Why Zambia? You usually don't hear much about Africa when you live in Switzerland. Yes, we are generally aware that there are many children dying of hunger and starvation in Africa. We also know that many people Africa are infected with HIV or that there is currently hyperinflation in Zimbabwe. But - these are not problems we usually have here in Switzerland. We are more concerned about which of our local states ('Kanton') will be excluded by one of the political parties. Or we spend billions just to find out which country is the best in the world of soccer.
In December of 2007 I became aware of a report by Claire. She had spent four months in Zambia the year before. I was immediately interested and fascinated and was mulling over the possibility of doing such stay myself, maybe after finishing my apprenticeship. Much did I know at that time that a mere six months later I would find myself indeed right there in Zambia... Two months after this initial contact I was made aware of an upcoming project in Ndola in summer of 2008, including the fact that volunteers were being recruited to help build an extension to a school.
And so, us four Swiss (Claire, Pascal, Maurice, and I) arrived after more than 28 hours of traveling, including changing planes three times, in Ndola and were greeted by a throng of excited and singing children at the local airport.
Already the next morning we toured the school and thus also the village where these children live. Life in Mackenzie means no electricity and no running water. 350 children are lucky enough to attend classes in the Mackenzie Community School. In the two classrooms available, three teachers each conduct classes for grades one through four. Attending classes is free for these children, which means that operation of the school can only be maintained by private donations. Unfortunately, there is not enough space to also host a fifth grade, which forces Mackenzie's students to go to a public school after grade four. Many cannot afford the costs associated with doing so.
Thanks to generous support, the sponsoring organization for Mackenzie Community School was now in a position to buy the necessary building materials to add a third classroom as well as a small library room. And now was the time – altogether fourteen young people from Switzerland and the USA had traveled to Zambia in order to assist with this construction project.
We used cement and gravel to form the typical concrete building blocks. Of course, this also required water which we had to pump by hand from a well first. Mixing the concrete was also done by hand as there is no electricity to operate machinery. Nevertheless, we progressed rather quickly, despite the lack of tools.
In between we also took some tours. One day we visited the St. Anthony Orphanage. I was rather surprised to see so many happy faces among the kids there. All of them wanted to be hugged, lifted up or simply held in our arms. These children are content and happy with so little, especially when one considers the journey that most of them already have behind despite their young age. This indeed stopped me in my tracks and made me think. Many of these disabled physically challenged children have next to no future. Many of them die before even reaching the age of 10.
It dawned on me that in Switzerland these children would have had at least a life if not a future. I realized that I, too, could have been born disabled in Africa. But for reasons that escape me I was born healthy in Switzerland. Isn't that cool? But now I was here in Africa in order to help exactly such kids.
We donated a couple of boxes with clothes and shoes to the orphanage. When it was time to leave I realized that I would not see many of these children again.
Of course we also toured the country a bit. We visited Livingstone, the Victoria Falls as well as the capital of Zambia, Lusaka. While in Lusaka, together with local students we helped to clear up the enormous amounts of garbage that are present everywhere. 'Keep Zambia Clean' was our motto for this activity.
During one day in Mackenzie we were invited to visit a 'friend' in the community. I visited Mike and Matthew. Mike is 25 years old and helped with the construction of the school. His mother died when he was six years old, his father two years after that. Since about half a year ago he now lives with his aunt in Mackenzie. Together, we cooked sweet potatoes and Nshima (a corn mash).
For this purpose I had brought some gifts from Switzerland. The chocolate, a swiss army knife as well as a soccer shirt caused a lot of joy and excitement. But I was humbled and surprised when I realized that in return they also had prepared gifts for me.
And now? Now I am back in Switzerland! I can take hot showers, let liters of fresh, clean drinking water run from a tap and don't even have to operate a pump to do so. I have a safe home, a family and can basically buy anything I want and need. But I haven't forgotten the people in Africa. I want to continue helping them.