Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reflections on 2007

Reflections on 2007

On Sunday I was reminded of my promise to post some reflections on my 3 months spent in Monze last year.

I spent Sunday afternoon catching up with an uncle and cousin of mine. It reminded me that probably the most valuable thing that I can do is to spend time with people sharing experiences and listening. I have told myself this on numerous occasions and yet I still tend to gauge my value in terms of measurable achievements. Today I hear that our government has yet another initiative apparently aimed at improving the standard of secondary education in schools – by threatening a third of them with closure! Perhaps if, instead, they were willing to sit down and listen to the concerns of the teachers and be willing to support them through what is increasingly a very difficult job, they too might be doing something worthwhile. I like to think that my presence in Zambia is life-giving and increases the self-esteem of those I meet. The evidence from those involved in education and other public services is that constant bullying from the government has resulted in very demoralised staff. I am convinced that if you really want high productivity you need well motivated staff and you will only achieve that if people feel valued.

I suppose that the introduction in the above paragraph stems partly from an overall disappointment with the work I did in Zambia last year. I suffered more frustrations than usual because the general state of the computers was poor and I had great difficulty in improving the situation due to lack of tools or deficiency in my expertise. Perhaps also I hadn't clarified exactly how I saw my role. I believed that there was a lot that I could do to help the hospital staff improve the way in which the hospital operates given the opportunity. I think that the understanding is now much better and hopefully the hospital will obtain better “value for money”. However there is no doubt that my friendships deepened and I learnt a lot during the 3 months. I hope that people felt better because of my presence. Most at least expressed sadness at my departure and were keen that I returned (“and not only for 100 days!”)

I have just read last year's blog. It brings back to life those weeks in Monze. From the amazing welcome when I first arrived through to the glorious abundant mangoes during the last weeks it was a very full and rich experience. I was able to support Diven as he set out on a new phase of his life as a shop keeper – hopefully now he will be able to support himself and a family. Jennipher now has a new home and mains water outside her house for the first time. If all goes well she will be able to irrigate her land and grow food all the year round. Unfortunately Charles has hit more set backs and will have to start again this year. Some NGOs provide finance by way of loans – if Charles had taken that option last year, not only would he have no crop, but would also have a debt that he would be unable to repay.

So what where the highlights of last year's visit? Certainly my visit to Fr. Kenan's family home was very special. It was like a little retreat. To be deep in the bush with the quiet, surrounded by nature has a profoundly relaxing and healing effect on me. What also made this so special was the way I was welcomed by Fr. Kenan's family and friends. It can't be easy having a complete stranger from a very different culture moving in for a weekend! Of course the mangoes need a mention! I believe that my record was 6 mangoes at a sitting! Unless you have eaten fresh mangoes you won't understand the ecstasy! This year I had mangoes handed to me at every turn – another sign of the relationship that has developed and the fact that so many realised how much it would please me.

Of course, as I have said on many occasions, it is the friendships that really matter. On each visit I meet more people and additional friendships develop, but, perhaps more importantly, the friendships of previous years mature. This can also make life more difficult. It isn't easy to refuse friends when they come in need - my resources are limited. There is also a lot of scope for jealousy to arise because I favour some more than others. However, for me making friends is the key reason for being in Zambia and the reason that I feel I must keep returning.

It was good this year to see the ICU in use. Deophister is rightly proud of the way she has been able to nurse some very ill patients back to health. There is no doubt that the unit is making a difference. The links between Monze and Cheltenham are also having benefits. Some support with the school fees have enabled some of the orphaned children to complete their education and will hopefully give them a good chance in life. Some of the most vulnerable were able to celebrate Christmas with a little extra food. I hope though that more important is to know that there are people in England who are interested in getting to know, understand and walk alongside the people of Monze.

At a point during my trip when I was wondering what value I was in Monze, I met briefly with Dr. Malama – the previous Executive Director of the hospital – and he subsequently send me an e-mail. Dr. Malama has known me since 2003 when I first came to the hospital and appreciates the way in which I work with and relate to people – especially the hospital staff. It was obvious from his mail that he valued me highly and for me this is hugely important. It is very difficult to measure the really important outputs we make – like making someone feel valued and worthwhile. If I have a mission it is also to try to show people that I value them and consider their lives worthwhile.

When I spoke to the co-ordinators working on the HIV/AIDS project I was aware how dedicated they were and just how difficult there job was. I knew that in the short period I could not solve the many issues they faced but I hoped that by listening and letting them know how much I valued them and their work, that they too might feel valued and worthwhile. It must be tempting to give up when you are constantly faced with insurmountable problems. It is important to try and maintain morale to give people the strength to keep on doing such important work.

As I contemplate my return to Monze what is it I am looking forward to? I was at a meeting a month or two back and I was told that when I mentioned Zambia I came alive. I know that waking to that glorious sun and feeling its warmth early in the morning really lifts the spirits. This is then followed by the smiling faces and numerous greetings on the way to work. So often here in the UK waking to the prospect of a new day doesn't fill us with joy and we are tempted to hide back under the bedclothes. There must be a message here.

There is a lot to catch up on. How are all my friends getting on? What progress has been made at the hospital, the church and the various schools where I now have connections? What is the situation with technology – particularly the Internet? How close are we to being able to exploit the technology around the world?

I am hoping that 2007 enabled me to further develop the relationships with my friends and colleagues and established some building blocks for a lot of interesting projects this year. I am looking forward to being very busy. The added feature of the Maluba Secondary School for orphaned children will be another interest and a bit more work. Having an ongoing commitment to Monze I hope to see how the school develops over a number of years.

I have learnt from the past that whatever happens on these visits, the reality will prove to be very different from what I imagine. I can however be sure that the next few months will not be dull, that my experiences will be powerful - full of joy but also pain. I very much look forward to this trip back to my other home in Monze. I hope that you will want to accompany me and be part of my journey.

With my love and my prayers


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Monze 2008 - The Tickets have Arrived

2nd June 2008

It is time to revive the blog. I am surprised when looking at my blog that I don't seem to have got around to writing that reflection of my last trip promised at the end of December. No doubt bits will creep in over the next few months if it is never formally written.

The observant among you will have noticed that this blog has an addition to the title – being the addition of Monze 2008.

On arriving back from a few days in London on Saturday, my tickets were sitting on the floor ready for my next adventure in Africa. Time has passed very quickly and so much has happened around the world.

My new grandson Jack, Adedeji (three times crowned) is now two months old and taking a keen interest in life all around. He was born just before dawn on Easter Sunday and Dilys and myself were there to greet him a few hours later as he came back from hospital with his mum and dad. Our burmese friends all survived the terrible cyclone though so many are still suffering terribly from it's effects.

As usual I feel that I have done nothing despite feeling constantly busy. I have tried to maintain contact with my friends back in Monze and find out how their lives are unfolding.

Back in December all seemed to be set for good rains and a bumper harvest. Unfortunately this was now how things turned out. I left Zambia looking wonderfully luscious with green growth everywhere and good regular rainfall. The rains continued but became heavier and constant with hardly a break for 3 or 4 weeks. For the first time that anyone can remember the area around Monze became flooded. The crops were destroyed and houses and bridges washed away. This resulted in large areas being isolated as well as people losing their homes and livlihoods.

So the maize that Jennipher and her group had planted was all lost, as were the crops that Henry and Clever had planted for Charles' PEASSA project. For these, and so many of the most vulnerable people who rely on some homegrown maize to provide some food throughout the year, 2008/9 will be a very dificult time.

Here in the UK we are worrying about the additional cost of fuel and food. These problems are also being felt in Zambia but there it is on top of a crop failure. In the best times many people would not manage three meals a day. The people of Zambia know what it is like to feel real hunger – this year the hunger will be much worse than usual. Perhaps we need to think of this when we moan about the cost of filling our cars to drive half a mile to a supermarket were we moan about the 10% extra cost of food (of which at least 10% we will throw straight into the rubbish bin!)

I received an e-mail on Friday sent on behalf of Jennipher. She tells me that another tragedy has befallen her family. Nchimunya, a girl of 4 or 5 years old, who was looked after by Jennipher fell down a well and was drowned. I am sure that Selina will be absolutely devastated. Selina and Nchimunya were always to be seen together playing happily – in fact I have a lovely short video of them dancing together. The fact that there are so many deaths in Zambia doesn't make it any easier – it means that you are affected more often. I know how much these deaths, of people far too young, affect me – how much more must those very close be affected. Today I received a newsletter from Winston's Wish (the UK charity established to support children who have suffered bereavement), maybe I need to visit them before I return to Monze. A couple of weeks ago I heard that sister Nindi who ran the eye clinic also died – she might have been in her 30s I don't think she was older.

So when I return to Monze at the end of this month I expect to find my friends having an even bigger struggle than usual. However, I still expect to be greeted with wonderful smiling faces and a genuine joy only too rare in our part of the world. Unfortunately this year I won't be able to wait for ripe mangoes but the sweet potatoes should be in season and I am sure to find some wonderful interesting foods available. I will be thinking of you all as I enjoy non-stop sunshine for three months (why do I worry about making such predictions?) Previously when I have been away for the summer I have been told of tremendous heatwaves back in the UK well surpassing the temperatures in Zambia.

I will be returning to the hospital and hope to make rather more progress than I was able to last year. I will also be preparing some of the ground work for the Hands Around the World team who are coming out at the end of July to help start the building of a new Secondary school - “The Maluba Project”. I also hope to be able to make progress with the links we are establishing between Monze and Cheltenham. There are some exciting ideas of which you will hear more in the next few weeks.

As usual I realise just how much I need to do to prepare for my visit and to leave things here in a reasonable state. Almost everything I had intended to do during my six months in the UK is still to be achieved in the next four weeks – somethings never change!

Well enough for now, there might be a couple more brief notes about the preparation before the next adventure begins properly.