Friday, May 27, 2016

Can we Walk in their Shoes?

Wednesday 25th May

Today is African Freedom Day and it commemorates South African Independence completing Africa's independence from colonial rule.

I went to mass at the cathedral which was later than usual due to it being a holiday. In his sermon the priest doubted that Zambia was free – particularly in economic terms, the country is still oppressed. In the Post (one of Zambia's national papers) an article asks “who is setting the agenda”. He points out that Africa is constantly being told what it should do in order to be successful by western powers pushing their own philosophy which so far has only led them to become richer at Africa's expense.

The system at work today which gives big companies huge power - the ability to make big profits and pay little back in taxes, benefits the wealthy shareholders, but leaves the poorest even poorer.

The past few days I have been moved by the stories of some of the children I have met at PIZZ school. Perhaps those expounding free trade and current economic policies should talk to some of these children suffering as a result.

I had decided to take life easy. I read a bit and generally relaxed. Best had travelled through the night to get to Monze and after a brief rest would head back to Lusaka. He has been busy over the past couple of days meeting with senior members of a major western tribe to research his work on tribal law.

I was able to print a poster for Diven advertising his mobile phone charging facility. I also found a butcher and bought some prime steak. Incidently the piece of meat weighing over ½ kilogram (more than a pound in old money!) cost the same as an A4 coloured poster! (about £1.35).

Thursday 26th May

I decided it was time to re-introduce myself to Monze Mission Hospital. In 2003 – my first visit – I came with a small team to 'build' an intensive care unit at the hospital. In the event when we left there was still a hole rather than a building. Most of our time was spent fetching hardcore to fill the chasm, though we did also help make some bricks for the foundations. What many volunteers don't realise, at least at first, is that the experience is as much to change them and their lives as that of our partners in distant lands. It certainly changed my life!!

The receptionist didn't know me and when I asked for Sister Juunza suggested I returned in 30 minutes. I took a leisurely stroll around town and on my return was asked to sit outside of Sister Juunza's office. When Sr. Juunza emerged she greeted me with a big hug – no doubt to the surprise of the receptionist!

Sr. Juunza is the Administration Manager at the hospital. She succeeds Justina Yamba and Sr Beatrice who was in charge when I first arrived in 2003. Sr. Juunza was due in a meeting so I didn't delay her. My intention was just to say that I was around – we will meet later and talk about the hospital etc. I was able to give her some glasses which Roger, my brother-in-law had passed on to me and some special sleeves/stockings also given to me for the hospital. These items will be put to good use.

In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours talking to secondary students. Many of them have recently moved from PIZZ School and some are finding it difficult. A major problem is the lack of electricity at home. They are desperate to progress at school, but cannot study at home in the evenings. As a result they fall behind with their homework. (We would really need four hundred lamps to ensure that no PIZZ student suffers this problem – I am working on this!!) One girl told me that after school she plaits hair to earn some money to buy food for the family. Another boy has to walk 4 kilometres each way to school and said a bike would make a difference.

My final interview was with a boy who, like many, has lost both parents. He lives with his grandmother who cuts grass to sell for roofing, she also makes some brooms. Unfortunately she has a drink problem so the boy has to find work to support both himself and her. He also has a sister who is disabled and lives on her own, so he also has the responsibility of looking after her. We visited his home which is a one roomed house he shares with his grandmother. This was built for them by a local church a year or so back. Until then they lived in a mud hut. The new house has no electricity or mains water which is the situation for most of the students who attend PIZZ School

I visited this house with Killian and one of the care-givers. When I was talking to the students Mrs. Sianga encouraged me to ask the children why their marks were poor, if that was the case. I admit I was initially reluctant to put hem under such scrutiny, but the purpose was a positive one. Mrs Sianga and her staff are keen to know why performance drops off. In this way they find out that the children are also the breadwinners in the household, that they might have health issues, that the conditions at home make it difficult to study etc. With the caregivers they visit the families and try to resolve some of the issues and encourage the guardians to do what they can to improve the situation. In the longer term these children can help the families escape the desperate poverty in which they currently live. It is only through this sort of additional care that the children are enabled to continue with their education, many – perhaps most – would otherwise drop out long before completing their education.

I was introduced to Coiled when I was at the school. He lived in a fishing village not far from Monze. A few years ago I visited such a village with Fr. Kenan the former Parish priest at the Cathedral. The people who live in the village live in temporary houses near the river's edge during the dry season. When the rains come these house, made mainly of grass, are washed away and the people retreat to their more permanent houses built high to avoid flooding. Each house or group of houses becomes an island during the rainy season. For much of the year the people are isolated.

Coiled has lost both his parents and was living alone in the fishing village – surviving by catching fish for himself. An older boy who has just finished his final year at secondary school was visiting his family who live in the village. He found Coiled and took him back to Monze and approached Mrs. Sianga to try to obtain a place for him at the school. The boy has no means to buy a uniform or note book. If Mrs. Sianga accepts the boy he will need help with these things and there is no guarantee that his new young guardian will be able to provide for him. She told me this was but one example of the dilemma she faces daily. Without schooling the prospects for these children are very poor, but every child she takes in requires a lot more than a few academic lessons.

Each time I visit I realise both what a tremendous task it is to provide ample resources for the children, but also that this project is truly wonderful. Every penny used in this project is well spent and I don't hesitate to promote it wholeheartedly. Hands Around the World funds the project, but Mrs. Sianga struggles to provide adequately for the students and staff from the relatively little we send. A major issue at present is ensuring that the children in secondary school are provided with what they need. Many cannot afford to buy uniforms, books – even soap where it is required. Reading lights are out of the question.

I am determined that all students who pass their grade 9 exams are able to complete their secondary school education and that some will go to university or training courses. The students cannot fund this education themselves, so it is our job to find the money. If anyone wants to help support this excellent project they can find out more on the HATW website or on the Global Giving websitePIZZ School

I decided to make myself a kapenta stir fry with sweet potato and musala. I was pleased that Raymond joined me to devour the feast!

I realise that it is difficult to understand someone's life without experiencing it. 'Don't judge me until you have walked in my shoes!' Even while here in Monze I cannot imagine what life is like for many of the students at PIZZ School. This year I have a very comfortable house with running water and electricity for most of the day. Even then when I found myself unhappy because I couldn't get a cup of tea in the morning with that caffeine fix, I could get myself a kettle and a flask and have water hot enough in the morning for a cup of coffee. Last year water was difficult at my house, sometimes not arriving till evening and occasionally being unavailable all day. However, with a bit of careful management we could store water, which we got from the taps when it flowed. Most of the children I see will have to fetch water daily and when there is a shortage they will need to move further or queue for a longer time – they might even have to use a dirty source. They never go home to a house lit by electric bulbs, let alone experience a hot shower.

I know about the conditions that the children face, but still don't know what it is like to live this way every day. I am sure for many in the Western world they cannot believe that such situations are still common in many parts of the world, let alone imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes.

There are 360+ children at PIZZ School that stand a chance of a better life. I will do my best to help their dreams come true, I hope that you will consider spreading the word to enable them to have a better future.

Thank You,


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