BACK TO ZAMBIA AGAIN
On 7th August 2014, I went back to Zambia to work with Habitat for Humanity in building homes for the most destitute in society. The model of working together with vulnerable families, chosen by their own community as most in need of help, continues to bring success in the long term.
Again I had the opportunity to work with two families in Chipulukusu while building their new homes. They were both typical of those in Zambia who struggle to survive when the scourge of AIDS has taken their husbands and children, but who show a fortitude and good humour which is genuinely infectious.
Bettina was chosen by her neighbours and community as someone most in need of a home because her house was literally falling down. As I stood in the mud brick house I could see how the gable walls at both ends were leaning precariously and collapse in the next rains seemed certain. Quite apart from that, the house was dark and unhealthy leading to frequent illness, from which people do not always recover.
While in Chipulukusu, we managed to build a simple cement block three-room house for Bettina and her family, with large windows with glass in them to let in the light and ventilation. Built perhaps to the standard of a garden shed in Ireland, this house was a miracle to Bettina. Quite apart from the dignity and improved health which the house is going to bring, Bettina was particularly delighted to learn that the door has a lock and key, so that she can now sleep soundly for the first time in years, knowing that Jane cannot wander off alone in the night. As we left her and her family, Bettina was celebrating with the neighbours who supported her and looking forward to a safer future for her family.
The other family for whom we built a house was that of Moria Moloshi, another widowed grandmother of 58 years old, looking after three orphaned grandchildren, being Adam Baraka (18), Melany Mumba (9) and Lucky Mumba (5). Moirah manages to feed herself and her grandchildren one meal most days by finding casual employment in weeding fields and selling charcoal on the streets. Her house was also in danger of imminent collapse with large holes in the roof, rotting timber and a patchwork of plastic bags and rusting corrugated iron sheeting. Whereas Moirah was in reasonably good health, her grandson Adam suffers from debilitating epilepsy and in the past year two of her grandchildren suffered from malaria, but survived.
We worked side by side with Moira and Baraka in building her house and I like to think that I learnt a little about courage, faith and gratitude for the small things in life. Moirah is determined that her grandchildren will have a good future and so she has arranged that both Melany and Lucky are attending school. She is keenly aware of the value of education as a means of escaping the poverty trap.
JOYCE AND LOVEMORE
It was not all good news I am afraid. Although I managed to catch up with numerous friends and families whom we had helped over the years and nearly all of them are visibly in much better health and doing well, I was personally heartbroken to see the fate of Lovemore and Joyce, the two orphans for whose grandmother, Lister Matani, we built a house in August 2012. Lister unfortunately died before the end of that year thereby leaving Lovemore and Joyce (both then about 16 years old) without a guardian. Habitat for Humanity were quick to offer support and neighbours and social workers did try hard to keep them together and to get them both back to school, but Lister had simply died too quickly before there was time to put structures in place. In the chaos which followed Lister’s death, things quickly fell apart. Their lives drifted into despair. In August, I only managed to track down Lovemore (now 18 years old) who has fallen into the life of a semi-vagrant, getting drunk on cheap homemade alcohol, getting in trouble and with no connection to school or church. I did not manage to meet Joyce at all, but neighbours and social workers tell me that she is working near the market as a prostitute, quarrelsome and drunk, and with the prevalence of AIDS she is not expected to live for long. While the loss of two bright and grinning teenagers is a huge disappointment and a failure for me personally, I can only move on with greater determination that we will get it right then next time so that no other child will end up this way.
My other great interest, being the education project with Graceland School, is going from strength to strength. The school is now widely cited as a model of success in education. Notwithstanding the humble beginnings, I can tell you that one of their past pupils has now been accepted to study medicine in university, and even the mayor of Ndola has sent his children to be educated at this school. This is a school of 600 pupils built up from scratch by the hard work of the founders, Bornwell and Catherine Daka.
This year alone we managed to deliver about 42 suitcases full of books and educational material to Graceland school, all of which was donated by friends and supporters here in Ireland, and none of which cost anyone penny because all money which I raise only goes to the Habitat for Humanity project. As it is almost unknown for a school in Zambia to have books or anything like a library, we are now discussing the possibility of sharing the books which Graceland has with some other nearby schools, with the aim of increasing literacy generally. Every single book they possess is considered a treasure.
Among our own near neighbours in Chipulukusu, poverty and illness mean that there are a huge number of orphans with little chance of even a basic education. Not alone can they neither read nor write, but they wander the streets aimlessly. Among these people is a man who I consider almost a walking saint and who I first met in 2012 when he was walking the streets of Chipulukusu speaking to people about the word of God. Pastor Francis is someone who impresses with quiet kindness and a faith in God which I would consider almost insane, if I had not seen with my own eyes what he has achieved out of nothing. In the last two years he has physically built a small school for the orphans out of nothing at all, save what he calls the kindness of well-wishers. Here, orphans are welcome to come and to learn, and they receive a simple meal from crops grown in his garden and donated by his congregation. When I enquired as to whether some of these crops might be stolen in the night by other people racked by hunger he smiled sweetly and explained that perhaps they too need feeding, and after all they do not take the lot.
Pastor Francis’ school also benefitted from a significant amount of books and school materials, but as the classrooms do not yet have doors or glass in the windows there is a limit to what one can donate without the likelihood of all being lost in the night. I am currently in discussions to see if we can arrange that he gets doors and windows for the classrooms so that we can begin to build a stock of teaching materials in this school too.
Inspiring too was to see the success of the water kiosks which we helped to establish in Chipulukusu. As impure water supplies continue to be a major health hazard, Habitat for Humanity (with your help) has now built and installed in Chipulukusu three water kiosks which supply treated water to the community. With your financial help we have paid a water utility company to pipe water in to three locations in the settlement where clean and treated drinking water is now available. In order to defray the costs and keep the funds revolving, people pay the equivalent of a fifth of one cent for 20 gallons of water. This brings the cost of the water within the budget of even the poorest people, and provides a small income sufficient to maintain the water pipeline and to ensure that the project is sustainable in the long term. As a practical solution, this looks like the one with the best prospects of ensuring good health in the long term.
We also visited the Neri Clinic in Linda Compound, south of Lusaka, which has been up and running now for several years with the assistance of some Irish supporters with whom we are hoping to collaborate. Quite apart from all normal health issues, the clinic also has a huge case load of malaria and they are struggling to maintain a malnourishment clinic which tries to feed the worst 80 children on their books at any one time in the hope of bringing them back from the brink of extinction. They also test about 45 people for HIV every week, with an average of two thirds testing positive. It was again both inspiring to see how much can be done with so little resources and frustrating to think that we cannot do more. I am hoping to work out some co-operative strategies with the Neri Clinic over the coming year, so anyone with medical knowledge who feels like helping out for a few week, let me know.
Overall in Chipulukusu, life continues to be harsh but things are definitely getting better. This year, we raised over €52,000.00 for Habitat for Humanity which will help to keep building houses and improving water supplies throughout the community. With the improved water supplies and housing, we can see significant improvements in health. Whereas supporting the local schools is a longer term project, the delight and interest in books and teaching materials is instant. Life continues to throw up challenges and tragedies, but with faith and generosity, kindness and a good word there is no doubt that things keep getting better, and it is very rewarding to be able to play a part.
Among the most satisfying aspects of this venture, is to see how lives have been changed by a small bit of support and I always take the time to catch up on old friends. This year I dropped by Iris, for whom I helped to build a house in 2008 and I found her to be strong, healthy and happy with her family doing well and in school. I recognised Iris straight away, despite not having seen her in four or five years. She told me that Ruth (grade 3) and Sean (grade 9) are both in school and are doing well, and I could see that she is proud of their achievements. The house which we built is looking well-kept and a real home. What has substantially changed is that Iris has a garden laid out in which she now grows bananas, avocado, pawpaw, apples, cassava corn, guava, and mangoe. Her shop at the end of her garden has also grown and now is housed in a much bigger structure and boasts quite a number of lines of assorted goods.
We also met up with Adam and Kenna for whom we helped to build a house last year. They are both in very good spirits and doing well and tell me that their health has improved since they got the new house. Their grandchildren (orphans) who live with them are thriving too and there is a positive atmosphere of optimism in their home.
If you would consider journeying with me to Zambia next year, you can always send me an email or give me a call.
Thank you for all of your support and generosity.