Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Fitting Celebration

Saturday 12th July

Days here seem to be very short.

I have made a start with my current hospital project looking at hospital charges. Hospital charges were largely abolished in April 2007. Patients are not meant to come direct to Monze hospital direct but should first visit their local Health Clinic. Charges are therefore levied for those who 'bypass' the system and some large companies will pay for their employees to come direct to the hospital. A hospital such as Monze Mission Hospital have very little money and even to provide essential drugs becomes very difficult. Therefore the loss of income from user fees has increased the difficulty for the hospital to maintain services.

On Thursday afternoon I met Jennipher again at the hospital. Selina had an accident at school resulting in her shoulder becoming dislocated. I met her in the outpatients department and was greeted with smiles despite her pain. I have known Selina now for 3 or 4 years. She is 5 or 6 years old, her mother died very soon after her birth and she has lived with Jennipher ever since.

After work I went to check out the accommodation that the Hands around the World team will be using at the basic school that Mrs Sianga started a few years ago. I also walked with Mrs. Sianga to the site of the new school. The concrete slab is progressing well under the guidance of Lashford and other buildings are rapidly going up – foundations for the storeroom, a latrine and washroom etc. Once again I missed my service at the chapel and it was dark before I arrived back home.

Friday as usual the sun brought be out of my slumber at about 6.30. I am renewing my acquaintance with Access which is the tool I use to construct databases. Even for small projects I find that throwing some figures into a database gives me flexibilty to analyse it and understand it. So I have put something together to make sense of the information I am gathering on user fees. This should also help me when I look again at the databases previously constructed and develop them a little as needed.

Viruses here are still a major problem. Despite considerable effort on my part to introduce a proper system of anti-virus provision there is no formal process for preventing viruses on the hospital computers. I have again heard of a number of problems as a result of this and of additional problems due to power cuts and fluctuations. A few days ago I went to an Internet cafe and returned with a virus on my flash drive. I was unable to read any of the documents that I had downloaded and 'McAfee' told me to do a complete scan of my laptop. After doing as instructed McAfee stopped functioning. Their repair tool on the Internet confirms that I have a problem which might require re-installing the software which I haven't got! I had almost forgotten the frustrations of viruses and anti-virus software! I am also reminded that the well known and trusted anti-virus software causes as many, if not more, problems than the unknown versions where at least you can obtain advice.

Mr Meheritona, the school manager of St. Vincent's Community school, visited me at the hospital. I was able to hand over some letters written by some of the younger students at Christchuch College a secondary school in Cheltenham. Christchurch College also held a concert to raise funds for some pencils, writing books etc. needed at St. Vincent's.

After a quick lunch I made my way to Monze Basic School were the music was already being played yo welcome guests. Mr. Chaamwa met me enthusiastically and led me into his office where we talked for a while. Many of the families of his children have been badly affected by the floods. It was worst to the West of the town where many lost their homes, crops and some of their animals. There was some support from the government and an NGO provided tents for those displaced. Now people are being told to leave the tents and to move to other areas and build themselves new houses, however without money this isn't possible. It appears that some cement was provided but this no longer seems to be available – it isn't clear what happened to it, though I heard some became damp and solidified.

As with all schools in Zambia the issue of HIV/AIDS has had a major impact. Currently there are 260 students at Monze Basic who have lost at least one parent. For many of these finding enough funds for uniforms, books, pencils etc. is very difficult if not impossible. The sad fact about AIDS is that is it usually passed from one spouse to the other so those children who have lost one parent may well have another who is sick and is also likely to die young. Sponsorship to enable children to gain an education is constantly needed. Our church in Cheltenham is providing some sponsorship for children in Monze but the figures speak for themselves of the immense need. I was also approached by a nun who teaches at a secretarial college and another further education establishment in the area in case I could help with sponsorship. Although we cannot help everyone it is possible to make a huge difference to a child here if someone is prepared to sponsor their education. Relatively small sums can give someone a chance to completely transform their life and in so doing help the essential transformation of this wonderful Country and it's beautiful people.

I felt a bit of an imposter as I sat on the top table with the senior education department representative, the chairman of the PTA, and Mr. Chaambwa. Also on the top table was Gerry who has been managing the various projects that have been undertaken with funds from England. Gerry was a student at Monze Basic in the 1950s, when he told us the school building was what is now the headmaster's house. In order to try to improve things at the school Mr. Chaambwa decided to attempt to raise funds and had the idea that some of the previous pupils might be willing to support him. He eventually tracked Tony Wood who now lives in England and after visiting Monze Tony set about establishing a charity in the UK to support the school. The first task was to mend the windows and refurbish some of the classrooms and toilets. This latest project – to drill a borehole and provide the school with it's own water supply was indeed worthy of the magnificent celebration yesterday afternoon. Another project is almost complete – this is the provision of a computer room for the school. I have been asked whether I could provide some basic training for the teachers in advance of the arrival of the computers.

What was good to see was the enthusiasm and pride of the staff and students. The DEPS (Department of Education representative) said that Monze Basic was now a model school in the area. There was plenty of entertainment and the teachers, incuding Mr. Chaambwa and the DEPS joined in some of the dancing. The students also took an active part reciting poems and responding to the speeches. Finally all present were given refreshments.

It was a great privilege to be invited to this occasion and I enjoyed it immensely. I hope that the pictures that were taken will give an impression of the occasion and encourage those who have been involved in supporting this school and help them realise what a huge difference they are making. My next task is to transfer them from cameras to a form in which they can be speedily transferred to England (I will be on my way to the Internet cafe soon!)

As I look out on the banana plants outside my window bathed in the glorious African sun, I only wish that some of that sun would come directly into the house. Not only is it nice to feel the warm rays but it would also make it easier to recharge my batteries now totally exhausted by the activity of yesterday. I have brought a solar charger – unfortunately the mains charger doesn't seem to have made its way into my luggage. I am afraid that, if left outside, it might become a object of curiousity and taken away as a trophy, as happened a couple of years ago. When the batteries are up to it I will take a picture of the view from my lounge!

Look after yourselves, best wishes

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