I went back to Zambia again in June 2011. There were again seven of us on the team, which included some who had been out with me before and also some first timers. Between us, we raised over €70,000.00 for the work of Habitat for Humanity in Zambia, and that is a testament to the generosity of spirit of you, my friends, even in times of our own economic downturn.

Back to Kawama

We went back to the village of Kawama, where I had been in 2009 and 2010, which is just over 200 miles north of the capital city of Lusaka, and within sight of the border with the Congo. This is a village where I now feel quite at home and I have a small circle of friends. We went back to continue the work which started some years ago and I am pleased to say that I again noticed improvements in the living conditions generally and most of my friends survived the last year, which is not to be taken for granted in a place like that.

A new well

Digging a well take ten days for two men - 15 metres deep - by hand,

Digging a well take ten days for two men – 15 metres deep – by hand,

Among the most notable events of our stay was the time when the drilling rig arrived for the new water supply for the village. Normally, in this part of the world if you want water, you just dig a well by hand as deep as you can go until you find water. That is how it has been done for generations and I have often seen a man dig 15 metres deep, by hand, to find water. Unfortunately, this very source of water often costs people their lives, as the water is frequently contaminated by nearby pit latrines and lack of proper sewage treatment. Every year, thousands die.

Back in 2010, at the request of the village, we allocated $10,000.00 US Dollars from the funds which we raised here in Dublin towards the provision of a clean source of water for the village. Different options were explored in the meanwhile, (such as having water piped from a distant treated water supply) and detailed research and geological investigations were carried out. Eventually it was decided to get a professional drilling rig to drill deep into the ground – far deeper than a man could dig – to tap into an identified deep and pure underground aquifer.

The drilling rig at work in Kawama, June 2010

All sorts of geologists and experts were brought in to assess where in the village might be best to drill, and a number of test bores and soil samples were taken before the major drill took place. Eventually, on 28th June last two enormous trucks with drilling equipment and several support vehicles came to our village and the drilling began. After two days of drilling, at 65 metres deep, the crew came across what they had been most hoping for – an enormous subterranean aquifer which is estimated at 50 miles wide and hundreds of miles long. They drilled another 20 metres deeper and found themselves still within the main body of water, and so they know that this source is also very deep.

By the time we left Kawama in July, the well had been bored and capped and they were in the course of installing a hand pump. The new water supply is quite central in the village, it is free for all and it is convenient to all. The water supplied is pure and fresh and free from contamination and pollution. Its source is so deep and so vast that it will never be contaminated. By availing of this water supply instead of the old shallow hand-dug wells, the incidence of illness, disease and death from contaminated water should all but disappear. This is a major improvement in health and well-being in our village and, best of all, the entire project from start to finish did not even use up all of the $10,000 US Dollars which had been allocated – so there is still money left over from what we raised in 2010, to do still more good in the village.

More houses

Work starts are the corners, and you work from there

Work starts are the corners, and you work from there

Apart from the above excitement, we on the team devoted our time to the basic housing problems of the area. We concentrated again on providing basic houses, basic water supply and basic pit latrines. These are the fundamentals for survival in Zambia and upon which all of life’s further chances of education and health are built.

As time has moved on, more and more families have been housed and educated as a direct result of the money which has been raised and the good which has been done by you, my supporters in Dublin. There are now literally hundreds of people in Kawama who have a place to call home, and who are alive, thanks to you. As I walk around Kawama, I meet so many people who live in gratitude and who ask me to send thanks to you. There are literally hundreds of them. Thanks to our new water supply, there will be hundreds more.

Death remains

And yet, even as things improve for many, things remain bleak for many others. I often hear the funeral drums at night.

Simple message

Simple message

I went up to the cemetery one evening in order to try to get an overview of what I had only anecdotally observed. I saw vast acres of freshly turned earthen mounds with small wooden crosses, inscriptions, paper notes and prayers, or photographs of smiling schoolchildren in their uniforms. It was enormous and it seemed to me that an unreasonably large amount of the earthen mounds were fresh. AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are still major killers.

Those in need of help

One year later, visiting families who have moved in to their new houses

One year later, visiting families who have moved in to their new houses

On one day towards the end of our trip I ventured out with Voster Tembo, my local guide, organiser and advisor, to visit some of the families who had been the lucky recipients of your generosity over the past year. These are the people who had benefitted from a Habitat house from some of the money raised last year. Even now, even having seen so much before, I was still shocked to the core by some of what I saw that day. Among the pitiful scenes which we encountered was the 34 year old widow of seven children (not all of whom were her own) stumbling in exhausted confusion, weakened by the terminal stages of AIDS and unbalanced by the weight of a pregnancy which had little chance of reaching full term, as she came out to greet us. She is undoubtedly already dead as I write this note. She was close to death when we met her, but she still considered herself and her family to be lucky to have received from us, from you, a house, and it gave some hope to her eight smiling orphans. May God have mercy on them all.

I saw a lot that day and if I cannot describe it in words, I ask you to accept that there is still a tragic need for help and assistance.


Innocent and Gavin

Innocent and Gavin

On the level of personal interest, I met again with my friend Innocent Mutele, the young orphan who has now turned 18 and is back in the house which we built for him in 2009, which was taken from him after his aunt who was looking after him died, and which he won back through the intervention of the local Habitat organisation. Innocent continues to inspire me with his obvious good health and his quiet good humour and his loyal friendship.

Innocent lost two years of school following the death of his aunt and his banishment from his house, and finishing his education is now his main goal. He has however, being resourceful and a hard worker, managed to secure a means of survival using his new home as a base. He has taken in a tenant, Benjamin, who pays Innocent a modest rent for one room of the house. Additionally, another room of the house accommodates 100 chickens which comprise Benjamin’s business and Innocent earns a small wage for looking after the chickens. On top of this, Innocent has done enormous work in tilling the small garden behind the house and constructing a basic fence, woven of grass through sticks, to keep out small animals which might otherwise eat his crops. He is growing a few vegetables and is saving money to buy seed to be able to plant some more. Overall, Innocent has a safe house and a means to survive. He is grateful to God for all the blessings that he has received.

Clara, Mwai and Beauty

Mwai on the front door step

Mwai on the front door step

Next door to Innocent is Clara and her daughter Mwai. Clara is still trying to read me the bible and save my soul, which says a lot about her sense of humour and hope. She appears to be a little more ill than in the past, but she is composed and calm about the future and puts her faith in God. Mwai has just started play school for a few hours every morning.

Across the road, Beauty and her daughter Chiba are evidently enjoying life. We built their home in 2009 and they go from strength to strength. Beauty’s son, Stanley, has now been able to move back home and the happiness in their home is quite apparent. I hear constant laughter as I pass. There always seems to be a bit of a party going on in Beauty’s house.

Maureen Makwaza

Gavin, Maureen and Me, outside the house built in 2010

I also visited Maureen Makwaza, and her daughters Maureen, Sharon and Scholastica, for whom we built a house last year. They were all in good form but life is still hard and little changed from last year. Violet, the grandmother, had died since last year, but that was not unexpected. Sharon has gone back to school to try to finish her secondary education. I cannot say that much has improved or dis-improved in the past year but I suppose the fact that there was no new tragedy to report was, in itself, an improvement.


Jennifer gets the keys to her new house

The time in Kawama went very fast this year. I always seemed to have too many people to visit and too many things to do and always the possibility of letting someone down. There was never a quiet evening.

And this year too, there were also the families for whom we were building. I found myself building for a family I first met in September 2009, when I met the grandmother in her late 40s who was looking after 2 of her own children and 8 orphaned grandchildren between the ages of 2 and 12. I was impressed by her fortitude at the time, and I wrote about her in my report after I came home and about how she provided for all of her children and grandchildren by scavenging for roots and plants in the nearby forest in the Congo. As things turned out, this lady died before the house was even started and when I arrived on site in June I met the old lady’s daughter, Jennifer, who is now head of the household and responsible for everyone. I worked beside her for two weeks but I still do not know how the family survives.

The second house which we built while in Kawama was for a lady in her late thirties called Ida. She comes from a large family of 12 children and it is enough to tell you that she is the sole survivor of those 12, and now trying to look after an indeterminate number of orphans to give you an idea of what she is facing.

Despite the personal difficulties and tragedies, I have to say that in our village, as well as in Zambia overall, I noticed clear evidence of encouragement, progress, growth and development. I noticed in particular a lot of new construction work in the cities of Lusaka and Ndola, with new shopping centres and more modern infrastructure. In our own village, an electricity supply has been brought in. Even though almost no one has any electrically powered devices yet, it is now possible, to get connected to the supply and have electric light or even a television. We now have many more safe houses than when we first started, and we finally have a safe water supply. At a local level, a lot of this is down to you, my supporters in Dublin.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda

In November 2011, we got some welcome recognition for our work in Zambia from Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president and the man who brought Zambia to independence from colonial rule. It is heartening to get some confirmation that we are on the right track, and a copy of Dr Kaunda’s letter is available at the link on the side.

Linda Fuller Award

Also, in December 2011, I was awarded the Linda Fuller Award for my work with Habitat for Humanity. This is a singular honour to acknowledge what we, all of us together, have achieved over the past few years and again, there is a link on the right to a press release about this.

Finally, on my own behalf and on behalf of all of the people of Kawama, thank you so much for your generosity and for sticking with us over the past few years. Together we have done great things. There is a lot more to be done, and I am going back again next year, but from the bottom of my heart I can only thank you for changing and for saving lives that you will never know.

Michael Nugent

Habitat for Humanity Ireland is a registered charity. Charity No: CHY 15187. Registered in Ireland. Company Reg No: 362823. Registered address: Unit F, The Liffey Trust Centre, 117-126 Upper Sheriff Street, Dublin 1. Tel. 5310033.

Kawama can be found on Google Earth at 12.54.41 South, 28.36.25 East.