFDP’s hope that this distribution is the first step in sponsoring these children on a long term basis. 

 

After the early start we arrived in Kazembe and firstly distributed to third seven pupils at Chiweza Middle Basic School.  Each child received five exercise books and one pen / pencil, depending on their grade.  We then moved on to Kambwili Community School.  Activities there were to be the centre piece of the day, indeed the trip.  Since my arrival at RFDP I had heard much about this school, especially from Ragini and Ketan.  It has historic roots in the area; the school reopened three years ago has only two small classrooms for eighty one pupils in grades one to three.  The school doesn’t have many of the basic supplies needed for teaching – pencils and books and only has a few pieces of chalk.  Most of the children don’t have shoes and the teachers are unpaid for their work.  All these factors combined illustrate the importance of RFDP’s relationship with the school and wider community.     

 

Word quickly spread about our arrival and large numbers of parents, guardians and other members of the community assembled at the school, along with the teachers and pupils to greet us.  Then the planned activates started.  Both parents and children preformed traditional dances, whilst the children recited poems which contained important messages about HIV/AIDS.  There then was a short break in which fizzy drinks and biscuits were distributed to the crowd – many of whom had never tasted either before.  Following this there was a short quiz which included questions on HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation, environmental protection and girl-child education.  All the children answered above our expectations and showed a high level of knowledge and understanding surrounding these important social issues.  Activities concluded with a netball and football match with a ball RFDP donated.  The community previously had no ball.  Although I was already struggling in the heat (wearing factor thirty sunscreen and sitting in the shade but still managing to get burnt), I got involved in the dancing and netball.  The community seemed genuinely pleased that the “mazungu” was taking part – even I she did have two left feet!! J J J

 

After completing the programme for the day, a short distribution ceremony took place.  Some text books and pencils were donated to the school on behalf of the Pencil Project in the USA and some exercise books, an inflatable ball and chalk were donated on behalf of Ragini and Ketan.  Meanwhile, RFDP organised for four schools bags to be distributed to children who had answered exceptionally well in the quiz.  Moreover, additional prizes of exercise books and pencils were given to children who had participated well in the days activities.  Parents who also got involved received items of children’s clothes for their effort.  Finally, the eighty one pupils at the school, forty one girls and forty boys, received five exercise books and one pencil each.  The school presented RFDP with some gifts for the volunteers’ house and expressed their deep appreciation for the day and the donations.  Many spoke of how they felt that it was a “dream come true”.  For me the days programme was highly enjoyable.  I received a warm Zambian welcome from the community and had the opportunity to meet with the beneficiaries of RFDP’s work.  I realised how much the organisation has achieved and also how much more work it has to do.  

 

On our return journey to Lumimba the vehicle had more mechanical problems.  It was around 19:00hrs and pitch black in the middle of the bush when we broke down.  After several failed attempts to solve the problem, we had to push the vehicle to the nearest Game Management Point at the village of Zokwe.  Luckily it wasn’t too far and on a relatively flat stretch of the road.  There were several more attempts to restart the vehicle, all of them in vain and it was decided that we would have to spend the night there.  So I lay down to sleep, on a straw mat, outside a mud nut, with only a chitenga for a blanket!  There was thunder and lightening in the distance but the sky was clear overhead and there was a beautiful view of the stars.  After the early start that morning and the heat during the day I managed to fall asleep quite quickly!  The next morning I awoke to find more attempts to restart the vehicle – still in vain.  I asked Mr. Leonard how his night had been – he said he couldn’t sleep because of the lions roaring!  Mr. Bonda and Mr. Lackson had similar responses!  Then two men came along the same stretch of road where we had broken down to tell us that there were two lions laying on it!!!  So basically I was laying outside, open bait for the lions and I’ve concluded that it was my preferred state of naivety that thought the thunder was as bad as it was – I’m guessing now it was more roaring lions!!        

 

At 06:00hrs Mr. Bonda left Zokwe to cycle back to Lumimba to get the mechanic to come.  It was just our luck that he had left for Lundazi the previous day and wasn’t due back until Wednesday.  With no progress made by 13:00hrs we got a lift back to Lumimba on the back of a pick-up truck – with around twelve other people! 

 

It was a relief to get back to Lumimba and to be able to bath – the sunburn from the previous day was getting really sore!  For the remainder of Tuesday and Wednesday we spent relaxing and trying to find another source of transport so we could finish our programme of events, whilst simultaneously turning our heads at the sound of a vehicle to check if it was ours!  Neither happened and word was sent to our outreach workers in Kataba and Chitungulu to bring the beneficiaries to Lumimba so we could distribute.  This was far from idea for us but it was making the most of the situation we found ourselves in.   

 

On Thursday morning Witness, our Kataba outreach worker, arrived with thirty-two orphans from Kataba Basic School.  On Friday the Chitungulu outreach worker arrived with twenty orphans from Chocha Community School, twenty-two from Chitungulu Basic School, fifteen from Nthumbe Middle Basic School, ten from Chilubezi Community School and eight from Mtimbasonjo Middle Basic School.  Each of these children received five exercise books, one pencil/pen and one item of clothing.  We also distributed books and pencils to the government funded schools of Semphe Middle Basic and Lumimba Secondary.  Although I was disappointed not to have the opportunity to visit these schools in person, it was a wonderful experience to meet the children and their teachers.  From speaking with them I was obvious that the requisites they receive would make a big difference to them and their school.   

 

On Friday evening we thought out prayers had been answered when the vehicle finally arrived!  Then we discovered there wasn’t enough fuel and as it was getting dark it was decided that we would spend one more night in Lumimba and leave for the Boma in the morning.  In the meantime, Joff, our drivers assistant when onto Lundazi on another vehicle and was to send fuel to met us where ever we would run out of it the next day.

 

On Saturday morning the first plan all week to run smoothly happened and we left Lumimba.  We had a lot of thank-you’s to say to everyone there, especially to Mr. Bonda’s family who had looked after us so well.  Our trip was only due to last three days and money was budgeted accordingly so it was thanks to their hospitality that our diet just didn’t consist of enshima and mangos!!

 

We eventually made it back to Lundazi at noon on Saturday – not after breaking down eight times on the way!  Fuel was flooding the carbonator and the starter motor was gone so every time the driver released the fuel from the carbonator, we had to get out and push!!  It brought to an end a true African adventure and a big learning experience for me!  Through the distribution I appreciated the importance of RFDP’s work in the region but the need for a solution to our vehicle problem was reinforced for me as I witnessed how continuous problems around it is hindering the organisations work which is frustrating for us and the communities in which we work.    

 

Following events of this week, I’m not going to even predict what next week will hold!  Whatever it will be, no doubt I will still have lots to write about! J J 

November 2, 2007

Two New Arrivals

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 10:40 am

October 27th – November 2nd

 

Last weekend was marked by two new arrivals in the house.  Firstly, just as the novelty of cooking on a small charcoal burner was beginning to wear thin, I got a stove!! Almost a week later, I still can’t believe how easy cooking has become – no more pulling dried grass (very difficult to find when it rains!!!) or trying to create wind to get the charcoal to catch fire!!  Cooking dinner every night was an adventure, but thankfully my new talent at creating fires can be reserved solely for when there’s a power cut!!

 

The second new arrival came on Sunday and was something I was even more pleased about than the stove!  It was Melina (RFDP secretary)!!!  Although I was strangely getting used to my own company after Ketan and Ragini’s departure, wandering around a big house alone was not something I wanted to get used to!  Anyway, I am in Zambia and don’t want to be living with “mazungus” all the time!  On Sunday morning Melina moved in and things have been going well since!  Cooking is really the only thing that we have to compromise on.  Zambian’s eat nshima for lunch and dinner and use a lot of salt and oil.  Obviously I have to be careful because my body is not used to this so I can’t eat it everyday.  We’re working it out – rice and boiled vegetables are becoming my nshima!  It doesn’t bother me because the fruit and vegetables taste soooo good here!  They have none of preservers that they do at home!

 

Differences in diets are just one of the things that get me attention!  When I’m drinking tea and I refuse milk and sugar, I get asked “Why?”! J  I’m asked “What is this?” about my sunburn.  J  Best of all, locals want to know “What happened you?” because I write, and eat nshima, with my left hand! J  I find it all very humorous and intriguing!  Simple things that I do automatically are the complete opposite to some things here.  Of course, laughing about them is something we all do!!

 

Work has been really busy – late nights all week!  The majority of my time as been devoted to trying to locate funding for office equipment and a vehicle.  As the week as progressed I’ve realised the urgency that these things are needed.  We have only one computer in the office, with no printer, photocopier or fax machine.  The result is that Melina and I have spent most of the week rushing to get work done so the other can have the computer.  RFDP is a growing NGO and this is far from idle for us.  I’ve drafted a letter that I plan to send to different computer and office equipment manufacturers appealing for donations.  Hopefully we’ll make some progress over the next few weeks.

 

The vehicle situation is a huge problem for RFDP.  At present we hire a driver and vehicle from the Valley.  As you can imagine, this is huge drain on resources that we would prefer to spend on our projects.  Moreover, this vehicle often needs mechanical work which delays our timetables greatly.  This was very evident this week.  It was planned that on Wednesday Leonard (Programme Manager), Lackson (HIV/AIDS Co-ordinator) and I would travel to different villages in our catchment area in the Valley to distribute school requisites which we got after funding for it came through last week.  We were also planning meetings with the communities to plan events for World AIDS Day on December 1st.  A problem occurred with the vehicle in the Valley which delayed our departure until Thursday, then Friday and now we hope to be leaving on Sunday afternoon, providing the vehicle arrives in Lundazi this afternoon and the mechanics finish work on it tomorrow.  These delays are not only frustrating for RFDP but also for the communities in which we operate.  Maintaining their support is crucial but this is difficult to sustain if our timetable keeps changing.  I’ve set about starting contact with different car manufacturers this week so we are all hoping that some progress can be made soon.    

 

I’ve also been busy putting my IT skills to use in designing a brochure for the organisation which can be used for fundraising abroad and will also be useful in preparing funding proposals.  As my friends all know, I’m not the strongest with computers but I have to say I didn’t realise how much I actually knew – they’ve all been good teachers!!

 

On Tuesday evening Robert and Kerry, two volunteers from the United States, who work for different organisations in Lundazi, dropped into the house to say hello.  Robert has been in Lundazi for the past year and has extended for another, while is girlfriend Kerry arrived a few days after me.  I have to stay I found it very strange to see other “mazungus” and to talk to them.  No doubt I’ll see more of them over the coming weeks and as time goes on it’ll be good to know that there’s people to talk to who are going through a similar experience to me.  Luckily for me they said that they had loads of sun screen – I stupidly only packed one bottle and the closest place you can get it here is in the supermarket in Chipata – a three hour bus journey away!!  Although I’m assured that the weather will be getting cooler soon, it’ll be good to know I can get more easily!!

 

As time passes, I still am amazed at the warm, friendly, easy-going Zambian psyche.  I still get lots of “how are you?”, or in the case of the children where I live, it’s “Mazungus! Mazungus! How are you?”!!!  Then, there are the children from Kanele Basic Middle School where I visited in my first week, who always ask “Jean, how are you?”!  (I’m just known as Jean here!)  Last night in the market I was again reminded of this.  Melina went to photocopy some documents which we need to take to the Valley, while I went to get a few things for dinner.  It was getting dark but the market was still alive with activity, despite there being only a few shops with electricity and there are no street lights at all.  Not being sure of where to get certain things I had to ask at a few stalls.  One older man left his stall and took me to the place I needed to go – even though he spoke very little English.  It is experiences like this that remind me that I must learn the local languages here and no doubt this will again be reinforced when we return to the Valley.  In Lundazi most people speak Nyanja, whilst in the Valley the locals speak Tumbuka.  Normally you find that most people understand both, along with a little English!  It puts my language skills to shame – very basic Irish, French and Spanish just aren’t good enough! J            

 

Overall this week has been great!  I’ve been really surprised at now busy I am at work so early on in my placement – which I am delighted about!  Hopefully, we’ll get to the Valley on Sunday and they’ll be lots for me to report on in my next blog! 

 

Until then, the adventure continues!! J

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