OVER my Easter Holidays, I embarked on a trip of a lifetime to visit Zambia and see first hand the conditions of the Developing World and the success of Tullamore College’s Gemini Ireland Charity. I was very lucky to get this opportunity to go as part of the programme established in Tullamore College.
By Michelle Molloy
During Transition Year, I studied Development Education as part of my modules. This was a chance to learn about the challenges people face and how we can help make a difference. This course is in partnership with the NGO, Self Help Africa. The organisation’s mission is to provide practical support to rural communities through capacity building, through participatory partnerships and to promote learning, dissemination, and advocacy.
The trip was offered to one student and teacher so an interview took place, to my amazement I was selected to go! Self Help Africa organises school trips every year to countries where their programmes are in action. I went with students and teachers from four other schools across Ireland and workers from the organisation.
We left Ireland early and arrived in Zambia after three gruelling flights totalling to 13 hours. I spent the first three days in the capital Lusaka, as I came to my bearings I was stunned by what I saw, I expected to see a large run down town but instead it was a large urban city, getting bigger and bigger with the western influences such as franchises like KFC or SPAR. There were modern buildings and people wore fashionable clothes.
Even when I was talking to the locals they lived similar lifestyle to us, they had Facebook and go to nightclubs, they were well educated with good jobs in the areas like the financial and medical sector; they listened to Rihanna and followed Manchester United (not everyone here follows that I suppose!) while I may have been 10,000 miles away from home, life in Lusaka felt just like Ireland, but as you depart from the city, where I spent the remainder of the trip you begin to see the contrasts that you always I hear but never want to believe.
There is a huge difference between the rural areas and the urban districts. We visited Chipata and Lundazi two regions where Self Help Africa have successful projects implemented. The surroundings are what you imagine in famine times or on the adverts on television, the houses are made from clay mud and thatched roofs are dispersed everywhere throughout the villages. They are small circular where families of five or six live in. There livelihoods are based out under the sky on the land.
Farming is the main economic activity in Zambia, and maize is the main crop type. They are very kind people and often told me that they ‘were the people of peace’ since Zambia has never had a civil war or unrest with neighbouring countries. They take pride in their tribes and when we met Chief Nzamane in Chipata, his hospitality was warm as he showed us around and seeing the impact the projects in place have and the different methods used to utilise agriculture better such as better seed quality, food security and the use of barrier crops which prevents the spread of pesticides and infections.
The women do the majority of the work, they do the farming, cooking, cleaning and raised their families. Often in the city, the council workers on the streets are women. I applaud these women, they are the role models we should all look up to, they work in tough conditions, doing the majority of duties and responsibilities often not treated as equals in their marriage and despite this they continue to be proud women and nothing can stop them. I met one woman farmer, her name was Precious, and her life was filled with stories about how she overcomes the problems she encounters.
Life is tough but working on six acres can offer her five children an education, one of whom is a teacher and supports the entire family for three months every year as there are no crops harvested for an income. She told me it is hard but it could be worse and has been.
There are very happy people wearing vibrant clothes expressing their happiness, while we think it’s the end of the world if we don’t get that new dress or the latest iPhone, they live a content life, dancing with us to Sharkia’s Waka waka song during a stop off point repeating again and again ‘this time for Africa.’
The children were a breath of fresh air, bursting to know more about who we were and wanting us to play soccer with their ball made of plastic bags and draughts that had bottle caps as checkers. They loved getting their picture taken and seeing it, laughing at the sight of it!
Some were striking poses for me and one child cried because I didn’t take her picture! They were very friendly some followed me for a couple of miles to see where I was going and if I was planning on tickling them again as that sparked plenty of devilment!
One thing I really admired while visiting the projects for the reduction of poverty (PROP) and Eastern Province Farmers Cooperative (EPFC) they showed me what community is all about, the importance of having your friends and neighbours, working together to develop their area by building new facilities to offer the people. This was evident when I met two ladies who were filling a well with water so the builders could begin straight away the following day, it didn’t bother the women that they had to walk five miles to collect this water.
It was a community project and doing this extra work was worth the effort. This commitment for the benefit of others is something I believe has faded in Ireland as greed and materialism has hindered this. This is a true sense of community and I hope it will return someday to Ireland.
There are certain aspects of their lives I will never quite fully understand but they showed me a new perspective on the important things in life, so here is some food for thought, your health is your wealth, happiness is found in the home with the people closest to your heart and no matter how badly we think we are in the economic downturn, we still have so much more than these people will ever have and we should learn to value this lesson and value the little things we take for granted, I certainly valued my bathroom as it beats a field any day!!
The memories will long be treaded in my mind and I will never forget the adventure it brought me.