Friday, June 26, 2015

Students, Challenges and Potential

Thursday 25th June

Yesterday I went with Mrs. Sianga to High Destiny School which is a private fee paying school in Monze. We were visiting to see their computer lab. The computers were provided and installed by Camara an Irish organisation who provide them at subsidised prices. I was impressed by the set-up – the room has about 20 computers, each with a socket for the monitor and CPU.

The machines come loaded with Ubuntu software. I was delighted to see someone using Ubuntu! However, I was told that the Minister of Education insisted on Windows software being loaded! So the plan was to add it. However, not surprisingly, the computers now also needed a hardware upgrade – and will also need Micro$oft Office. This will increase the cost significantly and in the years to come further expensive upgrades will be necessary.

Ubuntu can cope well with the syllabus and can be upgraded without any cost. It is less extravagant on computer resources and the current computers would perform well. It is also far less susceptible to viruses. It is a pity that the government don't recognise its value. Though they are far from alone in thinking that if you have a PC it must be Micro$oft. (I am not using a Micro$oft product to write this blog!)

Since PIZZ will have to try to prepare the students for computing exams in December, I have offered to do a few sessions with the teachers, while I am around. Many of the teachers here have had little exposure to computers. I am no expert but I have been using computers for more than 40 years!

Today Best rang me early and picked me up. His family have owned land on the edge of Monze – just off the road to St. Mary's - for several generations. We called on his aunt briefly, just to greet her. In 2011 when Dilys and Amy came to Zambia, Best's family provided us with a meal at this house. We left his aunt and cousins and he took me just a little way to another part of the land, which Best is developing as a small farm. He has a two roomed house, but has started digging the foundations for a 4 bedroomed house next to it. He is planning to marry and settle here with his wife and child.

The custom in Zambia is that if a man wants to marry he is expected to provide a “bride price” to the brides parents. This is quite considerable and as a result marriages seem often to be delayed.

At the moment the area in which Best lives is surrounded by fields, however Monze is growing rapidly. PIZZ School which used to be in the countryside is now almost totally surrounded by houses. I enjoyed the current peace of the area and watched as the eagles patrolled the skies effortlessly using the thermals.

I left Best in town and went to pick up my replacement SIM card. Unfortunately the cards had not arrived, but they will definitely be there by 10 hrs tomorrow, Friday! (I seem to remember that they would be here by the end of last week!)

I have been a bit irritated by being charged 25 kwacha (about £2.50) for every transaction this year at the Barclays ATM. In recent years I have been charged by my UK bank for withdrawals abroad. This has amounted to over £100 some years. So this year I changed my account to provide free access. To find that, for the first time, I was incurring charges at this end was particularly galling. When I first came to Monze there were no ATMs in the town. The nearest was in Mazabuka, about 50 km distant. Obtaining money involved lengthy visits to the bank to change currency or travellers cheques. I remember one memorable occasion when I needed to provide money for a project and spent several hours in the bank signing travellers cheques and waiting for a large number of small denomination notes to be counted. I left with a backpack half filled with notes!! Zanaco was the first to introduce an ATM in Monze and my life was transformed (I gained several days that year – otherwise used in bank visits!) Barclays soon followed with an ATM and I had choice – except after a year or two Zanaco refused to give me money. Finance Bank ATM arrived and the ATM would say welcome Mr Barrell and allow me to go through the usual processes before telling me they couldn't give me cash. So for the past 5 or 6 years I have been restricted to Barclays ATM for cash in Monze. However, today the Zambia Finance Bank was pleased to dish out some kwacha and didn't impose charges. I am happy!! I would much rather use a local bank anyway.

I popped along to Ireen who has started by cutting out a shirt from one of the chitenges and I returned picking up a few bits and pieces from the shops en-route.

On the way home I received a call from an “unknown” number. At the moment MTN seem to be pestering me with unwanted calls and I wondered if this was another. In fact it was Fr. Tino – our Burmese friend – who is visiting the UK tomorrow, after his three year course in Rome. He will be in the UK until the beginning of September, so I will have an opportunity to meet him before he returns to his homeland.

Our lives have been greatly enriched by our association with Tino over the years. He was about two years old when we started communicating with his mother. As he grew he started writing back himself and sending us work that he had done. We had been corresponding for about 25 years before at last we met him in the Philippines. By this time Tino was studying in preparation to becoming a Catholic priest. We were privileged to take the place of his parents at the graduation ceremony, where we dressed him in his gown. We were also embraced by a community of Burmese people – many of them priests, nuns and seminarians- some of whom we have come to know better over the years. We were able to join the wonderful celebration of Tino's ordination in Lashio, Myanmar (Burma) and recently attended the consecration ceremony of Cardinal Charles Bo – the first Burmese cardinal – in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Cardinal Charles was formerly Fr. Tino's parish priest and looked after us very well on our visit to Myanmar.

It was good to link my life in Africa with the Burmese, through that telephone call today from Rome!!

I spent the afternoon talking to another thirteen sponsored children individually. These were mainly children I met last year. Many have tragic stories to tell. It was good to meet some who last year responded very little and had very little energy, but now were much brighter and exhibited the familiar Zambian smiles. Some had clearly benefited from receiving a reasonable meal once a day. It is a scandal to think that there are still many children going hungry throughout the world. For a few their difficult lives had become even tougher. Another parent had died and they had joined the family of an aunt or grandparent, who already had children of their own. The grief and upheaval is very difficult for the children to cope with. The school does its best to understand the family situation and help wherever possible. Building friendships with other students going through similar difficulties also helps the healing process and allows the children to develop. You can find out more about the school by following this link : PIZZ School providing a caring environment for disadvantaged children

We finished a little before 17 hrs so I called on Diven and we headed for Tooters. Diven has had problems with one leg ever since I met him. At that time someone had used a rock to smash his ankle and it was in plaster. A week or two back he twisted his foot and has since had a lot of pain – he was therefore liming as we made our way to Tooters.

We enjoyed a meal together and I had a couple of bottles of Mosi. Diven doesn't drink alcohol so he had some cola. I have been told that Zambians either drink no alcohol or can't stop until they are drunk. Unfortunately my observation seems to back this statement.

Being after dark (and aware of Diven's bad leg) we took a taxi back home. I expected Diven to drop off near his house but he continued to mine and chose to walk back! (About the same distance as the walk from Tooters would have been!) I was at least able to give him some painkillers and lotion for his leg.


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