The big plan for the year 2019 was to build a library in Chipulukusu to improve access to books, and so education, for all. The need for this library stems from the fact that almost no schools in the area of have books, and although we have been able to deliver a vast amount of books to the area, most schools do not have a secure premises, with rain-proof roofs, with doors and windows, such as to be able to take books. In brain-storming with our local colleagues, we came up with the idea of building a library which could accommodate the books and to which all schools would have access. An Irish architect drew the plans, and Rev Peter Kim of Youngnak Christian School in Zambia offered a plot of ground. The plan was to build the library in 2019.
The good news is that we raised about €54,360.00 to build the library, and we have made a lot of progress, but the library is not yet built. We encountered two problems.
The first problem was than when we went out to Zambia in August 2019, with full architectural plans for the library, we found that the planned library, initially specified for 70 spaces, was too small. We found that within the year since we had first received the specifications in Zambia, demand for books and reading has increased so much that there are already over 140 children who come every evening after school to read and to access the books available in Youngnak School. The interest and demand for books has so greatly increased according as word has spread that we have books, that our plans were too small and we accordingly had to double the seating capacity of the library. This did not require us to double the size of the building, but it did mean that the scale of the building had to be increased considerably. As a result, we passed our plans for the library to a Zambian architect, to increase the size and to have the library comply with local building regulations. That has now been done.
The second problem which arose is that we discovered that the legal title to the land on which we were to build the library was the subject of a dispute. We cannot build the library on a plot unless the legal title is secured. We are currently seeing if we can sort out the legal title, or, if that cannot be done, we will have to secure another plot of ground. This matter is ongoing and the Irish ambassador to Zambia is assisting and advising us as to our options. We hope to have found a solution within the next two or three months.
The increase in size of the library, has also led to an increase in the cost, and so our target is now €130,000.00, so more funds are necessary and we are still seeking that additional money.
While on the subject of the library, our third container of books for schools and libraries is almost full, and we hope to ship it out to Zambia in 2020. (This will cost another €10,000.00 to transport but is vital to deliver the books which are badly needed.) We are still seeking more school books and children’s books, but we are also very much in need of bookshelves. If anyone can source good metal rack shelving, of the sort which can be collapsed for transport and then re-assembled in Zambia (such as Raeco, Estey or Probe). Please let me know. We have, in the past, received a huge amount of these shelves being discarded by schools and libraries, but we badly need more at this stage, or we will end up with a library where the books are lying on the floor!
Apart from the library, in August 2019, I was back in Zambia with a small team of volunteers. In our team this year we again had a teacher and an educational psychologist, who conducted lessons and workshops for Zambian teachers in the teaching of literacy skills. It was an intensive course for teachers who may not have access to books in the past, as well as for those who had secured access to books from the two containers of books which we had already shipped out, but who could benefit from learning the skills of how best to make use of those books.
In 2020, we are hoping to continue this work, which will now be for three years running, so we are appealing for volunteers in the teaching professions, or educational psychologist, librarians etc, who might travel to Zambia with us.
Additionally, this year we again had lessons in computers, and about 100 teachers were instructed in the basics of computer use over the course of two weeks. Most of these people had never had access to computers before but by the end of the course, all were competent in using a computer and in the basics of MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint and the use of emails. This was made possible by the time and devotion of the volunteers who travelled with us, and by the kind donation of 24 laptop computers from different people over the years. What was hugely rewarding, was that we also had local Zambian volunteers who had been taught in computers in previous years who also assisted with the teaching, thereby spreading their skills wider and establishing them as local experts, who can support other learners. Reports since we came back, indicate that several participants in this group were able to find work subsequently, using their computer skills.
We are hoping to continue this work in the summer of 2020, so we urgently are seeking laptop computers in working order, and volunteers who might come to Zambia to teach the basics of computer use.
In addition to all of the above, we continued with another workshop in book-keeping and financial literacy for people who wanted to start, or to improve, a business. The success of last year’s workshop was evident from the participants who had become successful in their own business. This year, we had another group of young business people (and aspiring business people), of whom 20 passed the final exam after two weeks. Reports since indicate that many of them have found work, have started their own business, or have improved their existing business with the skills which they have learnt.
A new initiative this year was, in response to requests from our Zambia friends that we provide vocational training, that we had lessons in carpentry. One of our team members, being a carpenter himself, trained five young men in Chipulukusu in basic carpentry skills, so that each of them could cut and join timber professionally, and each was trained in the making of basic wooden furniture, such as a table, chair, school desk and kitchen shelves or bookshelf, and they learnt other basic skills such as how to hang a door. Additionally, each of the participants was provided with a basic tool kit (for which they must pay the cost over a number of months from their earnings), such that they have both the tools and the skills to work as carpenters. Each of the five young men graduated and they are now plying their skills as carpenters in the locality, and I understand that two of them are working with builders, constructing roofs and hanging doors, while all of them are still making furniture. Our local volunteer, Emmanuel Phiri, is continuing to work with these carpenters and to guide them in marketing their products and running their businesses.
We are, again, hoping to continue with vocational training this year, and it has been requested that we might continue again with carpentry, or with plumbing this time. Running water is still very rare, but even if someone puts in a water tank to hold water from a bore hole, it will inevitably be leaking because plumbing skills are simply not known. As such we are hoping to find some carpenters or plumbers who will be willing to join us for an expedition to Zambia in 2020.
Apart from all of the above, our micro-finance project is having very mixed performance. The traditional small businesses, such as chicken rearing, dress making, small shops, seem to be running fine, but we lent money to people who were in the business of welding and in the business of using electrical machines, who are in trouble. With power cuts for several hours every day, they are struggling to survive. We continue to lend to small people, particularly widows, seeking to start a business, but it remains a real challenge to survive in Zambia.
On a personal note, a few friends died during the year, including Moira Moloshi for whom we built a house in 2014 and her close neighbour, Betina Mwansa for whom we also built a house in 2014, and Violet Chola for whom we built a house in 2017. All were in very difficult circumstances, and looking after a number of orphaned grandchildren. The struggle goes on and at the time of writing, I am trying to secure a place in Youngnak Christian School for Betina Mwansa’s orphaned grandson, Abraham Phiri, where he might get the chance of education, as well as at least one meal a day, during term time.
And so the plans and dreams continue, and 2020 looks like being a very interesting year, and perhaps the year in which we do get our library built.
To all of you who donated, volunteered, spread the word and supported, thank you very much, on my own behalf, and on behalf of countless souls whose lives are improving day, by day.