|One of those Zambian sunsets|
Over the next week I’m planning on writing a series of blog posts on our adventures and short of any better ideas I’m going to take it chronologically figuring I will at least be less likely to miss something this way! So starting off where we began, our first stop, after a 24 hour trip via Kenya and a whole lot of very bumpy dirt roads, was the Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education(FCE) in Masaiti, an hour or so from the town of Ndola in Northern Zambia.
The centre itself was a veritable Eden after the long journey and certainly seems to be an Eden for the local community. Nested in the middle of the bush, it is a buzzing education centre for the purposes of development. From teacher training to farming techniques, and providing courses for visiting groups like ours, the centre has a varied and far reaching programme. The ethos of the place is firmly on giving your best, whether your role be in hospitality, laying bricks or tending an orchard - and it shows.
|Mango trees being organically grown and then sold on to local people to cultivate at home|
Their view on development was infinitely practical and empowering. They teach that Africa is rich in resources and work to empower people to access them through education and training. They don’t train people to use fertilizers other than ones they can make themselves from what they can find in the bush. Bricks for house building are fired on site and made straight from the dust of the earth.
After a night of catching up on sleep we were off to the local school for assembly and then into the villages (on foot with the help of some sympathetic school children who took pity on us and lead the way!) for an overnight stay to see the situation that FCE is working in to for ourselves. Doing the walk that the children do twice daily to school in the baking afternoon heat was itself an eye opening experience. Particularly when you consider that most children eat once a day in the evening and so are walking for several hours daily on an empty stomach.
The village, like most of them in this incredibly rural part of the world, consisted of a few dozen straw roofed huts surrounded by basic crops such as maize and tomatoes. Houses are one or two rooms to house families of five to ten people. Chickens scratch around in the dust but are only eaten once a year for Christmas. The intensity of poverty struck me immediately. There is no back up here. One failed harvest and the result is starvation.
|The village we stayed at with traditional huts made from bush grass and mud|
Men and women rarely mix in this traditional village culture and the father of the family sat as far away from me as was physically possible while still keeping within vague shouting distance. I quickly excused myself to join the women (who sit on the floor, only men get chairs!!) and very soon the stories started rolling.
The most remarkable person I met was Foibe. Aged just 14 she had set up a micro business from her front door selling drinks and snacks to fund her secondary school education. Dressed in a long grey suit skirt and pink shirt she stood out immediately, a shiny example of future hope. When I asked her about her plans as she taught me to cook, Zambian style over a camp fire, she laughed at the possibility of marriage. ‘That is the problem, girls marry so young and everything stays the same. I am going to get a job and help my family.’And trust me, she will.
The stories from the women were heartbreakingly similar. No one has escaped the pain of the death of a child, bracelets from the witch doctor around the babies ankles attest to that very real fear. The mother of the family we were staying with counted off on her fingers the five of her children that had died and at what age. It’s hard to comprehend that level of suffering.
It was a stark introduction to the grinding realities of poverty. I couldn’t look around and give vain platitudes about how nice it is to live in community or glorify the ‘simple life’. That life is painful and unspeakably hard. Poverty has no golden hue of times gone past around it - it is rough and gritty like sand paper. And yet the next morning, as we gathered the nursery age children together for some activities to prepare them for starting school, the promise that Foibe displayed was shown over and over again.
|Just one of the grogeous children we met|
We sang, we laughed, they charged around in the dust and my heart wanted to burst for how wonderful it was. At that moment there was nowhere better on this earth than sat there in the brilliant African sun with those children, so full of life. Laughter was a common sound in the villages and it spoke to me about how resilient the human spirit is. What a privilege to see, what an amazing few days.…and that was just the start of the journey! Much, much more to come….!