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Offaly secondary school students recount memorable trip to Zambia

Group will give a short presentation about their trip on Friday in the school

Offaly secondary school  students recount memorable trip to Zambia

Killina students in Zambia with local children

Earlier in the summer, three teachers and eleven students headed off from Killina Presentation Secondary School to Zambia, Africa.

This was the second trip by the Zambia Immersion Programme team to the country. The aim of the visit was for the students, and teachers, to experience first hand the day to day life of another culture.

The programme was initially set up with the help of the Presentation Sisters here in Ireland through Global Education Experience and some Presentation Sisters in Zambia. The visit was the culmination of ten months of preparation by the team.

Whilst in Zambia the students worked in a school with students of a similar age and exchanging knowledge on their cultures. Bringing students from TY and 5th year, it was important that the group as a whole was prepared as much as possible and worked well together before heading so far away from parents to experience so many different situations.

The group would like to invite anyone who is interested in the program and all those who have supported us on this journey to attend a short presentation we are giving about our trip on Friday, October 6 in Killina Presentation Secondary School at 7:30pm. Refreshments will be provided afterwards.

Here is their account of the trip:

After two long plane journeys we arrived in Lusaka on June 5. Our first trip was to visit the Irish Embassy in Lusaka. Here we met with Ambassador Seamus O’Grady who explained to us the role of the embassy and IrishAid in Zambia.

They are great supporters and funders of various community projects across the country and also get to work with government agencies to help improve different systems. Then we headed west on a 6 hour bus journey (not including 4 hour breakdown!) to Kaoma, which was to be our home for the next couple of weeks.

Our home for our time there was buildings adjoined to an orphanage set up by the presentation nun, Sr. Molly. Here the children are cared for by their ‘mother’ Rita. An amazing woman who has dedicated her life to caring for these children who have no-one else. We got to play and interact with the children there every evening and got to know them all very well. It was hard to say goodbye when we were leaving.

One of our primary objectives was to visit a school on the outskirts of town as we are also a rural school. Mahilo School provides education for children aged from 4 to 18. It has basic buildings which struggle to cope with a school cohort of over 1400 students. We received a very warm welcome from the students on our arrival. They gathered to greet us with songs and a hand-made banner.The excitement of our arrival was felt on both sides. From working closely with a group of 40 students it became evident to us that although the school had very little resources, education was important to the students and they enjoyed being there. It is hard not to make comparisons to Ireland where we have a multitude of educational resources.

It was a harsh reality to learn that no matter what their aspirations may be, whether it’s a doctor, teacher or nurse, more than 90% of Mahilo students will not continue past grade 9, equivalent to our junior cert. It was humbling to see the enthusiasm with which they received our simple resources such as copies, footballs, sports equipment. At the same time it was encouraging to see the students in Mahilo swapping Facebook addresses with our own students so that technology will allow some friendships to continue across the continents.

Whilst in Kaoma we got to visit some of the projects set up by the Presentation Sisters in the area. Sr. Molly, who hails from Tipperary, runs the orphanage. Thankfully due to continuing supports in the treatment and management of AIDS the numbers of children currently living in the orphanage are greatly reduced.

In order to fund this Molly has a large farm, butchers, and guesthouse which is rented to travelling groups. She also set up the local community school in town which now has over 1200 students. We also got the opportunity to visit the hospital with Sr. Mbololua who works there. It was difficult to see the meagre resources that qualified for a hospital, especially the labour ward. We took one day out from school to visit a local village, Kabanga. Here Sr. Inez set up a home based care program with the help of the Friends of Nano, who take care of the community there. It is a place where women with HIV come to get ARV drugs and to meet with their peers.

The whole community came out to welcome us warmly with songs and dancing and shared a meal with us. The students and teachers all got involved and nobody was thinking of illnesses as we danced around, singing, in the green. Sr. Inez also has a small farm that she is currently developing in order to train families that a large amount of food can be grown organically in a very small space.

She is teaching the importance of nutrition in early childhood development and when using ARV drugs. Another visit we made was to Sr. Terri’s Garden of Oneness. She developed a spiritual garden where the community can come to reconnect with each other and their faith. Whilst there on our previous visit they donated a tree to us to plant in the garden so that Rahan would always have a link there. This year we tended to it with manure and water, it is coming along lovely.
Also in Kaoma we visited Sr. Virginia’s Fish farm and organic farm.

This was set up to teach locals to farm healthy crops easily in there small plots so they can have more nutritious family meals. The fish are farmed in six large pools on the farm. They are currently working with a university to better the growth rates and the money they make from selling the fish is used for the training programs. Some of this money will also be used with a loan system Sr. Virgina has set up so local women can work together in small groups to set up businesses.

After Kaoma we headed further west to Mongu. Here we visited a school for physically disabled children set up by two Irish Presentation Sisters, Sr. Cathy and Sr. Stella. They take in children from babies until they are 18 and provide education, rehabilitation and medical care. Although they are state funded it was clear the resources were scarce, hand made wheelchairs and a large ratio of carers to children. However it was clear that the children were loved and cared for.

It was hard for our students to experience initially however they were quick to get down on the ground to play with the children, most of whom had no English, many with deformed limbs, some deaf or dumb. The children there were so happy with the company and playing games with our students. Whilst there we celebrated World Children’s Day with the students

Our final stop before heading home was back in Lusaka to visit an organisation for children there. Barefeet was an organization set up in Lusaka to help the young struggling street children. Through play, creativity, music and drama the group at Barefeet were able to give the children of Zambia a chance that they would never have got before. Using the power of performance, educational workshops, and more, they develop vulnerable youth into physically healthy and socially competent young people.

Barefeet was set up in 2006 by a young Irish man named Adam McGuigan because he found himself living on the streets of Lusaka after he had his passport stolen. He seen first hand the inhuman conditions children were living in on the streets and this drove him to make a change.

Adam made Barefeet about change, about fun, about achieving transformation through mischief, hard work, but always laughter and a smile. Here the young children are able to learn in a safe environment and can attempt to help get themselves off the streets. We heard the stories of some of the committee who themselves had been living on the streets before they got involved with Barefeet. It is a wonderful organisation that is trying to bring the message to other areas of Zambia and it was great to get to visit them in Lusaka. We exchanged songs, dances and games on our visit.

One of the aims of our immersion programme was that we would have a deeper understanding of their culture and to see first-hand the importance of the work of the presentation community in another part of the world. This was definitely something we were made aware of by seeing the impact that the Presentation Sisters have had on the communities in Kaoma and Mongu.

The people they work with have such love and respect for the sisters it’s clear that they are having a positive influence in the areas they work. As a group the visit has given us a deep awareness of the inequalities that exist in our world and a greater ability to empathise and see where help is needed. It has taught us that we are all part of a global community that share the same values and we each have a role to play in that community. We look forward to hopefully returning to visit the Sisters in Zambia once again in the future.

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