Friday, April 24, 2015

A Lifechanging Afternoon

24th April 2015

Gideon wants to be a pilot flying long distances to America and even the UK!

In August 2003 I spent an afternoon with Mrs. Sianga who at the time was a nurse working in “Home based care”. This meant visiting patients dying as a result of AIDS. She had no anti-viral drugs, just a few paracetemol tablets and some comforting words.

She took me to see some of her patients. Although I had been in Monze for a week or two, this was the first time that I had entered a house of one the poorer residents. Typically the houses comprise a single room made of bricks – sometimes the houses use 'burnt' bricks and other houses are made of simple mud bricks. The houses have no electricity or running water.

For me it was a humbling experience but one which made me feel very privileged. The people I saw were all dying – some very close to death. Yet, I was welcomed into their houses and was able to understand a little more about the huge challenges they had been facing. I remember that one lady was waiting for her young daughter (her carer) to return with a little sugar that she was begging from neighbours to go with her mother's maize porridge.

That afternoon changed my life! I think it was the experience of meeting these people, of their amazing generosity in sharing their lives in such vulnerable circumstances, that made me want to share my life with the people of Zambia.

I was talking to a friend from church the other day. He spent some time in Zambia in the 70s during a gap year after university. He was saying that he would love to return. He wondered what happened to some of the people he spent time with. I am fortunate that because of my regular trips, I have been able to maintain contact with many people – some who I met in 2003. People such as Jennipher's daughter Sandra who is a nurse in Livingstone, Diven, whose many adventures over the years have kept me busy, and many others who will greet me again when I return in June!

Mrs.Sianga also became attached to the families of her clients. I don't know what happened to the young girl who was looking for sugar. Her mother will have died within a short time of my visit. I am sure Mrs. Sianga didn't forget her. Maybe she became a student at PIZZ School - like so many of the children of those patients.

Fortunately anti-viral drugs are now available, there are still huge numbers of deaths from AIDS related diseases, but there is some hope.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share my life with the people of Monze. Mrs. Sianga has dedicated her life to some of the most vulnerable people in the area and deserves every help she can get. PIZZ School is reliant on the funds that Hands Around the World can raise and obtaining sufficient donations is becoming difficult.

The more people who are willing to engage with the project, the better the chances are to ensure the long term future and development of PIZZ School.

Please forgive me for reminding you that Mike Daly is supporting PIZZ School by running the London Marathon this Sunday – every penny raised will help PIZZ School – if you want to donate you can do so online using this link Mike Daly's Marathon - supporting the children of PIZZ School

Of course donations can also be sent to Hands Around the World at P.O.Box 117, Monmouth NP25 9AR. UK.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hunger in Zambia

5th April 2015 Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

It might surprise some people to realise just how much poverty there is in Zambia. I have just come across a report that puts Zambia in the World's top 10 hungriest countries – in fact if you look at their report Zambia is number 4 in the world, in terms of the percentage of under nourished people . In 2013 they estimated that 47.3% of the people of Zambia were under nourished. The World's 10 Hungriest Countries Last year the rains were not good and the changing weather pattern has continued to make the rain erratic this year. The rains effectively stopped in February – at least a month too early – yet last week the Palm Sunday procession had to be cancelled due to heavy rain. Rather than helping, this rain will have damaged the poor maize crop still in the fields. The crop is therefore again likely to be very poor and hunger even worse.

When talking to Jennipher a couple of weeks back she asked me for help for some of her clients. She told me “people are dying here”. It is hard for us to imagine such a situation. It is not the starvation some agencies like to show on television to shame us into giving, but it is a shortage of nutritious food which results in under nourishment and susceptibility to illness (especially if already HIV+). This is why too many of Jennipher's clients are dying.

It therefore shouldn't surprise us when we hear how important it is that PIZZ School provides a meal for their students.Supporting Orphaned Children at PIZZ School Zambia This year Mike Daly is running the London Marathon to raise funds for PIZZ School. All money raised will go to support the school. He wants to raise sufficient to fund meals at the school for at least 3 Months at a cost of £1,000 - £1,500 (possibly more Mike Daly's London Marathon I am fortunate to have seen students like Mawini grow up – she is now studying medicine at Lusaka university - Maxwell who did very well with his school certificate and GCE and with support will be able to become a science teacher. Others like Samson, and Mwanga – the lovely girl with the smile and frizzy hair who is featured on our Facebook page and some of our posters - I have the joy of knowing personally. I know just what a difference this school has made to some of the poorest children – all who know what it is like to be hungry.

because of the extra students recently taken on by the school). Personally I would like to secure meals for one year! We are also struggling to cover other costs – particularly teacher's wages. If you want to support PIZZ School I would be grateful for your help in spreading the word.

I am therefore wanting to advertise the marathon as widely as possible to ensure that it is a great success. I am sure that with your help the future of this wonderful school can be secured. At this time Mike has raised £811.20 plus Gift Aid – lets watch the total rise!!

Please help me by sharing the links, Thank You,

With my love and prayers for you and your loved ones this Easter,


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jennipher's Portrait at The Garden Gallery

29th March 2015

At this time last year I was in Zambia. On Palm Sunday I was in Monze where I joined in with the procession and services.

Obert and his family attend Our Lady of the Wayside church where I attended the service last year. Obert has an artificial leg, but this hasn't stopped him becoming proficient at riding a bike. Last year he achieved another milestone by passing his driving test. He showed off his new skills by taking me to Pemba (about 35km from Monze) to collect jennipher on my final day.

Obert is currently managing to get a little work driving for a friend, but one day he hopes to have his own taxi. He occasionally rings me to have a chat.

When Jennipher visited us last year, a friend and local artist Sheila Bryant painted her portrait – in fact she created two paintings. One of these paintings will be exhibited at the Garden Gallery in Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham as part of the Easter at Montpellier Gardens events which take place next week  1st April to 7th April.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chasing a drream

24th March 2015

You might remember that when I was in Zambia last year, Diven persuaded me to help him to buy a plot and build a house and shop. For Diven his dream is to have a family, a house and a little business to enable him to provide for them. A relatively modest ambition and one that most of us share. In Diven's case it was a dream that he doubted would ever be possible to fulfil.

The last few months have not been completely straightforward – though since I have been involved with many of Diven's adventures over the years it shouldn't surprise me. The house and shop were roofed and the costs kept rising!! By all accounts the building was good, but it would not be appropriate to have such a building without a decent toilet. More construction was started – thousands of bricks and numerous bags were obtained and what seemed to be a super loo started to take shape. This was just before the start of the rains! It seemed that the construction was not good enough and a disaster occurred. The walls collapsed and water flooded into the foundations. There was concern that the house and shop would also be damaged.

Time has moved on and the toilet has been reconstructed, the house and shop are complete and partially plastered. Shelves and a counter have been installed and Diven is now starting to trade.

The other change in Diven's life is that he found a girlfriend and is now married with a child on the way!! Let's hope that all goes well and Diven realises his dream.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Too many coffins

21st March 2015

Maambo was buried today.

Maambo had too short a life. She died after fighting illness for the past few years. I met her sometime ago when she was in need of some support. Jennipher did her best to help her through difficult times and Maambo responded by supporting Jennipher. She enabled Jennipher to visit the UK last year by being the main carer for Jennipher's children. May she rest in peace.

A lot has happened since my last blog. I will summarise the key events here and fill in the details in subsequent posts. Best has returned to Monze from Livingstone, he has rented an office and is offering legal services. Diven is beginning to sell from his new shop along St. Mary's Road in Monze. Solomon has been very unwell and was not expected to live a few weeks back. Luke's younger brother has started teacher training. Obert is getting a little work as a taxi driver using a friend's car.

The PEASSA project effectively stopped operating some months back. The manager of the major site left without notice. Foot and mouth disease prevented the pigs being sold from the other site. Charles (the PEASSA Director) has been away from Monze on various courses for the past year or more and hasn't been able to deal with the issues. Raymond keeps in touch with me and I try to ensure that his clients - which surprisingly seem to be increasing in number - have some food every so often. Charles has been ill and needed an operation in Lusaka a few weeks back - he is currently recovering.

I had an hour long Skype session with Mrs. Sianga on Thursday. The number of children at the school has increased from 215 last year to 380 currently.
Everyday orphaned children come to her office begging to be granted a place at the school. Some no doubt are tempted by the offer of food and a nice uniform, but that doesn't make them less in need of the chance to escape from a life of poverty. Mrs Sianga faces tremendous challenges - new courses have to be taught including computing - with only 3 laptops and no electricity at the senior school this isn't easy, not to mention the need for new sets of textbooks. Registration Fees have increased from 500 kwacha to 8,000! (about £800). I recognise that for us fundraising can be difficult, but if we find it hard, how can we possibly expect the poor people of Monze to raise the money. I am determined not to let Mrs. Sianga down - more importantly I don't want to take away the hope of the 380 children currently at the school and those now in secondary or higher education. I have a lot of work to do and will need lots of help.

Take care,


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jennipher's Trip - the Legacy

Wednesday 24th September

Another month has passed. I think it is time to write the final episode of Jennipher's trip.

It was a wonderful visit, filled with different experiences. It would be easy to list all the places visited and people met, but that would not do justice to the value of that precious time.

It is always difficult for me coming back from a trip to Zambia and trying to re-adjust to life back in the UK, perhaps this time it has been more difficult because I brought back a bit of Zambia with me. Jennipher has had to return to the difficulties of her life in Pemba. Our close connection was strengthened during her visit. We shared our home and our lives for a few weeks and we came to understand each other better. The differences between our worlds has been reinforced and the huge gap emphasised.

Fortunately Jennipher threw herself into the experience. Everything was different. The climate, long days, rolling green hills, a lack of dangerous animals particularly snakes and crocodiles – there were so many strange things to get used to. Jennipher ate nshima twice during her stay, probably less nshima than she would consume in a normal day in Zambia, but she was so interested and willing to try new foods that she hardly missed it. We were so grateful to Jennipher for throwing herself into our world. It must have been quite frightening and challenging at times.

It was towards the end of her visit that we journeyed to London. She had seen many things but London topped everything. We arrived at Buckingham Palace in time for the changing of the guard, had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Thames and travelled around the city by underground trains. There is certainly nothing in Zambia to compare with these experiences.

Of course we were determined to spoil Jennipher, so we lived more extravagantly while she was with us. I have always tried to be honest about our lives in England and haven't tried to hide the fact that we live a very different life - so perhaps she wasn't too surprised, though of course being told and experiencing the life yourself are very different things. Some people I know in the UK seem to have been too embarrassed by their relative wealth and as a result kept their distance.

I remember once having a decent meal with friends who asked if I found it difficult enjoying a feast while my friends were hungry. My response was that I was happy to spend more than the cost of the dinner on my friends in Zambia and therefore I had no problem. There was another occasion years ago when I was in Rotterdam and I was asked to buy some cakes for tea - they do very nice cakes in the Netherlands. I then realised that the day was designated by CAFOD as “Family Fast Day”. Initially I felt guilty, but then decided to add a letter and turn the fast day into a feast day. Instead of just cakes, I bought biscuits and beer to take back home and really went to town indulging myself. To solve my conscience I had decided that for every £1 I spent (or more accurately guilder) I would donate two to CAFOD. Needless to say CAFOD did very well that year! I would like everyone to be able to enjoy some treats - as Jennipher did in the UK – but this should not be at the expense of the poorest.

It was amazing that Jennipher's interests and concerns so closely matched those of Dilys and myself. We visited the Slimbridge Wetlands and Wildlife Trust reserve and the Forest of Dean where she embraced the natural world, delighting in it's variety - even if some of the creatures seemed to her ripe for the pot! She was interested in people with disabilities, sickness and the homeless in fact all the disadvantaged and marginalised. She enjoyed meeting my friends and family and made a lasting impression on all she met. As I have said before it was a delight and a privilege to have her stay with us.

Since returning to Zambia she has been busy. The harvest this year has been poor and food is beginning to get scarce and expensive. Most of the money Jennipher was given while in the UK has been converted into maize before prices get too high. Her main support groups have each received a small stock for when times begin to get hard.

In discussion with the Hands Around the World volunteers Jennipher took in a mother and baby and two young children. The mother and baby weren't in the best of health and some extra food was needed for the baby – unfortunately the child wasn't strong enough and died a couple of weeks back, the child was buried with dignity at Pemba. The mother is still will Jennipher, though not in the best of health. She is supporting the other children but feels that her accommodation is small for her growing family.

I am still in very regular contact with other friends in Monze. Diven has finished building his house and shop - though how it is complete when there is no roof I am not sure! There is also the issue of a toilet! It is good to hear him so happy and proud that one of his dreams is near fruition. Mrs. Sianga enjoyed having the volunteers and the Holiday Club. More than 60 students had a wonderful day in Livingstone and the volunteers found out that children in Zambia aren't so different from their counterparts in the UK.

I am well aware that the rainy season is a month or so away. This will bring good news but crops will take a while to grow. It will also bring challenges – some buildings which are not watertight will be in danger of collapse, the mosquitoes will be very active and the rate of malaria will rise. Flooding will also bring its own hazards. The maize harvest will not happen until March/April at the earliest, food prices will rise and during the next few months their will be a lot of hunger in Monze.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday 26th August

Once again I have failed to maintain my blog – apologies.

A lot has happened. Hands around the World volunteers have spent 4 weeks in Monze and are on their way back as I write. I have just come back from Pontypool where a container is being packed today and will soon start its journey to Monze.

I produced a photobook of Jennipher's visit and was able to send a copy to her with the volunteers. I will use the book to bring back memories of her visit.

I look at some pictures of Ogmore and Raglan castles. Jennipher told us that when she is back in Zambia she will be able to show the people a real castle. People in Zambia only know castle as a brand of beer!!

One of Jennipher's groups has land close to a small reservoir and they would like to grow vegetables to make themselves more self-sufficient. During her visit Jennipher met members of a small bible group and told them a bit about herself and her work. In return they donated some money. Last week I was able to send this money to Jennipher, because she can buy a treadle pump which should make the dream of a vegetable garden come true for the Hatontola Support Group. Next year I hope to see the pump in action. For me it is a delight to be so close to such small projects and being able to monitor and report of the impact.

I see a photo of Jennipher with Martin Horwood – our local MP – who wrote a very supportive letter which I am sure influenced the decision to grant Jennipher a visa this year. We had the opportunity to meet him and thank him personally for his sup

There were many new experiences for Jennipher during her stay. A train journey – only to Gloucester - but enough to show her the differences between Zambian and UK trains. She was amazed at the air conditioning, but the speed, the cleanliness and general comfort are also a long way from the experience of the Zambian Railway. Of course the London Underground was another thing altogether, but again Jennipher delighted in the experience and put aside any fears.

Nelson Mandela is one of Jennipher's heros and she was delighted to find a large portrait of him in Gloucester and the statue in London literally brought her to tears.

Jennipher is a very caring person and has a particular affinity with the most vulnerable. We visited the Leonard Cheshire Home in Cheltenham where she saw an electric wheelchair for the first time and was surprised that the residents didn't need to buy them themselves. We were given a tour of the home by Paula – one of the residents – and Jennipher was introduced to Loom Bands by another. (Jennipher was subsequently shown how to make bracelets by my 8 year old granddaughter Cheyenne and I hear that now Selina has a little business in Pemba selling Loom bracelets to her friends!) Jennipher was asked to return to the Leonard Cheshire Home one evening to talk to the residents – this worked very well and clearly had an impact.

During a visit to my sister in Milton Keynes we had a meal at a restaurant staffed largely by people with learning difficulties. Jennipher was delighted to see these people living a fulfilled and largely independent life. She was very complimentary about the way people with disabilities are treated in the UK – I hope that it continues to be the case! However, the most amazing thing she saw at Milton Keynes was an elderly friend of Theresa (my sister) catching a good sized bream and then returning it to the canal!! No one in Zambia would throw away good food like that!! She had previously asked Nick at the Leonard Cheshire Home whether he ever ate any of his goldfish!

Since Jennipher left she has been in regular contact. She has also spend some time with the Hands Around the World volunteers, who she first met at our office near Monmouth introducing them to some of her support groups.. Some money she raised has been used to buy maize while the prices are still affordable – this will be stored for the difficult months to come. I am sure it will help but it is unlikely to stop the hunger that some of her clients will suffer.

I will close here, though there is a lot more to say.

Best wishes