Sunday, November 29, 2015

Preparing for Christmas

28th November

I am surprised to realise that I haven't written on my blog since August. Perhaps because I am in almost daily contact with my friends from Zambia I can't imagine that I haven't been in touch with you as well.

The rains in Zambia have just started. This will be a big relief. Water levels were very low this year leading the government to ration electricity – the main source of power being hydro-electric from the Kariba Dam. The local people will now have to gamble on whether they expect the rains to continue reliably or whether they might stop - leading to drought and lost crops. In recent years it has been almost impossible to get sufficient consistent rainfall to give a good maize crop. Some people are growing other crops, but in recent history food in Zambia has meant nshima – a food made from maize flour. For a Zambian it is very important to grow your own maize.

My friends continue to struggle along.

Jennipher found Sandra's death very difficult and her health has not been too good. She recently spent a week in Choma just to have a bit of a break – the doctor suggested that she needed 3 weeks rest! She continues to be very busy helping her many support groups to move forward. Some of these groups raised a little money as a revolving fund. Members can borrow money for small projects – they are then expected to repay the money so that it can be passed to another member etc. On Tuesday it is World AIDS day so they will be meeting for celebrations. Jennipher has taken in a 19 year old girl who has contracted AIDS. She is trying to help her to manage the condition, but is concerned about the risks to her children. People with AIDS are susceptible to a range of infections – particularly TB. It is these infections (rather than AIDS) which present the major risk. Jennipher wants to build a single roomed house where she can house people like this girl. She is keen that the local support group helps by making bricks. She will probably look for help to roof the building when it is built – after the rainy season.

Diven's house and shop are now plastered on the outside and gutters and gulleys have been made to take the water from his buildings. He still has no plaster on the inside and most windows have been bricked up because of insufficient funds. Delia gave birth to a baby boy called Paul who is doing well. Business is tricky these days as costs have been rising rapidly because of the drop in value of
the kwacha. From 10 kwacha to the pound when I arrived in Zambia, it briefly hit 20 kwacha to the pound a couple of weeks ago. Diven remains cheerful despite the challenges he has to provide for his family.

Best has found it difficult to get enough work in Monze and Choma. Recently he set up an office in Livingstone, but still finds getting work a challenge. He has decided that he needs to do more studies to gain a licence to operate as a solicitor. He wants to start in January, but as usual the costs are high. He will make a considerable contribtion, but without support will not be able to proceed.

Raymond and Charles have not yet revived the PEASSA project, yet there are people relying on them to provide some basic food to keep body and soul together.

Obert had hoped to have his leg mended. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to repair the leg and he needs a replacement. He says that his spare leg is too short which makes walking difficult, though he still manages to do some driving.

We have just moved into Advent – a time of preparation for Christmas. In our secular world we are told that we must go out and spend like there is no tomorrow – in fact apparently our (economic) survival relies on this process. I think that we really must question the model by which or lives are ruled.

For several years I had a big problem with Christmas. How could I embrace the enormous excesses of the season, while people I know well are just hoping they will have something to eat. My friends and family receive very few personal presents from me, but they know that some people in Zambia will have a little extra food, some seed to grow maize, next term's school fees paid, a roof to keep out this year's rain or something else which will make a lot of difference to their Christmas.

If I don't get another chance, I wish you a wonderful peaceful and life-giving Christmas – a time when you experience the real spirit of Christmas full of joy and love.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Returning Home

SANDRA - May she Rest in Peace
Friday 14th August

I have been home for a week. I should be used to returning home by now, but that doesn't make the transition easy. Perhaps jumping from one world to another makes it more difficult. I am suddenly in a different environment, where most people cannot understand the experiences that have been commonplace for me over the past few weeks.

Last Tuesday was my last day in Monze. I like the spend my last day seeing friends and saying goodbye, however I had a few appointments that needed to be fulfilled. I had arranged to see some more students who would be added to the list awaiting sponsorship and then to meet the teachers and listen to their issues.

Unfortunately Mrs. Sianga's aunt died and Mrs. Sianga had travelled back to her village to be with the family. Killian had been given some details of the meetings arranged but a few aspects were lost in the process. In the event I was able to see some of the teachers. I knew that their main concern was the small salaries they were receiving. I explained the situation to them which seemed to steal their thunder – in the event they said little. I am aware that the teachers receive very little and struggle to cover the basic costs of rental and utility bills. Having sufficient food for their families is an issue and they cannot afford to send their children to secondary school or college. I fight hard to provide ongoing funding for the school, but I am aware it is inadequate.

I tried to explain the situation and the fact that it is easier to get funds for buildings and equipment than for salaries and other routine bills. Yet buildings without teachers don't provide a school. I said how much I appreciated what they were doing to improve the lives of the children. Despite salaries of about 25% of government teachers (who are no better qualified) the school has produced pass rates at grade 9 of 40%-60+% compared with a government pass rate that I am told is about 10%. However, I recognise that giving praise without any reward seems somewhat hollow!

It is very difficult to motivate the staff – and stop the best teachers from leaving – when I am aware how difficult it will be to obtain any increased funding for salaries.

I met another 10 children, spoke briefly to them and took photos.

I decided that I should visit Charles and say goodbye. I had forgotten to give Raymond the card reader that I had gone to such bother to obtain and didn't bring it with me, resulting in Raymond having to make the long trip back with me. On my return journey I called in to see Diven and suggested he came with me in the morning to the coach station (Tooters Roadhouse). He could then use my taxi to collect the mattress and sheets which I had been using. It is about time that Diven and his wife had a mattress to sleep on.

Precious came around in the evening to say goodbye. Eventually I got around to packing and was sorted before settling down to my last night in Monze.

On Wednesday I called a taxi said goodbye to Deana and Jane and called on Diven – who was almost ready!! At Roadhouse I was told that the next Mazandu or Shalom bus with seats didn't leave until 12 hrs. (i.e. in 3 hours time).There was another coach apparently leaving at 10 hrs, but I hadn't heard the name before. The guys (even from Shalom) assured me the coaches were OK, so I booked my seat. It set off at about 10.45 which was a little early by my estimation!!

I chose to let Joe take me to Longacres Lodge for 40 kwacha. As I arrive at the Intercity bus station there is always a gang of taxi drivers hoping for business. I try to avoid the first in the queue, who has fought his way to the front. (it is interesting to note that I can never recall seeing a female taxi driver!). Joe turned out to be fine and I let him know I was going to the airport on the following day and we agreed a price.

It was about 14.30 when I checked into the hotel. It was good to begin to relax. A quick snack and then I planned a long warm soak. Unfortunately it would not be before I returned to the UK that I experienced a hot tap!! However, I was able to catch up a little on the news from BBC World and
finished my book in the afternoon sun sipping a Mosi or two.

My flight on Thursday wasn't until 21.25 so I had another day in Lusaka. After a leisurely breakfast – including a couple of cups of tea! - I called at the internet cafe and checked in to my flights. On the Wednesday I noticed the museum and decided that It might be good to spend some time there while I wait for my flight. So I set of in what I believed was the correct direction. I headed down Independence Avenue. It was interesting to walk along a pathway in the middle of a dual carriageway. Sprinklers sprayed the grass, hedges and plants creating a green oasis in the middle of the otherwise dry desert-like scenery. On one hand it reminded me of what a beautiful world Zambia can be and on the other I couldn't help think of all those people who would be desperate for clean water in October and November.
I never found the museum – I suspect that I walked in the wrong direction. However, I wasn't disappointed. I had a very pleasant walk and found myself passing some beautiful houses with lovely green gardens. Why is it that the majority of people in the world are deprived of the beauty and joys of such a life? Even a very modest house is beyond most.

I returned to the hotel and had lunch. I had another couple of hours to pass before heading for the airport. I was sure that the Catholic Cathedral was
not far from the hotel – though after the morning's walk I had some doubt! I headed in what I thought was the direction, but after walking for 10 minutes and not recognising anything, I turned around. A taxi driver asked if I wanted a lift, but I declined and asked him where the cathedral was. He pointed to a cross behind my hotel and said he would take me! I have been to the hotel on a number of occasions but never noticed the church directly behind it!! In the end I agreed to let the taxi driver take me the few yards to the entrance of the Cathedral. (less distance than the walk up the drive to the church!) Like most people the taxi drivers struggle to make a living, so I was happy to give the guy a few kwacha!

I was glad to spend some time at the end of my stay sitting quietly with my God in the cathedral reflecting on what had been a challenging few weeks in many ways. I was aware that I would soon be back in a different world – one where people would find it difficult to relate to a world in which people have no electricity or mains water; where a meal or school uniform provides a huge attraction for children to attend school; a place where unbroken blue skies are the norm; where sharing roads with cows and goats is commonplace; where luggage and water are often carried by women on their heads and where goods are transported in wheelbarrows. A place where poverty defines the lives of most people.

I am now home. I have spent the weekend at a nice hotel in Stratford and watched Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was a great weekend, yet impossible for me not to reflect on all those friends in Zambia who will never get the chance of a similar experience.

Since arriving back home I have heard that Sandra has died. Sandra was a lovely girl. I felt sorry for her in the early years, because at a relatively young age she was expected to do much of the housework and to look after the young children – in particular Selina. I was pleased when Jennipher arranged for her to go back to school to complete her education. She did well and then trained as a nurse. Once qualified she moved to a hospital in Livingstone where she pursued her career. Life wasn't easy for Sandra but she did well. It is tragic for such a young life with much potential to be cut so short. For Jennipher it is heart-breaking. May Sandra rest in peace and please pray for Jennipher and the rest of the family.

My journey home was uneventful. Joe - the taxi driver - picked me up at 16.30 as arranged. The flight arrived at Dubai a little early which was as well since I had to wait for a train between gates at the airport! I arrived home at about 19.30 on the Friday tired, but pleased to be back home.

I will share some reflections on my visit a little later – I think it will take me a little time to re-adjust!


Monday, August 3, 2015

Final Days

Monday 3rd August

Jane joined me on Saturday morning for a trip to visit Jennipher in Pemba. I gave in to pressure and jumped into a half empty bus and was surprised when it left Monze in the right direction – and even more surprised when it continued to Pemba.

We met Solomon at the lion and Jennipher joined us before we turned off towards their house. Selina, Maggie, Jennipher and Obadia met us and we spent some time with the family. Jennipher's herd of goats is increasing – she would have shown us the latest additions, but they were wandering somewhere in the bush!

I was able to deliver a replacement mobile phone charger for Jennipher and a solar light to go to one of the clinics which has no power. I hope that it will make a difference. The light is bright and should make it easier to deliver babies at night. An investment of £20-£25 might well result in a life saved! If it is successful I will consider trying to bring more in future – or see whether good solar lights can be purchased in Zambia.

We had agreed to watch birds at the small lake and dam in the afternoon. When we arrived there was a baptism service taking place and Deana sat down to watch. I showed some lads my binoculars, and as usual they were passed among them. We saw a large bird of prey – possibly a snake eagle. This circled the dam for a while and another bird of prey also turned up. The dam was busy with human activity but the bird life was less pronounced, however the African Jacanas, Great White Storks and a heron were around.

I rearranged my meeting with Fr. Clement to see him in town in order to have a chance to pick up some cash – unfortunately both Finance and Barclays banks refused. I chatted for a while with Fr. Clement and he then offered me a cup of tea – which I gratefully accepted. We went into the lounge where I met Fr. Fred, who is the parish priest. I was pleased that at last we had a chance to talk. Last year the volunteers stayed at the priest's house with Fr. Fred. After tea it was supper time and it would have been rude to have left at that point – even though I knew there was a curry waiting for me back home. Supper comprised nshima and goat offal, plus some vegetables. It is interesting that often the parts of the animal we find least appetising are often most prized here. (Fish heads – including the eyes! are also much valued.)

I am in danger of putting on weight!! It would again have been rude not to have taken a full helping of curry!! I noticed that my phone was no longer in my pocket when I was in the house, but hoped it would eventually turn up. A phone call suggested that at least it was still in service, though no one answered.

On Sunday Jane and Deana went to PIZZ School where children were receiving supplementary food. Mrs. Sianga has been trying to help as many orphaned children as possible. In the past, in addition to the school, she provided food for about 250 children with support from an organisation in Italy. This has been cut to just over 70 children recently. The children are given large bags – probably weighing nearly 30lb – which they carry home. Hopefully they benefit as well as other family members.

First thing – about 7hrs I rang my phone and Fr. Clement answered – so all was well!

I took the opportunity to brush and wash the floor while the others were out. I then picked Jane on the way to Our Lady of the Wayside. There were 24 baptisms of babies and young children, which provided a focus for the mass. The singing, drumming and dancing was good. I was asked to say a few words at the end of mass since I was about to leave.

Fr. Raphael produced my phone after mass and I spoke to some of the students that are supported through donations from St. Gregory's and St Thomas More's churches in Cheltenham.

I was due at St. Veronica's by 14 hrs which gave me 10 minutes after leaving Our Lady's. I decided to go home and have a cup of tea first. I showed Jane a short cut back, though she was very sceptical! I have to confess I didn't expect to see the main road after about 10 minutes!! We did get back on track eventually, but by the time I set out for St. Veronica's I knew I was unlikely to catch Queen – my guide – before she left. I decided to go anyway and wandered aimlessly around the compound. A guy asked me what I was doing and I told him. He had no idea where they were meeting, but knew someone who might know. A girl eventually showed me to where they were meeting. The session was just finishing, but I had a chance to say goodbye and say a final prayer with the community.

I was determined to make somosas for supper, but was delayed by trying to copy videos from CDs to a flash drive for Stella. ( a five minute job turned out to be a lot longer and eventually proved unsuccessful)

Raymond joined me as I was preparing supper and when the samosas were ready he helped me to ensure none were left over!

It is time to tidy my laptop as it will not be making the journey back to the UK. As usual it has been my main computer for the past year, so I need to be a little careful before deleting too much. The flash drive will be a lot easier to carry on the way back! I didn't believe that it would take 8 hours to copy the files – in the event this wasn't far wrong. I left it running when I went to bed.

I called on Diven this morning. Delia cooked some rice for me which I had with milk. I chatted to Diven about his shop and house.

For the rest of the day I have had visitors – or expected them!! By now a number have spent time with me chatting generally and saying goodbye. In between I have been tidying my laptop.

Tomorrow my laptop will be left with PIZZ School so this is likely to be the last post until I return back home.

Deana and Jane have taken me to Food Royal to 'celebrate' my departure. There were no chips so it was chicken nshima tonight.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Something Useful - Maybe!

Friday 31st July

Unusually I am writing this in the morning.

Yesterday I went to meet Pacheli at the Projects office. I had created a database a few years back to record the situation of some of the poorer households in Monze Diocese. I understood that Pacheli was using the database and I must confess some surprise. I have produced a lot of databases in the past for the people of Monze and wasn't aware that any were still in use!!

I did intend to bring a copy with me to his office, but power thwarted me at the last moment! We had a look at what he had on his system when power was restored, but it was not a lot and didn't relate to my database! Apparently Vincent – the guy I previously worked with -had the information on a laptop which was almost impossible to use because it was so slow. Instead of fetching that laptop I suggested we picked up my laptop where I was sure there was a copy of the database.

In fact there was a vast array of different copies of the database – but one seemed to be the final version. It was so long since I prepared it I couldn't remember much about it. In fact it was 2011 when I left it. It seems that Pacheli has very little good information about the baseline for the studies here in Mone Diocese. The idea was to capture information about the assets of each household – picks, hoes, ploughs etc and animals - chickens, goats, cattle etc. Action would be taken to bring about improvements and then another survey taken and the results compared.

I was pleased to see that I had at least captured the initial information. So for about 3,700 households I had recorded details of all the assets, animals etc. and produced results to group this information by community, parish etc. Hopefully this information will be useful. If additional surves are done, even if the information is captured in spreadsheets, I should be able to import it into my database and analyse the results. So maybe my time wasn't wasted after all!

Pacheli drove me home and, on the way, asked which part of the country I came from. I told him - but he wasn't familiar with Cheltenham. However he knew East Anglia because he studied for two years at the University there. As it happened I also studied at East Anglia University – so we compared a few memories of Norwich and the University campus. It is a small world!!

I had some computer work to catch up on in the afternoon. Jane returned having been busy with the children at PIZZ School.

In the evening Obert came around with his brother and I had also invited Fr. Raphael along. I felt guilty when Obert said that he would return on Friday. It was good to chat for a while with Fr. Raphael, but was a pity we couldn't have arranged to go out – perhaps with Fr. Clement as we did last year.

I rang Dilys in the evening. It is good to spend time here in Monze, but it can be hard being away from family and friends. At least the technology is available to keep in regular contact.

I miss getting along to morning mass. In Cheltenham we have mass at 9.30 most days. Here it is at 6.30 and there is a long walk to church. However today I made the effort. It happens to be the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was the founder of the Society of Jesus – or Jesuits. In recent years the Jesuits and their spirituality has been very important to me. I have been on several retreats at their centre near Liverpool – now unfortunately closed. In particular a seven day retreat in 1996 had a major impact in my life and developed my relationship with God. I learnt many lessons that still influence my life daily. It was therefore very appropriate that, if I only managed one daily mass this time, it was today.

After mass I attempted to withdraw money from the ATM, not really expecting success and getting what I expected – nothing!!

I returned to the house to a somewhat surprised Deana who had realised something was different but couldn't quite make sense of it. I had a note to say what I was doing, but left it in my locked room!!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We are now Three

Wednesday 29th July

I arrived at the Kobil filling station at 6.30 and Fr. Kenan was there waiting. I was wondering how three of us would squeeze in the front of the pick-up, but he told me he was swapping the truck for a car. I was then a little confused when we headed from Monze in the pick-up!! At Mazabuka we offloaded the maize from the truck and then continued in the pick-up!! It eventually became clear that there was a loose convoy and someone was driving a car in the same direction as we were travelling. In Lusaka we called into Photo Express where we both had some photos printed. Next stop was Voltamp, where I was able to buy a battery for the solar mobile phone charger, followed swiftly by the opticians - Fr. Kenan's main reason for being in Lusaka.

We drove a little further to an area where there are a large number of car spares shops – and finally Fr. Kenan spotted the car and the other driver. For the next hour and a half we attempted to find some new shock absorbers and a back light fitting. Shock absorbers were found and two lads took the old light fitting and ran off into the distance. We hang around for a while, we swapped vehicles and Fr. Kenan and myself headed for the airport.

We arrived in good time and found the cocktail bar and restaurant. This has many happy memories. When I have arrived on early flights and someone has been coming to meet me, I would tell them to take their time. I would then make my way to the cocktail lounge and have a pot of tea while I acclimatised to the new environment. It was a nice way to settle back to Zambia and prepare for the challenges ahead. Fr. Kenan and I were both ready for lunch after our early start. We both chose the whole bream – which was a good selection.

Jane's plane landed on time but about 15 minutes after the Ethiopian Airways flight. I was concerned that she would be held up for 3 hours like I was, but was pleased to see Emirates bags coming out. It seemed that they might somehow have found immigration first. Within about an hour I had at last met Jane. She had the advantage of seeing pictures of me – I had no idea what she looked like and resisted waving back to every white lady who gave a wave!!

Fr. Kenan told us that his glasses weren't ready so he was staying in Lusaka. Fortunately the other driver Staffred would drive us back to Monze. The drive was without incident (other than seeing a couple of animals that looked like deer, just before Mazabuka. I haven't spotted wild animals – apart from the very occasional monkey – on this journey before. Before 21 hrs we had reached home.

Deana had prepared some supper and we talked for a while. I abandoned putting up the mosquito net for the night, but provided an electric killer instead. I have only noticed one mosquito since I arrived, but there could be others around!!

On Tuesday we had decided to have a leisurely start. Since the power wasn't due until after 10 hrs we didn't plan to go anywhere beforehand. My only appointment for the day was to take the picture of a child that I spoke to on Friday, when I had forgotten my camera. So after a couple of cups of tea I took Jane for a stroll down the road, then past PIZZ school – all sites! - and finally settled for half an hour or more by the small lake for a rest in the shade of a small tree. Time had run away. We said hallo to Diven on our return and decided to call in to take the photo before returning home. Mrs. Sianga and Jane were introduced to each other, but we quickly said goodbye and headed back home for lunch.

It seemed a shame to stay in all afternoon, so, as it approached 16hrs and was a little cooler, we headed out for another stroll. I thought that Jane should find the town, we then wandered down the 'High Street' and greeted Ireen. At the end of the High Street I decided we might as well visit the railway. Astonishingly a train approached as we neared the station. I pointed out that this was not a common occurrence.

We crossed behind the train and made our way to Railway compound, where the standard of housing is rather better than in other parts of Monze. We passed the golf course and I showed Jane the house I used last year – now Tubbyland School. We eventually returned home via the indoor market – picking up some spices from my friend – The Queen of Spices. Unsurprisingly Jane was ready for a cup of tea and a rest when we got back!!

I had volunteered to make a Zambian omelette, so, once I sorted myself out, I started to prepare the meal.

I stayed up trying to access the internet, but eventually gave up.

Today was a typical Zambian day! All was going well in the morning until the dongle stopped working with a message saying it had an 'invalid profile' and I should contact the network provider. After trying all the usual avenues with no avail, I headed into town to the MTN office, via the Diocesan Projects office and the Hospital - only to be told it was a network problem, despite the error message. I returned home, picking up an avocado on the way home – it was guacamole sandwiches for lunch!!

I went with Jane to PIZZ School after lunch where she was to work out a timetable with the staff. I spoke to one of the sponsored children I hadn't previously seen on this visit, before heading back into town. I wanted to meet the people from Leonard Cheshire to find out more of their work and see whether some sort of link could be made with the home in Cheltenham. Mr Meheritona had agreed to introduce me to the guys.

We walked over the road, across the railway tracks and headed for the station. The Leonard Cheshire office was a little way before the station, but unfortunately all the staff were out!! I returned home, after having a local fizzy drink at a cafe in town. At least today I had some exercise!!

Jane cooked and Raymond paid us a visit this evening. Once again the internet is playing up!! There is no water in the taps though there is another pond down the road, next to a familiar looking digger!!!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bleak prospects ahead

Sunday 26th July

It's sad when you are addicted to tea and the morning provides no electricity. I don't seem to function properly until after a couple of brews! Today the power came on briefly at lunchtime, but didn't boil the water befor it went again. It was this evening before I received my first dose!

Yesterday I was reasonably free. I thought it about time to do a bit of cleaning – so I brushed the floors. It's amazing how much dust accumulates here. Now that the tarmac road is nearing completion that might reduce the dust, but I am not banking on it! I popped into town to make sure Jane wouldn't freeze at night. According to the BBC the temperature in Livingstone is expected to drop to 5°C during the week!

Luke was due at 14 hrs so I settled down preparing some presentation material for the Hands Around the World 21st Birthday Party on 8th August. I am sure that they'll find you a place if you want to come – contact details if you want to book are on the website: Hands Around the World I hope to see you there – I arrive back in the UK on 7th August!!

In the event Luke didn't make it in the afternoon, but Jennipher called. It has been discovered that Sandra's condition was worse than at first thought and Jennipher is very worried. After all the trauma she has suffered during the past year, Jennipher can do without another. She came around at about 17 hrs when I had agreed to pick up Diven and Delia. She needed to tell me the latest. She intends returning yet again to Livingstone for a few days, to be with Sandra who is now in hospital there - being cared for largely by her nursing friends in their time off.

I caught up with Diven a bit after I had intended and we headed for Tooters. Diven's leg is causing problems and he is limping badly. We settled down to chat over a meal and a few drinks – though I am the only one who drinks beer! Delia was happy to listen, but is not sure enough of her English to join in a lot. As usual we covered a range of topics and Diven is always fascinated to try to understand the behaviour of the English – though sometimes it is difficult to explain fully. For instance I am reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome written in 1889! This lead to me trying to explain some of my exploits in boats – such as hiring a yacht, getting stuck on a sandbank in one of the Norfolk Broads and the fun and games that ensued before being pulled free. For someone not familiar with boats, the Broads or England in 1889 there is much room for confusion!!

We returned by taxi – me because a long walk in the dark is probably not a great idea and Diven – who lives enroute – because his leg needed a rest.

I picked up a couple of e-mails Jane had sent earlier saying there were problems with her ticket and she might no longer have a valid one. Since it was only hours before her departure this looked serious, however David was on the case and I wasn't going to do a lot of good from here, so I just sat tight.

I arose this morning and checked to see if there was any communication. I checked Emirates flights and there were still seats available – but only in business class. I hoped they would recognise their mistake and, if they had sold her seat, they could give her an upgrade!! There being other information I continued to church and decided an extra prayer or two might help.

After mass I made my way back home - I have just about sorted a short route.. Before arriving I received a text from David saying all had been sorted with Jane's flight. I had about ½ before it was time to set of again – this time for St Veronica's Christian Community. I find it useful to reflect on a short Gospel passage. This week was about belief in Jesus – The Bread of Life. As Christians we all like to think we have this belief, yet so often we fail to recognise him at work in our lives. I have been reading a booklet with words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta – now recognised by my church as a saint. She says that the sisters have no income, no work, yet they feed thousands of people everyday – including 70,000 lepers. She recounts a day when a sister told her that there was nothing so they would be able to give nothing to the people for the next couple of days. Then by lunchtime all the schools were closed by the government and all their bread given to the sisters. I am sure she has many similar tales to tell. She says they people say they don't know where the food comes from – but she knows. It is amazing what God will do if you are working with Him. I know from my experience how He works – often in very small ways. Yet more often I don't notice him in my life.

Luke had been back in touch. I let him know I was again home and he came around with his daughter Charmaine.

We talked a lot about the situation in Zambia. He said that climate change was causing big problems – the changing weather patterns making it hard to grow the crops most Zambians rely on. The maize yield in Monze District this year is estimated at about 50% of that received last year – and that was not a good harvest. Luke says there will be a lot of hunger this year. Electricity shortages and no doubt water shortages in a few months, will cause hardship and further damage the economy. The government has borrowed a lot and spent it on local roads in towns such as Monze. The roads go nowhere and cost a fortune – yet the roads between small towns are still dirt tracks. Luke's assessment is that things here are getting worse and are set to become even more difficult for the vast majority of Zambians. Unfortunately I have to agree.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Child Sponsorship and digging wells

Friday 24th July

Its hard to believe that another week has gone by! Today is the last of five birthdays which occur every 4 days between 8th July and today. My success rate at remembering the order and at least making a phone call has varied. In Monze it is relatively easy to ring via Skype – electricity and network permitting, travelling to Chisamba and Kabwe however made life a little more tricky.

I managed to catch a bit of a cold – perhaps in Chisamba where the nights were surprisingly chilly. Yesterday I felt rather worse for wear, but today a bit of energy has returned.

I made a brief visit to Mrs Sianga, then settled at home on the computer. I needed to make contact with Jane who will join us on Monday – and succeeded in having a bit of a chat. Diven called around with Delia in the afternoon because he was worried about my illness. I told him that I would soon be fine again and he left a bit re-assured.

I decided I needed a good night's sleep and turned in early.

This morning I took my time rising and felt a bit better. Jane has a mobile phone charger for Jennipher to replace the one destroyed by lightening. However, she is not allowed to bring the battery on the plane. I therefore need to find how I can find another. Victor who is doing much of the building work at PIZZ School said he might be able to help, if he had the specification. I decided to provide a copy for him and leave it with Mrs. Sianga. In the event she arranged for him to meet me at the school and he was able to suggest two shops in Lusaka where I could probably obtain a battery or if not be told where to find one. Both shops are within walking distance of where I will get off the bus so I should be able to go on Monday. He assured me that such batteries are easily found in Zambia.

I met with Rosemary this morning - a quiet first year student. She is one of about 35 students for whom we have sponsors in the UK. Other than having a chance to talk to me, so that I can tell some of their stories to their sponsors, the children do not individually gain benefits. However the school receives some regular funds and the sponsors have a chance to follow the progress of astudent at the school. The children are picked often because they have a particularly difficult background. Sometimes the fact that someone is taking interest can give them the boost they need. Rosemary was very quiet and didn't say a lot – hopefully next year I will see a lot more confidence, as I have observed this year with many of the older children.

There was a meeting this morning with others from Hands Around the World in the UK about the child sponsorship programme and I agreed to attend via Skype. On the whole it was a very successful session where I felt part of the meeting, which lasted for about two hours. If all the students at PIZZ were sponsored it would provide sufficient funds for the school to operate well. So we just need another 300 sponsors!! If you are interested to find out more about the scheme you can find details on the HATW website. Hands Around The World

Just before the meeting John came knocking on the door. I haven't seen John for several years. In fact I wondered whether he was still around. It is many years ago that John asked me for a pickaxe and shovel so he could build himself a well! A friend who read my blog offered the equipment and the saga of John's well began. I won't recall everything here but needless to say the two implements were not quite sufficient to complete the job. It started getting complicated after about 1 ½ metres! Getting out of the hole and removing the soil required a windlass and a bucket – oh and a friend to hoist the buckets contents (whether soil or John!). Eventually a 30 metre deep well was constructed!! Anyway John is still around, but picked the worst time to call. I really was pleased to see him and thought I'd arranged for him to see me later. He didn't return – maybe he'll catch up with me again this year or in the future!

I met another student after lunch and spent a while talking to the headmaster and deputy. They had decided to represent the teachers to save me listening again to teachers concerned about the very low salaries they are paid. I was glad of the opportunity to talk to them, but also suggested I spoke to the teachers.

Hands Around the World has been paying the teachers wages at PIZZ School for a number of years. When we started, although the wages were below those of government teachers, the difference was not huge. However, two or three years ago government teachers received large rises in their salaries, but we have been able to do little to increase our funding. Donors can sometimes be found to pay for buildings or equipment, however very few will consider paying ongoing costs such as teacher's salaries. It is easy to put up a classroom and show some nice pictures, but without teachers it is a waste of money! Yet I have great difficulty persuading almost anyone else that there is no better way of using our money than paying for teachers to provide education to the students. At PIZZ School many lives have been changed significantly. Children are not on the streets with all the dangers that entails, and the older students are now progressing through secondary and some onto tertiary education. I want to tell the teachers just how proud they should be for the wonderful work they are doing. I recognise that they are not paid enough and I can't promise any increase. I will however fight for everything I can get to ensure the school continues to improve the lives of many children – and perhaps save the lives of some!

Time for a quick trip into town to meet Mr. Meheritona the director of HHZ. We know each other from the time he was the manager at St. Vincent's School here in Monze. We talked about bee projects, containers and other issues. I was also interested in his work with the Leonard Cheshire organisation. This group spent last year looking at improving accessibility in schools in the Monze area for children with disabilities. After a successful trial the initiative is being extended to other parts of Zambia. I do some driving for Leonard Cheshire in the UK and am interested in talking to the organisation here and possibly forging some sort of link. I have set an appointment to follow this up next Wednesday.

I realised this evening that it was Charlie's birthday, so I made a hasty call and interrupted his party!

For supper I found some dried fish which we had with sweet potatoes and cabbage.

With love and prayers,