After two years of planning and fundraising, on Wednesday 23rd October 14 very excited girls and two members of staff embarked on their adventure to Zambia where they had volunteered to help build a girls school up in the Chama region for the Anglican Street Children’s Programme. The Chama region is in a very remote part of Zambia and the nearest secondary school is located over 80km away.
Diary of our time in Chama
Thursday 24th - we land at 6am local time in Lusaka and it is raining!!!! We catch a small internal flight up to Chipata where we are met by Father Katete, members of the press and the “Mothers Union” who sing a traditional Zambian greeting as they shake our hands. We are then driven into town where we are greeted by The Bishop’s representatives, town dignitaries, the local clergy who all welcome us and convey their thanks that we have come a long way and how important our visit is in changing the way Zambians view their “girl children” and the girls’ rights to an education. After our lunch we climb aboard our bus to drive up to Twembi where we will start work. Unfortunately a wild pig on the road takes a dislike to our bus and charges at us, the bus survives but he doesn’t. It does mean that the local village will eat very well tonight.
Friday 25th - after a very long journey and a good night’s sleep, we make our first stop of the day to meet the District Commissioner and the Minister of Education to obtain permission for us to work on the school and to tell them why we have come to help. They are delighted to hear of the project and tell us that they are very keen for “girl children” to be educated and to be given aspirations of a future rather than of early marriage and domesticity. We all celebrate with ice cold coca colas and fanta and make our way back on the bus to the village which is to be our home for the next five days. As soon as the bus can be heard droves of children come running after the bus and everyone cheers as we get off. We seem to go on shaking hands for hours when we are informed that they have a surprise waiting for us; they pull back a grass screen to reveal a flushing toilet and a shower!! Everyone laughs at our shocked faces as we had been prepared to use a traditional “long drop” toilet and a bucket of water for washing in. The shower and toilets will form part of the ablutions block for the dormitories where the girls will board during the week. We eat lunch of pasta, chicken “Sheema” which is a maize porridge and a cabbage and onion salad followed by fresh fruit; this is typical of how we eat all week. After this we are whisked off for a rehearsal on how to greet the chief using traditional Senga, once this is mastered we walk to the chief’s “palace” where he is sat waiting for us. We give him our best rendition and present him with the gifts we have brought; he is really moved and expresses his thanks for our help over and over again.
Saturday 26th - up at 5.30am to ensure we can work as much as we can while it is still cool (29 degrees). Some go off to draw water from the village pump about 2km away, some walk into the main village and back to collect the bricks for the foundations, some mark out the area where we will start to dig the foundations and some drive for about an hour to collect water from the Luangwa river in big 30 gallon drums to use for cement and for making bricks. The girls have a go at using the brick making machine we have raised funds for and don’t find it as easy as the men make it look; it often takes two of them to complete the process. With temperatures soaring over 40 degrees it is time to stop work and play with the children in the shade. Giggles can be heard all around the camp as we introduce bubbles and balloons which the children have not seen before. We learn today that the Minister of Education has sent out official notification to all the local villages to say that when our school is built, any girl under the age of eighteen who has been forced into early marriage (some as young as ten) can legally divorce their husbands and return to education!!
Sunday 27th - today we need to dress smartly as we are off to church. The church is outdoor, situated under an enormous mango tree, everyone comes and shakes our hands over and over again. There is plenty of singing and dancing and the traditional Anglican service is translated into English so we can follow. A couple bring their new born baby (seven days old) to the service and ask if the St Mary’s team would give him a name – we are all delighted to be asked and we soon agree on the name “George”. We then introduce ourselves to the whole congregation who cheer and clap. After lunch it soars into the 50s and we have no option but to rest until it is cooler. Around 4.30pm we start work again until the stunning African sunset marks the end of our day.
Monday 28th - 6am and we are ready for work, stacking bricks into proper stacks ready for the main brick laying of the foundations to begin. We help make more bricks along with digging the final part of the foundations. Some of the team help prepare the breakfast and help tidy the camp. After our breakfast the temperature creeps up as we visit the local primary school, there are over 500 children aged seven plus on the school register and only five classes!! After introductions to the Head Teacher and a chance to pass on our gifts of stationery we are each assigned a class to help with the lessons. Mrs Baldwin and Mrs Paddock play with the pre-school children who sit and wait all day until their older siblings have finished school. Mrs Baldwin teaches them how to cartwheel and catch, Mrs Paddock teaches nursery and finger rhymes, making the children laugh. As we return to our camp we are followed back by many children who want to continue to play. After lunch we are summoned by the Chief and the villagers who have arrange some traditional music and dancing for us. We watch enthusiastically and get invited to perform a dance in return. As we have nothing prepared, the Upper Sixth Form lead us all in the Macarena, this makes the whole village erupt into fits of laughter.
Tuesday 29th - 6am and the building begins! Our team are in their element mixing cement and learning how to lay bricks and keep everything square, a useful item for their CV! This continues until lunch time when it becomes too hot to work – around 55 degrees. As the children congregate, shouts of TEO echo around the camp. The girls help Teo in teaching the locals the hokey cokey which everyone enjoys under the shade of the elephant fruit tree. More building continues as it cools. Everyone is ready for an early night after a busy day.
Wednesday 30th - 5.45am and we are up and moving the big cement bricks that have been made in the brick machine over to where the foundations are nearly complete, this takes the whole morning and we are soon ready for a break. At 11.30am visitors arrive, they are Bishop William (who is in charge of the whole Eastern Diocese) and his wife Mary who have come to see the project; they are very impressed by how hard the team has worked and that we are all girls!! We have a big lunch and chat readily with him and he thanks us over and over again for coming. After this we take the Bishop to meet Chief Twembi and again perform our traditional greeting which makes him very happy. He is impressed by how quickly we have picked up the local language and is convinced that we are all actually Zambian! This is our last night together on the camp and everyone shares their best memories of the week, it also makes us a little sad that tomorrow we have to leave. We present gifts to all those who have looked after us and there are lots of speeches expressing thanks and gratitude to the UK visitors who have come a very long way to help them develop a future for the next generation of girls!!
Thursday 31st - 4am start. We are travelling to Mfuwi today where will be having a real treat – a Safari. The journey is very long and we encounter a problem with the trailer which contains our luggage. As the roads are not tarmac and are very bumpy, the trailer cannot cope and the towbar falls off – oops! All the luggage has to come into the bus and the broken trailer is left at the side of the road. We stop in Chipata to have lunch with the Bishop who is pleased to see us again, but don’t stay long as we still need to reach our final destination. As the night draws in we reach Kapani Lodge just on the edge of the Luangwa National Park and we are introduced to our host for the next 24 hours – Mario – and already some of the team are in love! He makes us very welcome and shows us all to our lodges, there are squeals of delight to be heard as everyone sees a real bed and hot water. A candlelight supper awaits us once we have had a shower and we eat and watch a hippo wallow in the mud – perfect.
Friday 1st November - Safari day. Another early start, we have a luxurious breakfast and then pile into the jeeps. Willy and Shaddy, our guides, come and greet us, we have met them before when they visited St Mary’s last summer and we are soon underway. Around every turn there seems to be a new collection of different animals; cameras click away as we spot elephants, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wart hog, baboon, four different species of antelope, many different birds and then everyone gasps as we come across a pride of lion with a male, three females and six cubs. They have just had a kill and have very full tummies as they sleep and relax in the sun.
On our return to the lodge, lunch is ready and we meet Karen, the leader of Project Luangwa (Aardvark Safaris had put the school in touch with them) and five girls from her girls’ club and they join us to eat. The girls are shy at first but soon they are laughing and chatting to the team. Karen explains that her club has been set up for girls who have had a very poor start in life and they are safer with her at the Project than they are at home. After lunch we are able to present our bras (all 327 of them!) for her to take back to the Project. (The Project has been helping local schoolgirls to acquire school blouses and has also asked for second hand bras for them). This provides a great photo opportunity as all the St Mary’s team, the Project Luangwa team and Mario the manager pose in bras! After they leave Mario takes us to meet Kate (a British lady) who has set up a jewellery business and is training up local women; some of the profits made help with an anti-snaring project. We eagerly look at what is on offer and some of us buy gifts to take home. It is then time to pack and leave for the airport. We say our goodbyes and thank everyone for looking after us; we wish we could have stayed here for another night. On our way, we stop at an Artisan village where we stock up on gifts of wooden animals and fabrics to take home. We check in at Mfuwi airport and wait for our flight to Lusaka, it is sad to leave the Luangwa Park behind. At Lusaka we change planes and head off to Dubai where we have another chance to shop and very quickly board our plane to Heathrow. Many of us sleep all the way home. It has been a tiring week packed full of lifelong experiences and memories.