Zambia diary part 2.
Mr Moses Kazevu is not at all what I expect. He is a tall energetic man who radiates casual good humour. Rex and Ellinor’s demeanour when Kazevu is mentioned in conversation lead me to feel that we were due to meet a lion. But not a bit of it – meerkat perhaps – he listens as I quickly sketch out the content of our meetings and our progress so far. “Yes yes,” he says, “This is all very good – we should do all of it.”, and that is that; the Meercat’s head is up and he is surveying the dining room. It turns out that the room contains a delegation from USAID’s Zambian office and Kazevu is clearly an accomplished networker – he seems to know most of the people there. “They never give us anything.”, he remarks sotto vocce. Suddenly, he spots a lady delegate at the desert trolley, “Ah there is my girlfriend.” Kazevu jumps to his feet and calls across to her, “You can run but you can’t hide!” The woman is surprised, and certainly she couldn’t hide (her bulk and a dress that should attract a public health warning see to that) and although she forces a smile there is something on her face which suggests there is nothing she would like more than to be invisible just at that moment. But she is meerkat meat; Kazevu descends upon her and engages her in a short but animated conversation. When he returns to our table via several other brief conversations and handshakes his sits, there is a wolfish grin across his face, “She still won’t give us anything but at least I can make her feel bad about it!”
In the car on the way to visit the new school COINS Foundation is building at Kawama, Kazevu becomes serious. He talks with knowledge and evident passion about the KWOP projects. He has a grasp of the detail which I find rare in many charity Chairpersons. My questions are answered comprehensively and he promotes a philosophy which I heartily agree with. “The voice of the orphan is not heard in Zambia.”, he says, “This is very wrong.” And with that he has me – meetkat meat.
Just past the One Way Out Pub (a shack the size of a toilet) is the Field of Hope – you turn left there for Kawama.
The road to the KWOP is a dirt track either side of which are scattered ‘informal housing plots’ it’s the PC term for shanty town. Poorly dressed but invariably smiling children loiter and some wave at the passing mazungu – that’s the un-PC term for a white man. We are a rarity here. I have been up and down this road only a handful of times but on this return trip it is beginning to feel very familiar. Whenever, I am driven down this road I always want to ask the driver to stop and let me get out and walk to the school. I don’t know why this is and I have only once actually made the request. I felt foolish asking to walk but I feel something worse riding in the car – it might be shame or something like it.
The KWOP mainly centres around a school which they run for orphans and vulnerable children – the numbers of these children continue to increase across all of Africa – they are so common that they have their own heartless little acronym – ovc’s. Ellinor, Rex and an ex-artillery officer in the Zambian army, Herbert Chikula pretty much run the show. It is amazing what they manage to do with so little resource. The school is a reasonable building – two classrooms with a small office in the middle. To one side is a sanitation block constructed by a well-meaning aid organisation. It is divided for boys and girls and contains very modern hand basins and toilets. It is ideal for the 212 young people who attend the school except that it has no water. It has been that way for several years and for me it stands as a monument to all that is bad about Aid-based interventions in Africa. One of the purposes of my visit is to finalise arrangements to construct a water tank and electric pump system which can finally bring water to this white elephant.
Behind the existing classroom block we are constructing a significant addition to the school – two more classrooms, two offices and a community resource area. Clearly, with only two classrooms and 212 students the KWOP school is desperate for the extra teaching space; but more than this, even in its construction phase, this project is contributing to the community. 16 local young men and women are being trained in construction skills as the build progresses. They have theory classes in the morning and then move on to site to practice what they have learned. But for me the best bit is where they hold the their classes – a universal shortage of resources makes Africans masters of improvisation and I cannot refrain from smiling as I am ushered into the boys toilet to be faced by sixteen grinning apprentices at improvised desks wedged up against a virgin urinal – at last the White Elephant is serving a useful function.
Progress on the building is good – the design of the classrooms is not the rather depressing block structure which one can see employed all over Africa but rather the result of a design competition. Imagine a dumbbell shape laid out on the ground – at either end a hexagonal classroom which will have a conical pitched tile roof. Each end is linked to the large rectangular resource area in the centre by an office. At present the whole thing is only two courses of bricks above the ground but the end result is easy to imagine and my insides are dancing an excited little rumba as I run up a nearby termite hill to get an aerial shot of the layout. As I look down from my vantage point, it seems a magnificent and beautiful thing to me, laid out in the bright sun slowly rising from the soil of Zambia – I wish I could induce in you the pride that you should rightly feel for this.
We had planned that the resource area should be a library and also an IT-training room complete with up to ten new computers and a server. You may recall that the first appointment I had scheduled on landing in Lusaka was to have been with Gertjan van Stamm the Director of an organisation called Linknet whose mission is to bring internet connectivity to rural Africa. My colleague Paul (Pj) had been working steadily for months trying to find the best IT solution which would allow us to realise the dream of students at Kawama having lessons with students in the UK and America. He had drawn a blank at almost every turn but his talks with Linknet offered at least some hope. Even this last vestige seemed dashed when Gertjan had to cancel our meeting under tragic circumstances.
As I stand atop the termite hill Rex approaches me beckoning. He has a tall distinguished looking Zambian with him who turns out to speak the best English I have yet heard at Kawama with an accent reminiscent Paul Boeteng. “This one is from the Internet Cafe.”, Rex informs me. “He has good news.” In Zambia, the polite handshake is a simple three- grip manoeuvre which I can usually be relied upon to remember. People wishing to be additionally polite will hold their elbow with the other hand and accompany the greeting with a neat bob from the knees – there’s no getting away from it; it’s a curtsey. I’m afraid even my liberalism can’t extend to curtsying whilst holding another man’s hand but had I known what he was about to tell me, I’d have definitely gone for the full bob and very possibly snogged him into the bargain.
“Sky One are opening an office in Ndola. You can have wireless broad band 2Gb.”
“Really? When?”, I gasp.
“Soon. Maybe even next month.” Suddenly linking Kawama to the world is back on the agenda. Rex interjects, “There is an option where we can become internet providers.” he says. “Good income generating activity for sustainability.”
It is the best news yet. There are so many advantages to a community like the one at Kawama having access to the internet. With a central long-range wireless hub which can broadcast up to 25km, the possibilities are enormous both for health, education and social care projects as well as the obvious commercial ones.
After a brief tour of the site and a chat with the foreman I am due to meet Mr Alfred Chapi. He is the Chairman of the local council; Larry and I met him on our last visit. He is a true politician and as we shake hands he asks after Mr Larry and apologises again for missing a meeting with Mr Derek whilst on our first visit to Kawama. I take a photograph of him with some of the apprentices next to a brick-making machine. It’s the usual local politics but only a precursor to the real business. I walk the site with Cllr Chapi and outline our plans for a sustainable community development at Kawama. Rex is anxious that I remember my script and flutters nervously nearby. He has his eye on a piece of land which he hopes we can secure as the site for a new secondary school. I play my part and ask Chapi how he would prioritise the various programmes we have discussed.
“Mmmmm for me it is the High school which is the priority. And then the clinic. With an ambulance.”, this last item is an unexpected addition. Chapi has an eye to the main chance. I laugh and dodge the issue, “Talking of the school; we were hoping that some land nearby could be made available?”
“It can.”, he is unequivocal, “I got your email, I talked to the Ndola Planning office. It is here for you.”, and with that he sets off down the road. After three or four hundred yards he stops and waves his arm in a wide gesture. “Here. Plenty of room for dormitories; and power is here and water is just there.”, he points authoritatively to the ground. “All that is needed is the plans and the permissions, and we can start.” I squash a desire to tell him that it might be just a bit more complex than that and, doing my best to sound as if people give me acres of real estate every day I shake his hand and assure him that we will keep him up to date with developments.
“I wonder,” he asks, “if you could meet the Worshipful Mayor of Ndola. Could you come with me now?” I regretfully decline – I have agreed to visit a Care International project.
“Could it be tomorrow?” I ask.
“Ahh regretfully not. We have to attend the funeral house of Mr Tetamashimba.”
Benny Tetamashimba was the Minister for Local Government and Housing who had died at the weekend. Another early death in Zambia; he was to be afforded a State funeral. In Zambia funerals are mandatory – for the deceased obviously, but also for anyone connected with the departed; colleagues, neighbours, every relative however distant is obliged to attend.
“It doesn’t matter.”, I am assured, “We will arrange it for next time.” We say our goodbyes and I head back to the hotel to meet representatives from Care. As I am driven back down the Kawama road, I sit more easily in the car. It’s been a good morning.
The road to Mwange is red and dusty and dedicated to the god of bruised buttocks. Despite this I am enjoying the drive; Morgan and Aaron are experienced workers for Care and I am anxious to learn all I can from this visit. Mwange was a refugee camp, it lies SE of Ndola and is now home to a rural community of subsistence farmers and fishermen who eke out a living from a man-made lake. A community school (ie a school set up and run by a voluntary group) is the central infrastructure of the community and it is there that we are headed. I am beginning to learn that there is a ‘formula’ reserved for visiting mazunga (the plural of mazungu don’t you know?); as the car with the guest arrives it is greeted by brightly dressed women who sing and clap a welcome – phase 1. Phase 2 – let loose the children; as many and as cute as possible. I am suckered as they know I will be. I shake every little hand that is proffered with the universally understood, “howareyou?” Suitably softened up, the hapless victim is taken into a room where members of the community are introduced and make gracious speeches of welcome. One is required to respond in kind – everyone stands when they speak at such a meeting and so an air of formality prevails.
It turns out that the room is filled with 18 ‘social care givers’. These are members of the community who have been trained in a range of skills by Care and who ‘mobilise’ the community when necessary and offer “psycho-social counselling” and “other support.” Essentially it is another ovc project and I am struck by the parallels with Kawama. Aside from counselling, I begin to suspect that they have few other resources available to them. I glean that they have a monthly baby-weighing programme to monitor the wellbeing of infants. The Mwange OVC committee was started in 2000 and received its first training programme from Care in 2002 since which time Care have maintained regular and, I gather from Aaron, close contact with the community.
I am given the opportunity to ask questions, so I enquire about their future plans for the community? The answers sound terribly familiar; they want to become sustainable and need farm inputs (seed and fertiliser); vocational training in carpentry and tailoring and brick-making. They become animated and say they want ‘empowerment’. “We are tired of being empty-handed helpers.”, says one man. The advice of Lord Joffe, Patron to the COINS Foundation comes back to me as we drive home, “Do something small and if it is successful, write it down so others can also do it. Then you have done something big.” We must make Kawama such a model.
This is my last day at Ndola before driving back to Lusaka. It is set aside for one final meeting with Rex & Ellinor. It’s going to be a crucial one and I ask if Herbert Chikula, as Finance officer could attend also.
So the four of us sit for a whole day in the garden of the hotel churning through endless details – there are worse settings for a meeting. Impala, guinea fowl and peacocks wander the grounds. The sun is bright and hot but a large jacaranda profuse with purple blossom shades us as we hammer out the key points for each of the 11 projects which we hope will transform Kawama.