Thursday, 15 June 2017

Engaging With Our Heads, Not Just Our Hearts

Over the years we have learnt that as important as our heart is, we can’t lead with that alone, we need to use our head too. We need to be smart about how we partner with the communities in Zambia and avoid doing harm.

As a team we are always evaluating what we do, wanting to do it better. We read books and blogs, we research and read reports, we look around at others who we can learn from, always on a quest to not just “do something” but do something well. You might remember a blog post from us last year talking about Toxic Charity and how the concepts in that book really resonated with us and have informed some of how we work, so that we can avoid becoming “toxic” in what we do.

As part of this learning, last month here in the UK, we invited a couple over from the US to share their wisdom and experiences with us, to help us evaluate our journey so far, to spark discussion and ask us the right questions as we head in to this next season. The couple, Shawn and Holly Duncan, are based in Atlanta and have worked alongside Robert Lupton, the author of ‘Toxic Charity’, as well as lead their own organisations focusing on healthy community strategy and engagement.

The time with Shawn and Holly was invaluable, and as often the way with such discussions, left us with more questions than answers - but the questions are good! Here are just a few (of the many) we are continuing to think about and discuss:

How do we continue to build healthy and meaningful engagement with each community?

How do we engage in a more robust framework so our models aren’t reactionary models?

How do we better focus on the person and their potential (strengths, abilities) rather than the lack and need we see?

We fully believe that everyone has something to contribute. Everyone. We choose to go beyond ourselves, knowing the moment we make ourselves the heroes of the narrative we are in a dangerous place. 

Our heart is, and always has been, to see communities restored. Not just educational or economic restoration. We want to see communities, and the individuals within them, flourishing. So we choose time and time again to engage our heads, not just our hearts, to do this well, to do this better.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Meet Janet - One of the small entrepreneurs that Zambia thrives on

I first met Janet a back at the end of 2016 when she was invited by Mary, the Head of Kawama School, to talk about her journey to becoming a small business woman to the Grade 7s just before they moved from Primary School to Secondary education. Janet is Mary’s cousin and was one of several speakers invited to talk about moving up in education and what the pupils could aspire to in adult life.

Janet talking to the school leavers at Kawama
Janet now lives in Chimwemwe, which is a township situated between Kawama School and Greater Joy School. Janet told me when, I met recently, that as a child she had been brought up by her extended family in a small village in a rural area. There were no shops nearby and most people survived on what they grew locally. However, her uncle realised that some people would walk into the nearby market town to buy a few goods each week. This would take them a long time and was not an easy journey. He decided to start up a small business from his home. Janet and her aunt started to go into the market each week, and buy goods, like oil and salt, to sell to their neighbours. She was taught very early on how to bargain for goods and the value of buying in larger quantities. She understood that when her family bought goods cheaply and sold them at a higher price, they would be able to have a better standard of living themselves.

Janet with her cousin Mary ar Kawama School
Because Janet was so useful to her family, and became very good at getting a good bargain, she didn’t have much formal education. Instead she learned how to run a business, even at the tender age of 12.

When she married, she decided to use her business skills to support her growing family. With her husband, she set up an Ntemba in front of her house. An Ntemba is a small kiosk, often smaller than a basic garden shed in UK, which generally sells small amounts of the basic items such as flour, eggs and bread. She explained to me how she could make a profit by buying a tray of eggs but selling them individually. Having an Ntemba meant that someone from the family had to be available from early in the morning until late at night, to serve the customers. However, Janet managed to do this as well as look after her growing family. Now as her family are getting older they also help to run and serve in the Ntemba.

Janet now makes sure that not only do her children understand how to run a business, but that they, unlike her, are able to attend school. Janet has now extended her business. She travels to many places in Zambia and even further afield such as Botswana to buy goods, often rugs and blankets or small electrical goods that may not be available or which she can buy more cheaply than in Zambia. Janet knows that her neighbours are not able to buy these goods in one down payment, so she runs a ‘lay by’ system where customers pay a small amount each week, until they have paid for the much wanted item. Janet explained to me how she uses the small lump sum that she has to maximise her profit. Although on a small scale, Janet is an excellent example of how to run a business in Zambia.

The outside of the Ntemba at the rear of Janet's home
Janet's family help serve in this 'Aladdin's Cave' of goods
Life has improved for Janet and her family. Through their own hard work and initiative. Her husband, who works as a driver, also supports the business in his spare time, making this a true family affair.

It was fascinating to talk to Janet, a lady with so little formal education as we understand it, but so many talents.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Menstrual Hygiene Day 28th May

For over two years now we’ve been discussing and working on addressing menstrual hygiene in the schools and communities we work with. Girls and women face challenges in this area of life as disposable sanitary pads are expensive and often not affordable. Girls, especially those whose parents have passed away and are living with extended family, often aren’t bought sanitary pads and are left to use dirty old rags as a means of managing their periods.

It’s our aim to give girls and women dignity in this area of their lives. So often there is shame when talking about menstruation but it is our hope that we can help remove this shame through honest and open conversation but also with providing females with access to sanitary products.

As many of you know, we make reusable sanitary pads here in Zambia to sell (at a subsidised and affordable price) to girls and women. We’ve sold approximately 70 pad packs over the last year, to the older girls in the schools we partner with, former pupils who have heard about this initiative and to the teachers. We are now beginning to get requests from women in the community asking for these pads as well. There is a great need for products like these in some communities.

If you’d like to help provide reusable sanitary pads for a girl or woman, please click here to visit our Alternative Gift store.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Zambia For Tourists

Trying to get accurate and up to date figures on the various sectors of the Zambian economy is very difficult if not impossible. The Mining industry, mainly copper, has been Zambia’s biggest source of income for many years but due to various worldwide factors the money raised from this sector is decreasing. Tourism meanwhile is growing. As many of you may have seen there has been quite a lot of information in the European and US press regarding Zambia’s potential. At the moment Zambia mainly relies on just two main advertising routes, the Mighty Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and Safaris and wildlife.

Many people would combine both attractions visiting Victoria Falls first. These majestic Falls on the Zambezi River need little introduction. You can visit them all times of year and get a very different feel from an almost dry rock face and cliffs in the dry season to a raging torrent and dense spray all around in the wet season.

Victoria Falls in the dry season
Looking from above Victoria Falls over a very dry Zambezi River at sunset

The Falls with all the spray

Victoria Falls in full flow

Although Livingstone has a small wildlife park, the two major parks are some distance away. Kafue National Park is a huge wildlife area the size of Wales and South Luangwa National Park is smaller but is more suitable for tourists. Both are at least one and a half days drive away from Livingstone. Roads in Zambia are often of poor quality so many people will prefer to fly, but of course that means higher costs. Both parks have all of the “traditional” African animals such as Lion, Leopard and Elephant along with many other animals, birds and reptiles. 

Early morning mist on the Kafue River

Puku in the sunset beside a lake in Kafue

Spotted Hyena on the main road in Kafue

Lion cub drinking from a pool by Kafue River

Lion affection in Kafue

Young Elephant playing in a mud wallow

Lion fight in South Luangwa

A nocturnal hunter, the Leopard

Thorneycroft Giraffe in South Luangwa

The Lilac Breasted Roller, one of the most beautiful birds in Zambia

The Crowned Crane with Elephants watching

Wild Dogs play fighting

Friday, 5 May 2017

What’s the point of knowing what a balanced diet consists of if you can’t prepare one?

This was the message for a great lesson I happened to see when visiting Greater Joy School a few weeks ago. The grade 6 class had been looking at a healthy balanced diet in science and so the training teacher in the class decided to teach a hand on lesson to demonstrate what this looks like in ‘real life’. The lesson consisted of preparing a feast with as many different food types as possible.

Here the teacher is discussing potatoes – as she prepared the potatoes for a Beef stew she discussed the starch in them, the need for energy foods, she reminded the children to use the correct scientific language to describe these food groups ‘Carbohydrates’. As you can see from the photo there was a wide range of food available – not normally what we expect to see from our community schools. The feast was a result of careful planning and preparation– The teachers had divided the class into 3 groups – carbohydrates, fruit and vegetable and protein. Then within each group they had asked for different food items – discreetly asking more vulnerable families to bring the cheaper easily available food such as tomatoes grown in their own garden. Wealthier pupils were asked to contribute meat or fruit. A very clever way to ensure that all pupils were able to be ‘equal’ in their contribution to the lesson.

Challenging stereotypes...The teacher asks “who wants to fry the fish?” - Many of the boys were keen to try cooking as this is normally a ‘women’s job at home.

Preparing potatoes for the potato salad
Gutting fish ready for seasoning. Children learning about different types of protein but also how to prepare and season fish for cooking. 

Sifting for stones in the rice
I was completely distracted from my normal work and found myself joining in and asking children questions about food and cooking at home. Sadly I had to leave before the feast began but was very glad to have had a glimpse of some truly great and inspirational teaching.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reflections From Cranleigh Students

As an introduction to Kawama Community School, we observed a Grade 5 class, taught by Barbara. The children were learning irregular verbs in English, and they were very enthusiastic. Every child participated and thoroughly engaged in the lesson. They showed great respect towards Barbara, and impressive determination. One girl achieved 10/10 on the verbs exercise, and it was inspiring to see her pride in this. We moved on to Grade 1 for their printing class, which is part of their national curriculum. Their energy was great, whilst also being rather chaotic! The teacher, Doreen, kept control of the situation, and remained a calm presence in the room. After lunch, we had the opportunity to interview the school director, Pastor Cephas, and two of the school cooks. We learnt more about them individually, in addition to Zambian life in general. Cephas explained that people’s approach towards education has been improving over the past few years and the Kawama community are beginning to appreciate the work the school is doing.

On Saturday, we went to “Mechanics for Africa”, an organisation that trains mechanics over a 2 year course, at the end of which they achieve a City & Guilds accredited Diploma. We met Jason, who runs the charity, and he helped us understand the aims and objectives of the project. After a short safety briefing we learnt the basic principles of how to service a car and the excellent tuition by MFA mechanics meant that everyone was confident on how to change a tyre, check and replace the oil, clean the air filter and check battery voltage. We found it interesting to speak with the mechanics as they all had aspirations of opening their own garage in the future. 

A statement from Jason stayed with many of us: “Africa doesn’t need help, it needs opportunities.” This really made us reflect on sustainability and how ‘charity’ is more about giving people the opportunity to earn their own source of reliable income.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Getting It...

After a trip to Zambia, I often get asked what was the highlight of the trip?

There were the obvious moments; being with friends and colleagues again after a few months away from them, meeting our newest addition to the team family (baby Charlie Isaiah Whitcombe!), seeing the teachers at our partner schools continuing to flourish in the classroom. And of course, there’s always the opportunity for bean sorting!

But often for me, when we have visiting teams, the highlight is always the same. And never was it more so than on this recent trip with Cranleigh School.

My highlight is journeying with people as they start to “get it”.

By that we mean…getting to grips with the big issues, the big questions that are part of the everyday when you are involved in development and not-for-profit life.

There is something so special to me about walking with people, especially young people, as they begin to grapple with the injustice in our world, the inequality, the pain and struggle and yet at the same time witness them be surprised and inspired by the hope, the faith, the development, the possibilities for the future.

To see them start to unpick what they had previously been told was true, what the media has shown them to be true and challenge it head on. To truly understand the land, its culture and its people.

To realise that we don’t have the answers, that we aren’t the ‘saviours’ coming to bestow all our knowledge and goodness on those who are less fortunate than ourselves. That in fact, historically ‘we’ have got it so wrong and caused more damage than good, creating dependency and not offering empowerment and sustainability at all.

It’s the main reason we do trips, we aren’t a tour company. If people want to go to a developing nation and feel good about ‘helping the poor’ then we’re not the organisation for them!

My heart for the students (and anyone) we have visit Zambia with us is that they might be challenged and changed. That they might take all that they taste, see, hear, smell and touch, and have it stay with them. So that, as people of influence and affluence they might make choices that impact others well.

That they might be part of the generation that truly makes a difference.