Friday, September 28, 2012

No Welfare State

Friday 28th September

In Zambia there is no welfare state. Though occasionally people can get a little support from social welfare, there is no jobseeker's allowance, disability living allowance or housing benefit! When people become ill it often becomes, quite literally, a struggle to survive.

I met a man yesterday who had sold a piece of his land (maybe half of his plot) for 1.3 million kwacha (about £175), so he could buy food. This has now run out. His house has only partial walls on two sides and some of the walls move when you touch them. The roof consists of a few loose bundles of grass and an umbrella. Like many he has contracted AIDS and has not been well enough to work. He has recently started on the ARVs (Anti-Retroviral drugs) but these have caused a skin reaction and stomach pains. The fact that he hasn't enough food causes further complications with the drugs.

I was out with Jennipher who had taken me to visit the women's AIDS support group just south of Our Lady of the Wayside church. The chairperson of the group is a parishioner at the church. I am pleased and feel privileged to be able to meet with such groups – but it is difficult to have to say that I probably won't be able to provide any practical support. Of course when they see me their expectations are raised. I hope that the fact that I care and that I listen to their stories and their needs, gives them some consolation.

This group cares for a significant number of children with disabilities. One girl is deaf, blind and has other disabilities but seemed to have a particularly gentle nature. She reminded me of other people I have met with very severe disabilities, who have influenced my life. I remember Elsie who was unable to do anything for herself and only spoke to say “I like” when a bird or butterfly passed by. I told them a little about the Paralympics and how people with a wide range of disabilities were achieving feats that were way above anything I was ever capable of doing. I was pleased and humbled to see how much they cared for those who had additional difficulties to overcome. One lady said that she had difficulty communicating the issues connected with being HIV+ to those who were deaf. She thought her group needed training in sign language – as did the health workers. I wonder how many people in the UK are so perceptive? How many of our health professionals have received such training?

The support groups are very helpful in advising people about being tested, taking the drugs etc.(so Jennipher was able to tell the man mentioned above that she had suffered similar reactions and no longer takes a certain drug – she advised him to see the doctor who would probably change the medication.) The difficulty usually comes down to lack of food, and money to get to and from the hospital or clinic (though few clinics dispense ARVs and can do the necessary tests to monitor patients.) Jennipher has obtained fertiliser for the most in need in her group and will try to obtain some for this group “Mkandu Womens Club”. Their main concern then will be to find some funds to buy maize seed. Jennipher is going to provide 5 kgs each to a few of her members – a 10kg bag is currently costing 125,000 kwacha (approx £17) I suspect that they are hoping I will find money for at least 5 x 10 kg bags!!

On the way back we passed by a school established by a lady from her own funds. Her husband is no longer working and, although the school is still operating, there is no money to pay teachers and it is a struggle to provide books, chalks etc. Some of the desks are broken and need repairing or replacing. This is a common problem where someone determined to help the orphaned children get a chance through education, finds the ongoing funding too difficult. In this case the buildings are good – there are three classrooms, a small office and a toilet. I met a couple of teachers who were giving their time voluntarily. The lady said that there are about 250 orphaned children in the area just around the school. It is hard to know how to respond in these cases. PIZZ school was a similar case – through Hands Around the World some funding has been found and Mrs. Sianga has been fortunate – but it is still a constant struggle. There are so many other 'community schools' established where funding isn't forthcoming. It is a pity that the government cannot find a way of harnessing the goodwill and enthusiasm of those setting up these schools by creating some sort of partnership to help them succeed.

In the evening I had arranged to meet Edward, who used to be the headmaster of Monze Basic School and who I came to know some years back. He is now retired and looking for something to keep him occupied, and perhaps provide a little extra income.

I met up with Diven briefly and had a quick bite to eat at Tooters.

I had a couple of Mosi's with Edward and we talked over a variety of issues including the changing climate. During the evening I was joined by his niece who works in sales for one of the larger stores in town.


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