Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Visiting Friends in Pemba

Saturday 10th April

I have recently returned from Pemba where I met up with Jennipher and her growing family.

On Thursday, I at last managed to see Mrs Chiiya and Mrs. Sianga who are managing projects where Hands Around the World have been involved. I first met both ladies in 2003.

Mrs. Chiiya owned the guesthouse where our group stayed and was the head teacher at Tagore (a local government school). With support from HATW she has built a small school teaching the final years of secondary education, with the addition of some additional life skills. Although most of the children pay a fee there are some who are unable to meet the full costs and are subsidized.

Mrs. Sianga was for many years a nurse at the hospital supporting patients with AIDS. This led her to try to find some support for the orphaned children left by her clients when they died. HATW has supported her in trying to provide a basic education for some of these children. The new school erected with the help of an HATW team in 2008 has two classes and 60 students

Over lunch with Mrs. Chiiya and her brother-in-law (who works for the Education Department) I heard about the demands that the government is now placing on the Schools. Those schools teaching the final years, and including science subjects, must built a laboratory to the specifications set out by the Ministry – the quoted price is 450 million kwacha (or ₤60,000). In addition Secondary teachers are now required to have degrees. This means that many existing teachers will be replaced and probably move to Primary schools where they have neither experience nor training. The cost of Secondary teachers will no doubt increase – or they won’t attract graduates. This will make life difficult for people like Mrs. Chiiya running a private school and is bound to further demoralize existing teachers.

Diven joined me for a meal in the evening. I pressed the wrong button on my mobile and as a result spent sometime teaching Diven the game of Sudoku.

On Friday morning I expected to have a meeting but it didn’t materialise. This gave me the chance to catch up on some notes I needed to write for people back home. I see my main role here as a bridge between the two worlds. While I am here I can record what I see and my understanding of life in Zambia. It isn’t easy to understand the reality of life from 5,000 miles away. A bit of paperwork in the UK might mean a quick fax or an exchange of letters. Here it often means a trip to Lusaka or Livingstone – maybe a need to stay away overnight and very often a return visit. This can be very costly in financial terms and in time. It seems that the British, while they were here, taught bureaucracy with a vengeance – and it stuck! Back home we just don’t understand the delay and wonder how all the money has been spent.

I then went to the Internet to send a few mails, check my bank account and order some extra memory for the laptop here. Strange though it is, it seemed to me to be both easier and cheaper to buy the memory over the Internet, have it delivered to the UK and then sent here by post than to try to find it in Lusaka! After a bit over two hours at the café I was through!

I caught up with Mrs Sianga after lunch. She had spent the money raised through a quiz night in the Forest of Dean, which I brought with me and gave to her yesterday. She has been struggling to provide sufficient text books for the students. As it is they will still need to share, but she was able to buy 10 books in both Science and Civics for each of the two classes. Text books here are expensive and the government likes to change the syllabus regularly (sounds familiar!). It is important to have course books that follow the proper syllabus and are designed with this culture in mind. I am told that books from the UK can be useful, but only for supplementary reading.

Diven and Reymond both called in during the evening – however I was rather unsociable and explained that if I didn’t get down to some work I would never get near completing it.

I did manage to spend 2 -3 hours in the evening redesigning the database for Monze Diocese Projects in the light of new information provided since I arrived – there is a very long way to go though. (And this should be very much a peripheral activity!)

I headed to catch a bus at about 9.45 this morning. The Pemba bus was leaving “now now” – we know what that means! The bus was half empty, so I was right to be suspicious. However, I was amazed when it set off almost immediately. I was given the front seat – which to my surprise and delight had a working seat belt! Jennipher was at the bus stop to meet me. I don’t know how many times I have walked to her house from town but I would still never find the place on my own. We detoured slightly to meet one of her clients who had apparently expressed a desire to greet me. As we approached the house Sandra, who is now a young woman, ran out to me and gave me a big hug. Sandra and Selina are the only two children still surviving from my first meetings with Jennipher in 2004.

Soloman has recently returned from a long trip to Zimbabwe where he claimed some goods belonging to his mother and grandmother who both tragically died very shortly after reaching Pemba last year. He also returned with Choolwe and her two young children Anna and Margaret. These are the last of Jennipher’s relatives from Zimbabwe. Choolwe has been ill for a while and I believe this delayed Soloman’s return. Jennipher has now arranged for her to receive the medicine she needs and she is improving.

The family was all at home – Mike and Sandra having returned from school for the holidays. Selina and Emmanuel are also doing well. With nine in the family now (if I have counted correctly) it is a bit cramped in their small house. Jennipher would ideally like to build an additional structure with a couple of rooms to house everyone. Soloman is hoping to start making bricks with Mike. However, I know from experience that there will be a lot of extra expensive items that need to be funded, if the dream is to be realised. Around the house orange trees, a mango, bananas and some decorative plants have been planted and at this time of year it looks particularly pretty. Jennipher has a nice home now, but works exceptionally hard and deserves a few breaks after the difficult life she has experienced.

Again bureaucracy is rearing its ugly head! The powers that be believe that all hoses in Pemba should adhere to certain standards and one of these is the provision of electricity. The cost is prohibitive because here you have to pay for all the poles and cable needed to bring power to your home and Jennipher is some way off the beaten track. In addition she doesn’t want the worry of regular bills that she cannot finance. The other solution is to provide lighting – particularly security lighting – using solar panels. So yet another project is being contemplated!

Jennipher says she has now established more than 60 AIDS support groups in Monze District. Her bike has done well – though it grumbles at times. She would really like a ‘Honda’. Last year she talked about a vehicle – thinking about a car – but I couldn’t see how the cost of running could be found. I thought at the time that a small motorbike might be more appropriate – though I didn’t mention it and raise hopes. I think therefore that a Honda motorbike would probably help – Jennipher thinks she could even strap patients to herself to bring them for treatment – I am aware that several have died because she couldn’t bring them to the clinic.

It was good to meet the family again. Emmanuel sat happily on my lap for half an hour before falling asleep in my arms. I couldn’t help think about the grandchildren I have left back home.

On the way to the main road we met the elderly man who built Jennipher’s current house a few years back. He seemed delighted to see me again and dropped his firewood and axe to greet me. We visited the graves of the relatives who died last year. There is nothing marking them and it was a bit overgrown today. They are buried close to where they spent their last days when the local community supported them in an empty house not far from Jennipher. Soloman and Jennipher would like to make a gravestone of some sort for them.

After a few minutes a full minibus arrived and they made room for me! It takes about 30 minutes to Monze from Pemba and I arrived back soon after 14 hrs.

I'll pick from here next time

Best Wishes


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