Monday, July 4, 2011

A busy week

Monday 4th July

A week has passed and I find myself with yet another computer. This one, brought out by David, should stay with me till almost the end of my stay.

So much has happened that perhaps I should just try to keep to the highlights.

On Tuesday morning Harrison, the new manager at Kaliyangile, arrived. We spent some time together during the day and, among other things, I tried to explain the accounting system. Power was intermittent, which limited the amount that I was able to do. Harrison was staying at the guest house so we ate together and had a couple of beers.

A committee meeting was arranged for the Wednesday morning and we were soon joined by David and Jim from Hands Around the World. As always, projects for the poorest struggle to survive. There is no income from the students, so funds need to be found elsewhere. The project was revived last year, but it will take a while for the extra income needed to be generated. I was delighted to see the wind pump busily drawing water, once more, from the borehole.

After the meeting and a tour of the site, we all went to Fringilla for lunch. (Staff, committee members and HATW guys.) I rarely visit such places, which charge similar prices to those we might be used to in the UK, but it was a nice treat. I remember last year going to a Brie at Fringilla organised by the Catholic church. I thought the price was very reasonable and discovered that our event was held in a nearby field! Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable afternoon.

We set off reasonably early on Thursday morning. David have acquired a car and driver from Fr. Tim – who started the project at Chisamba about seven years ago. Our first stop in Lusaka was the Chief Immigration Office. I was surprised to find that they had no difficulty in finding my file – though my work permit has been awaiting collection for six months. I have been granted the 2 year extension that I requested, so next year I need to come out again at the end of the year if I am to gain a further extension.

I was told that the Arcades shopping centre had an MTN office where I was to obtain a USB modem. In the event it was a shopping centre close by that we should have visited. I couldn't remember where the other one was and we had released Morton, our driver, for a few hours.

The sagas with my computers continue! The laptop that David brought out had Windows newly installed. It is a requirement of XP that the software is 'activated'. Here the only practical way is to connect to the Internet. Unfortunately my initial attempts failed because the first Internet café used a system to log in, which required Windows to be running and the second required a wireless connection which I haven't got! In the end I was allowed to connect direct and, somewhat to my surprise, the activation was successful. I am still waiting to use the modem to connect to the internet, but that is another story!! I am still reasonably confident of joining the HATW trustees meeting over Skype on Friday.

We spent the night with Fr. Tim at the parish house in Lusaka and I arose in time to join the morning mass at 6.30.

At breakfast we were joined by two Irish priests who had just celebrated 50 years in the priesthood. They were of the order formerly known as the White Fathers who were the first missionaries to come out to Zambia – I think that was about 150 years ago.

After breakfast it was time to head for Monze. We were running late so we picked up a few items at Shoprite in Mazabuka to serve as our lunch.

After dropping off our bags the next port of call was Pemba where we were meeting with Jennipher. I had reorganised my schedule and gave only a days notice about the changed programme. In addition we left Monze late. Had I thought things through, I would have realised that Jennipher would organise a gathering and that changing the day wouldn't be such a trivial matter. I was very sorry to have disturbed things but in the event we were escorted to her home by a group of ladies who sang a welcome as we followed in the car. There were probably 50 people assembled to meet us including several of the local headmen. The headmen traditionally allocate land and generally look after the villagers, but in recent times many of them have also become desperately poor and have difficulty proving for their own families.

Jennipher had everything very well organised and different people, all affected by HIV/AIDS, told us of their major needs. Children without school uniforms or shoes – one who also mentioned that she had no food – a story that is far too common here. One man told us that he had 8 children and all of them died as a result of AIDS. Those unfortunate enough to have lost a child will understand some of the pain but to lose all of your children must be unbearable. Some outlined their plans for refurbishing a clinic to supply the ARVs (Anti-retroviral drugs needed by people with AIDS) and the idea of a drop in centre to help some children learn and play. Many of the stories are heart rending and the size of the problem is huge. It is easy to feel totally impotent, but we can only do that which is possible. Jennipher has made a huge difference to thousands by setting up support groups and educating people about AIDS. There is no doubt that ARVs are allowing many not only to live longer but also to be able to provide some support for children who otherwise would find themselves orphaned. It was getting dark before we headed back to Monze.

Saturday was another full day. It is Jim's first trip to Zambia and it is important that he sees the projects in which HATW has had an involvement over the years. The first project at the hospital, the refurbishment and extension of the laboratory and pharmacy, took place in 1999. Since then various groups and individuals have spent time working at the hospital constructing buildings or passing on some of their skills to the permanent staff. Walking around the hospital it is clear to see how much difference has been made to the environment within some of the wards and specialist areas. The impact of the skilled volunteers isn't so easy to see, but the affection in which they are remembered tells a lot.

We were passing by the church and Fr. Kenan insisted that we joined the priests for lunch rather than go to a hotel. The hospitality we find in Zambia is exceptional. I am already being provided with accommodation and meals by the church here.

In the afternoon we caught up with Mrs. Sianga and the head teachers to give David and Jim an update on the progress at PIZZ school. The school receives a lot of ongoing support from people associated with HATW. More and more projects which have started with our help are now receiving some long term support. It is relatively easy to obtain donations to put up structures or provide equipment, but unless ongoing support is provided it will be impossible to make the difference we want to the children where we work. With partners like Mrs. Sianga our efforts go a long way. There are now more than 200 children attending her schools and getting a chance that otherwise would be denied them. There are few, if any, of the children who Mrs. Sianga doesn't know individually. She provided support to many of their parents as a community nurse before they died as a result of the AIDS pandemic. If the younger children need a shower before starting lessons this is provided and if they are absent someone is sent to find out what problems they have. The school provides a caring environment and a community for children that are going through a very traumatic childhood.

The examination results in the past year have been very good – despite a lack of resources. Three of the children are now at secondary school – largely sponsored through the project. More would be able to go if funds were available.

HATW past volunteers often keep in touch with the projects and one volunteer recently raised some funds to pay for textbooks, sports shirts and balls. Until this donation perhaps 2 or 3 textbooks would be shared by 30 students. The teachers expect the results to improve now that most students will have a textbook in each of the subjects.

Visiting projects like this make us realise just how worthwhile our efforts can be. Without our support it is hard to see how this project could have survived. With the help of past volunteers and supporters the future looks good.

Mrs. Sianga and her husband joined us for supper and a very full day reached it's conclusion.

I suggested that we made an early start on Sunday, so we left at 8 hrs to return to Mrs. Sianga's first school. Each month she provides some additional food for 240 children in desperate need. Again Mrs. Sianga knows their families and their problems. These children are under-nourished and without this extra food many would die. I couldn't help think how terrible it was that in the world where we currently live, such situations still exist – and this is just a very small glimpse of a huge issue. The children pick up packs weighing about 30lb each and take them back to their homes. Some of the little ones are helped by older siblings. The distribution is carefully organised and some get extra items according to their need. Mrs. Sianga says that only two of the children have died during the past 6 months, which shows the success of the project. However that's two children too many, and also certainly two more than would have died in the UK. It is hard to be confronted with the very harsh realities of live here, it is even more difficult when you know that it needn't be so! The feeding programme is not HATW funded, but receives some money from a small group of Italians. After a visit a couple of them decided to do something, and with some family and friends they are ensuring that 240 children have the extra essential food each month. It is amazing what some people are prepared to do when confronted by the reality of life here.

We headed for the 10 am mass at Our Lady of the Wayside. 14 young children were being baptised so the day was one of extra celebration. This weekend (which finishes at the end of tomorrow! Tuesday) sees the Lwiindi / Gondi ceremony – a ceremony where the traditional culture is celebrated. As yet I haven't attended the ceremony despite promises from people keen to accompany me. The church was far from full, no doubt because some had been lured away by the events elsewhere!

After the mass we were invited to join the baptism group for lunch. The proceedings included some speeches and, after lunch, the children exchanged gifts before the final prayer at about 15.30! David and Jim had to make their apologies after the meal. They had another appointment with Mrs. Sianga to visit some people in the community. It was a similar visit with Mrs. Sianga in 2003 that was probably the most significant event during my first visit. At that time there were no ARVs available and the patients I saw were all dying. To be welcomed into their homes was such a privilege and very humbling.

In my turn I headed towards Bridget's house where there was a large pile of baskets for David to take back to the UK. The baskets are made by guardians of orphaned children under a scheme ran by the hospital. These provide a little income for the families. My contacts – more HATW volunteers – provide a much welcomed outlet for their products.

We retired to a local hostelry for a beer before moving on to a hotel for supper.

There was a lot to discuss over our meal. There is never enough money available to meet the needs of the projects and Hands Around the World also struggles to survive. It is difficult to convince people that organisations such as ours need funds, in order that all the projects around the world are able to continue. It is often only by visiting a place that people begin to understand how great the needs are. The volunteers help fill a gap by providing essential ongoing support. The structures and equipment provide a start, but without the ongoing support provide by the organisation, it's past volunteers and supporters, much could be wasted. So if anyone has a few thousand pounds looking for a home you couldn't do much better than donating it to HATW!

David and Jim left this morning on their journey home. They will relax in Lusaka for a few hours before leaving at midnight for Cardiff (via Harare, Nairobi & Amsterdam!) arriving home about 24 hours later.

Today was the funeral of my Uncle Gerard. He was a lovely man and I would have wished to be present. I decided to sit in the hospital chapel at the time of the UK service and pray for him and all those whose hearts he has touched over the years.

I will see whether I can get an Internet connection in a bit and send this blog.


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