We definitely are looking back onto a dynamic past year. Outstanding volunteer teams and great progress in a variety of projects went hand in hand with difficult challenges and setbacks. In the end, we as the iChange team as well as our partners and friends locally, who work with us, learned a lot and from that we draw strength for the future.
We are excited to report that in 2013 iChange was able to welcome twelve Volunteers from three different countries in Zambia. Most of their one to three months stays took place between January and September. Our volunteer teams consisted of a wide variety of individuals, each one with their own unique set of skills, which everyone put to good and valuable use on the ground. Our trained carpenters played a major role in the setup up and expansion of the carpentry shop in Mackenzie community. Furthermore, our volunteer lodging, Malaika Home, underwent renovations and a capacity expansion with regards to the number of beds available. In addition to founding a volleyball team in Mackenzie, extensive support was given to the teachers at Mackenzie Community School, and much care and love was provided to the children at the St. Anthony's orphanage.
During the first months this year we already had one volunteer again make valuable contributions to the teaching operations at Mackenzie Community school. Having just completed her education in Switzerland as a teacher herself, she was a great support for the teachers and provided new impulses and ideas for our classes and teaching techniques. Further visits and stays by volunteers as well as members of the iChange team area already scheduled for 2014. During these months we are planning to focus on a variety of key projects.
In our relatively new Scholarship Program we ran into some major and unexpected programmatic issues. Due to the high degree of transience among the local population many children move in almost regular intervals between parts of their families from on corner of the country to another area far away in Zambia. This phenomenon forced a significant number of our scholarship recipients to leave the program. On a more positive note, the remaining participants all finished their school year successfully. This achievement is even more impressive as the quality and teaching conditions at public schools in Zambia have continuously deteriorated in the past years: class sizes have steadily increased while the quality and reliability of the teaching staff seems to have decreased.
Due to the aforementioned challenges the Scholarship Program is one of the key focus areas for the iChange team in 2014. If nothing else, we begin this new year with a much better understanding about these unique structural challenges, which are mostly unknown to us here in the western world. The loss in teaching quality at public schools will be addressed with dedicated private lessons for our program participants. In addition, we are planning to research and determine whether private schools are an option for our students once they graduate from primary school.
Governmental support for Community Schools, as the one iChange supports in Mackenzie, unfortunately seems to have suffered since the new political leadership took charge. In general, a lack of resources has had a negative impact on teaching quality at many schools. Already during summer 2013 iChange reacted to these developments together with the teachers at Mackenzie Community School, resulting in various steps geared towards improving teaching conditions and quality even without the much needed public support. Over the course of the last months of 2013 we already noticed first and encouraging improvements.
Thus, the school will also be a main focus for our work in 2014. In cooperation with the teachers and local community leaders iChange is looking to discuss and define a new vision for Mackenzie Community School. This new vision will reflect the external circumstances described above and is intended to show scenarios and ways how an independent running of the school can be achieved in the long-term.
Our test project in Kapalu was terminated in 2013, after one last attempt to address various challenges. In the end, both sides realized that a much more hands-on and ongoing support and coaching structure would be needed to ensure success. While many of the challenges we encountered, like geographical distances, cultural barriers and communication difficulties, seemed manageable when looked at on a stand-alone basis, the cumulative effect of these circumstances in the end proved insurmountable for iChange in light of our current resource levels. As we were well aware of these risks from the beginning of this project such an outcome was always clearly communicated and transparently defined. This was a necessary pre-requirement for our initial engagement in Kapalu so as not to risk other major iChange projects in the end. Nevertheless, actually taking this difficult step was a deeply emotional decision for us; at the same time we realize and know that as a team and organization we have gained credibility and decision-making strength from this experience.
Quite a different status update can be reported for our Microfinance Program. Of the six original women, who entered our program in 2012 after a comprehensive training and teaching program, all six have already successfully completed two rounds of microloans. Their experiences and feedback now serve as a template for future participants. Another participant, the Mackenzie Womens Club, also managed to repay their loan (mostly) on time and has since succeeded in continuously expanding their project. Delays in some installments occurred when a poultry epidemic hit Mackenzie Community, resulting in the death of many chicken.
Inauguration of the local Community Health Center in Mackenzie, for which iChange had renovated and prepared rooms in the local community center, was delayed further, much to our disappointment. It is our hope that with a renewed and focused round of meetings with the Health Ministry and other involved NGOs we can soon report more positive news for this project. Our biggest challenge to date has been to overcome various bureaucratic hurdles, some of which seem to be arbitrary at best if not possible indications of corruption.
We are realistic that the complete and comprehensive achievement of the goals that were set together with the local community and the people of Mackenzie will require further time. However, together with them we remain fully committed and motivated to continue to make positive progress in 2014 towards these goals.
Our heartfelt and sincere thanks as always goes to our wonderful volunteers, who last year and at the beginning of this year already left a major impact and achieved much. At the same time we say thank you to all our donors and supporters for their generosity, which makes our work possible in the first place.
We are excited about and look forward to an influential and challenging year 2014!