In 2022, we did a lot.
Coronavirus meant that I could make no trip to Zambia in 2020 or in 2021. The virus also slowed progress on all of our projects in Zambia and in Ireland with lockdowns and restrictions and a general inability to progress. Even fundraising for our projects and the basic tasks of gathering of books and materials here in Ireland to send out to Zambia, struggled. As so much of what we do every year is dependent on personal effort, the outcome was that the years 2020 and 2021 were years of relatively little progress where we struggled just to keep things going.
Last year started off with optimism and by May 2022 it was clear that we could again personally return to Zambia. In a relatively short space of time, we were able to raise a team of teachers and other volunteers willing to travel to Zambia to share their skills with the schools and the libraries and the enterprise projects which we had established in previous years. We were also able to start a new round of fundraising to gather together the money needed to construct the library building, which has long been identified as the next big step in developing a fully supported reading culture in Zambia.
The new library Construction
With the support of many friends and a few significant sponsors, I am pleased to say that we reached, and then exceeded, our target for funds to start the construction of the new library, and we have now raised and sent to Zambia €143,000.00 to fund that construction. Based on our architectural drawings, bills of quantities and the advice of architects and builders, that amount should be sufficient to construct the library building. More money will, of course, be needed to fully equip and furnish the library in due course, but constructing the building is a major step and I am extremely grateful to all who helped and supported this project, and very excited to see construction begin.
We also gained a lot of political support for our projects in Zambia. When I was in Zambia in August 2022, I met with the Permanent Secretary for the Copperbelt province and secured his emphatic support for the library construction project. This meeting was both published in the national newspapers and made the television news in Zambia, which was very helpful in raising our profile and made it easier to advance our plans with the other necessary government authorities.
My colleague, Emmanuel Phiri, had identified a suitable site for the new library close to the market in Chipulukusu and he had secured the agreement in principle of the Ministry for Education in Zambia, that they would put that site at our disposal for the new library, if we agreed to build and equip the library. With political backing for the project on a local and national level secured, we formalised our agreement with the Ministry for Education in Zambia in November 2022, by way of a formal contractual Memorandum of Understanding. The terms of this MOU include that we will build and equip a library building on the site which has been donated by the Zambian Ministry for Education. The library will then be run by a partnership of our volunteers, the Ministry for Education and the local schools.
In December 2022, we also secured a building permit (similar to planning permission) for the new library from Ndola City Council. At the time of writing, we are only waiting on the Zambian Revenue Authority to confirm VAT-free status for construction, and we will start building. We hope to start the actual construction in February or March of this year and to have the library construction finished by the summer.
The container libraries
The foundation of our literacy programmes is still centred around the books which we have sent to Zambia in previous years and in our container-libraries which were established in the shipping containers in which we sent out those books, when adapted with doors and windows. Those container libraries have become very popular. In the past, our container libraries had always been run by volunteers, but there was a limit to what could be achieved with volunteers alone. In a major step for our small organisation, in April 2022, we commenced the employment of two librarians for the Chipulukusu container library. The initial appointments were on a trial basis, but the trial was so successful that we have now made our two librarians permanent employees. Hakky Nyirenda and Kelvin Chinyama are now working full time to manage our libraries, and they are also conducting outreach visits to local schools to integrate them into a visiting and book lending scheme and they have created reading clubs and reading competitions between schools.
The appointment of the two employed librarians for the Chipulukusu library was so successful that we employed two more librarians in November 2022, with a view to being better able to support our other container library in George compound and, of course, building up experienced staff for the new purpose-built library which we are intending to construct this year in Chipulukusu. Having permanent employees on the ground, will entail significant ongoing expense, but it is well worth it.
We brought out to Zambia with us this year a large number of laptop computers which we have used to start a small computer lab in our container libraries. In the past, we had placed laptop computers in some select schools which had the electricity and facilities to hold them, and this was a very successful way of introducing computers to our Zambian schoolchildren. However, most schools do not have either electricity nor the facilities nor the skills to use computers. By putting computers in our container libraries, our librarians have been able to host groups of children from many schools (and from none) for computer lessons, and also to arrange for the short-term lending of laptop computers to individual schools which otherwise would be beyond the reach of such technology.
Micro finance, business support and enterprise centre to help people escape poverty
We have well-established schemes to support people seeking to set up a small business. We started with micro-finance loans to provide start-up capital, particularly to widows, to start or develop a small business. This was immediately successful in enabling struggling widows to permanently escape poverty and indeed to gain financial strength and independence. For several years we have also been providing basic instruction in financial skills and budgeting to people in business, as this was something which the Zambian people themselves identified as a weakness which contributed to business failures. In 2019 we also provided vocational training to carpenters, so as to provide young men with practical skills to be financially independent and to provide for their families
We also now have an Enterprise Centre in Ndola, where people who are trying to start or run a business in a small way can come together and be supported with access to machinery, stocks of materials and guidance and mentorship in business. At the moment, those who are being supported are people who have started manufacturing school chairs and desks, beds, doors, door frames, window frames and basic domestic furniture. We have found that combining the support of a small business loan with proper training in basic financial skills and ongoing supervision and guidance in a supportive enterprise environment works best to help people to escape from poverty permanently. The enterprise centre in Ndola is now up and running for two years, and is providing a lifeline to a steady stream of new businesses people.
The volunteer trip to Zambia
In August 2022, I brought a small team of volunteers from Ireland out to Zambia again to continue to good work of past years. An intensive visit every year is hugely helpful to keep the various projects running and to continue to improve and to innovate. The materials which we send out and the projects which we have put in place require the ongoing input of the skills and support of our Irish volunteers.
As in past years, a large part of our volunteers’ work in 2022 was in supporting the literacy program based on the books and teaching materials and our container libraries which had been established in previous years – and in providing lessons in literacy and teaching skills for about 67 of the teachers in Zambia who are now using those resources. We also again brought out a large amount of laptop computers with us and provided computer lessons to 80 Zambian teachers, which is very much in demand in a place where access to computers is extremely difficult. On the enterprise and business side, we also provided another workshop in financial skills to 29 business people, and reviewed the micro finance scheme to continue to provide a way out of poverty for those who are most in need.
Our volunteers this year, Sarah and Ciara and Neil and Kate and Anna, spent an intensive few months training for the trip, getting themselves vaccinated against a wide range of diseases, and planning their work in Zambia. We then flew for 23 hours down to Zambia and spent the following two and a half weeks in Chipulukusu, working on the projects every day.
It has to be remembered that Zambia is still one of the world’s poorest countries, where life expectancy hovers around 38 and where HIV affects almost one in eight, malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition are still rampant and every tenth Zambian is a child orphan. For many people, this is a challenging place to live, but our volunteers outshone all expectations in their optimism, good humour and enthusiasm. We also found, amid all of that poverty and deprivation, the kindest, most welcoming and cheerful people on earth.
This year’s volunteer trip got off to a difficult start, when we arrived in Zambia to find that only one out of our twelve suitcases was delivered by the airline. Not alone were we in Zambia without our teaching materials and resources necessary for our teaching and instruction seminars, but we were also without clothes, sleeping bags, mosquito nets and personal possessions. For several days we lived in even more basic conditions than we had planned, sleeping on a bare floor with no change of clothes. Over the course of the next week, our luggage began to show up, one or two suitcases at a time, and gradually we got our sleeping bags and clothes back. Everyone took the deprivation in good spirits and we appreciated our small comforts even more, for having been without them.
As we always do, we stayed in Chipulukusu, in the same houses as the rest of the community, and without running water, showers, toilets or furniture. Our meals were cooked over a charcoal fire. In a sign of growing modernisation, our house this time had a few electric light bulbs and a few sockets. The electrical power was not always available, but when it was, it certainly made for easier charging of laptops or mobile phones. When the power was out, we just made do with what we had and we got by with candles and torches as we always did.
One big change in this year’s volunteer trip is that we were able to work in partnership with local Zambian teachers we had trained in the past, to co-present some of our workshops. Rather, therefore, than this year’s workshops and seminars being entirely Irish-led, we had mixed teams of Irish and Zambian teachers working together as presenters. This factor is really important, in that we are bedding in real knowledge and talent in the local teacher population and creating a body of Zambian teachers who are known and respected locally as being knowledgeable in these matters. Our computer lessons were co-led by one Irish teacher and two Zambian teachers, both of whom started with us some years ago with no computer knowledge at all, but both of whom now have university qualifications in computers and education. This is definitely the way of the future.
We are looking forward to continuing this work with another volunteer trip in the summer of 2023.
The Farm Block
In a new development in 2022, we received a donation of 3 hectares of land at Luanshya, a short distance from Ndola, to establish a farm block where people can commence farming under supervision and be trained in agricultural methods. This is an initiative is intended to further assist people to rise out of poverty. It is estimated that between 65% and 80% of Zambians live in extreme poverty and for many families, subsistence farming is the only source of income and food. Small scale farmers are often women who do back-breaking manual work with a hoe on hard ground, to eke out enough food for themselves and their children. Tragically, it is often not enough. For widows, subsistence farming may be the only option but given the prevalence of drought, the absence of tools and fertiliser and lack of training, survival by subsistence farming is precarious. Most people who engage in farming have no training at all.
The farm block project is intended to be a place of learning and support, where skills in the growing of crops and raising of chickens can be learnt. We will provide small plots where vulnerable people, especially widows, can start farming under supervision and mentoring by experienced and professionally trained farmers, and they will have access to tools and micro-finance support to equip them to farm successfully. It is hoped that after one or two seasons of supervised farming, our participants will be enabled to successfully farm by themselves, and thereby to permanently and securely lift their families out of poverty and malnutrition.
In April 2022, the Office of the Vice President of Zambia, approved the grant to us of 3 hectares of land. That land was then legally transferred to Zambian Development Support Foundation Ltd, which is the charitable company in Zambia through which we implement all of these projects. Land clearance commenced in the summer of 2022 and we are hoping to develop this project over the coming two years, by the provision of irrigation and the purchase of basic tools and farming supplies. This is going to require some capital to establish and maintain, but once it is up and running it should be self-sustaining out of the profits earned from the farming activities. In the long term, the ability to grow your own food is a basic protection against malnutrition and a fundamental tool of survival. Little else could be as important or life-changing.
Plans for 2023
2023 should be the year that we build our architect-designed purpose-built library. We have the funds, the building permit and the contract with the Ministry for Education. This is going to be our flagship project and will enable us to serve hundreds more schoolchildren (and adults) who wish to have access to books and learning.
For 2023, we are planning our best year yet. We now have four full-time professional employed librarians on the ground and the benefits for our existing container-libraries are considerable. The development of these libraries will continue.
In 2023, we are also going to send our fourth shipping container full of books and teaching materials and bookshelves to Zambia. This container is special, because the books, desks and bookshelves in this container will be the foundation of our newly-built library, as well as having enough books to share also more widely to other schools.
Our micro-finance programme, enterprise centre and farm block projects will continue to lift people, one family at a time, out of poverty. These projects in particular will continue to change people’s lives in a very short space of time.
This year we will also bring another group of volunteers out to Zambia, especially those with skills in teaching, education and computers, but indeed with any skill that we can use in Zambia These volunteers are the heroes every year, who make these projects work.
All of the above projects will require money from Ireland. We need money to finish and equip our new library building, and to maintain and develop our container libraries and to pay the librarians’ salaries. We need money to buy shipping containers, and to send them to Zambia with books and book shelves and materials and we need money to develop the micro-finance, enterprise centre and farm block projects. As ever, I must emphasise that none of this money is required to fund my own trip to Zambia or the trip of any volunteer as I and all volunteers always pay for our own travel and expenses in Zambia and I have already made (and will continue to make) substantial donations to the projects myself. All money donated will go straight to the projects in Zambia, and nothing will be spent in Ireland.
If you can donate anything at all to these projects, please send what you can. You can either send a cheque to me, made out to Michael Nugent (Zambia) or donate by credit card at my website at http://www.mnugentzambia.com. If you can donate a laptop computer, or school books or children’s books or book shelves which we can bring out to Zambia in our next container, or if particularly if you are brave enough to consider volunteering with me for a trip to Zambia, please get in touch.
Many thanks for all of your support.