Friday 30th May
Each year I try to see the students and teachers at PIZZ School. In particular I make an effort to talk to as many students as possible who have been sponsored by people back in the UK. As the success of our sponsorship grows so does this task – though please don't let that put you off, we need many more sponsors. So on Tuesday morning I met a number of children who are currently being sponsored or who are awaiting sponsorship. Most of these children face great challenges and the knowledge that someone cares about their lives can give them a huge boost. When asked what subjects they enjoy most – perhaps surprisingly - say maths and english. Many want to be teachers, doctors and nurses but one lad said he wants to be a pilot and another to drive big buses. I would love to fly with the aspiring pilot in 20 years time, if I am still around!! When one girl was asked what she most liked about school she simply said – food! This brought me firmly down to earth and I started to realise that so many here are barely surviving.
I was assigned to collect more chitenge material for the bag tidies – which reminds me that my shirt and Jennipher's dress should be ready – I was to collect them yesterday, because they wern't quite ready on Wednesday evening (or the other days!). Both look good and to be honest it was only the buttons and some braiding that was still required. I searched the market for 'traditional African' chitenges and eventually found a small selection. These are really of a quality that is wasted upon this task – but I wanted to move on, so I paid the necessary price.
I still have my regular visitors. Diven is busy starting to build a small house and shop down St. Mary's Road. He has a small plot – which I am hoping will not get waterlogged during the rainy season! I met him yesterday to observe the progress and when walking down the road he was greeted as “Mr. Boom”. During the past couple of years he has developed a market for the small packets of detertent paste. He buys 20 packets at a time and has been selling them for 3 kwacha which is probably as cheap as you can buy them. However, for some 3 kwacha (30p) is too much to find in one go – so Diven lets them have credit by given them the Boom and collecting his 3 kwacha in installments of 1 kwacha per day. In this way he provides a service to some of the poorest and makes just enough himself to buy some food to keep him alive. Whenever Diven joins me at supper time he brings with him something he has cooked or some biscuits to share.
Obert and his mother came around on Wednesday to talk about the baby (Carol) who needs dried milk and Brian who is short of school fees. Obert and his mother spent time with Carol's mother while she was in hospital and really in desperate need of medical attention which wasn't provided in time. Brian didn't manage to get his fees for last term until late and missed most of the lessons as a result – he was distressed at the thought of not being able to continue with his education. I will make sure that neither are left without support. We also spoke about the bag tidies that she is making, which should be ready early next week.
Yesterday I had it in my mind that I was to meet at PIZZ School in the afternoon. However, checking my notes I had written that the appointment was at 9 hrs. Perhaps it is old age! It was as well I checked, because ALL of the students at the school were assembling to greet and entertain me. It is a great privilege to be honoured in such a way. I was seated on a sofa in the field were the event took place.
There were a number of introductions followed by some songs, poems, sketches and cutural dancing. I don't know how much is geared specifically towards me, but most of the subject material for the songs, poems and sketches was AIDS related. There was a long sketch where a girl, desperate for some support, found her uncle but was mistreated by his wife. eventually she left and found a family much kinder, where she prospered.
I realised that what I was seeing and hearing were the stories of these children and not some remote situation. Many of the children will be passed from relative to relative, some of whom consider them a burden and treat them as little more than slaves. We might be appalled, but if we had 5 children of our own and had to take in another four how lovingly would we respond? - especially if we already struggled just to feed our own family?
In one of the songs the children say that AIDS has taken their mother and father their brothers and sisters. I remember a young girl I saw the other day who now lives alone with her mother having already lost her father, her brother and her sister.
I was asked to give a “speech” after the entertainment. I told them that I was feeling extremely fine because it was such a joy to see them – many have seen me now over many years and have grown considerably since our first meetings. To see them happy and healthy and to see them perform with such confidence gives me a warm feeling and hope for their future. There is no doubt that the school is making a real difference to the lives of the children.
It was then time to adjourn to the shelter and meet the teachers.
It is remarkable what the staff manage to achieve at the school. I am very aware that they receive very little by way of wages, especially when compared with government teachers. Most struggle to cover the cost of food and rent. I am happy to let them tell me the problems they face because of insufficient resources. I try to explain how Hands Around the World fits into the picture and the fact that we too have very limited resources.
My role as Project Coordinator is to understand how the School is working, see how resources are being used and where there are shortfalls. I then act as an advocate back in the UK to find as much funding as possible to ensure the best outcome for the students. There is a huge list of requirements from decent salaries to books, school uniforms, additional buildings, better water supplies and electricity.
I listen and respond as best I can. Some things we can address, for others we can seek funding and yet others will be put on the long wish list. It is clear from our discussions how important it is to make personal visits. You cannot feel the passion from 5,000 miles away, nor is is easy while sitting in England to convince the people in Zambia that you really do appreciate what they are doing and that you are fighting for them back in the UK. We need these staff to be well motivated and they need to know how much what they are doing is valued.
At one point the headmaster said that they in Zambia were unable to give us anything in return for what we do to support their school. Later I felt the need to correct him! A very important part of the work of Hands Around the World is to send volunteers to various projects to get involved and meet the people. As volunteers the gifts we receive are so much greater than any financial contribution we make on our own or on behalf of the charity. To see a student succeed or even to see one look much healthier than last year has no price. Many of us have had our lives transformed because of our experiences as volunteers and you cannot buy the fulfilment this brings. I consider myself so fortunate to have the opportunity to visit my friends here in Zambia and play some part in their lives. I wouldn't hesitaate to recommend the experience to anyone who has the opportunity.