The sparkling caused by the glittery sun, reflected back from the ubiquitous tin sheet roofs, meets my eyes the moment I land at Ndola airport. Some of those roofs belong to Mackenzie community, which just borders on one side of the airport. But - the smiling faces of the people who came from Mackenzie community to meet me at the airport seem to sparkle even more. I feel comfortable right away, thanks to their warm welcome.
From the first day on, my host-family, the Chishas, give me the feeling of being part of their family. There are some moments I enjoy in particular: for instance, sitting in the garden in the mornings with a cup of tea in my hand watching the sun rise from behind the palm trees, while my host-father explains to me how to manage the garden so that it produces almost everything the family needs with regards to food supplies. Later on, when coming back in the evening, it is the moment of being already greeted on the road by the kids who show me their new traditional dance skills. And before supper my host-mum tells me all about health and food in Africa - she always has got some good advice and a good reason to laugh.
I am being helped by everyone to feel at ease in the city in the shortest possible time. As a result I am able to create a weekly timetable to make myself a little bit useful for iChange's cause. One of the reasons I came to Zambia was to see how we privileged Europeans can change something. As the type of development aid which emerged over the past 50 years has recently come under severe criticism, it is often claimed that the best aid is no aid at all. However, this just will not easily fit my frame of mind and thinking. It might be true that, abandoned by the rest of the world, one might learn to fight and in the course of doing so realises that a big part of the world seemingly consists of enemies. But fighting usually doesn't always mean winning, and certainly not if the rules of the game weren't defined equally in the first place. In my opinion it should be self-evident that if trade and business are being conducted on a global level, so should our social interactions and systems. Anyhow, the work of iChange really impresses me. Their aid is local and depends on teamwork together with the locals. What is even more important - their aid strategy is based on teaching and transferring knowledge and providing know-how to people how then will distribute it even further. I am convinced that many direct, non-overhead cost affected projects, similar to those that iChange conducts, could indeed change a great deal when looked at in their entirety: many small people coming from many small places can achieve big things when working together.
I am very grateful to have been provided the opportunity by iChange to be part of this positive movement for a brief time: I instruct students and teachers in the basic skills of a computer, help out in the St. Anthony's Orphanage and support the teachers of Mackenzie Community School when they are a bit overloaded. My help is needed the most in St. Anthony's. Although there are many local workers and plentiful supplies of materials ranging from nappies to food to wheelchairs, there is always something that needs to be done. Washing clothes and nappies by hand as well as feeding the disabled children, many of whom have hardly any innate swallowing reflex, already takes up a lot of time and energy. Also, it is impossible to fit as much work into a working day here in Zambia as I would do at home, mostly because the tools needed to do so are often not available. This means that life here in Ndola is slower and more strenuous. In addition, the workers and helpers at St. Anthony's often have orphans to take care of at home as well – children of relatives who already passed away. As a result I am allowed to help out with a wide range of tasks and responsibilities: I get to wash, change and feed the babies, get to play and be creative with the kids, and get to take the disabled kids in their wheelchairs out for a stroll. The work here is extremely emotional: It is a real pleasure to watch the toddlers starting to walk, tiny step by tiny step. I am very touched when Philomen, a physically and mentally disabled boy, eventually comes out of his introverted, passive state and starts laughing and cheering joyfully, simply because he gets some personal attention and can feel the sunrays on his skin when I take him out of his wet bed, where he spends most time of his life, outside onto the sun-lit patio. At the same time it makes me sad to think of what will happen to these kids once they are ten years or so – by then they are too old for this orphanage but there will not be a place for all of them to go.
But anyway, first and foremost I am here to learn, for as much as I like my work here I cannot call it efficient. For instance, I am here for a mere two months but the price of my airfare could pay a regular worker here for two years. Yet, I can learn a lot from my stay here no matter how short it is. Primarily, it is a cultural exchange: I truly get to appreciate the 'value' of a person's identity from a completely new perspective, not the least because iChange places great emphasis on doing so. Something that might seem inefficient from our Western perspective can have deep significance for the people here simply because it is essential for their lives, forms part of their identity, of who they are. Being unable to identify yourself with the world you live in and also yourself as an individual, there is no reason to live – and it is next to impossible to help such a person. And so, during my stay, I also get to know myself and my own culture a bit better. I manage to put aside the many daily routines of my Swiss life, all the useless things whose only purpose is to distract our minds, and recognize and focus on the essential aspects of my life.
And in return I am able to immerse myself into and experience a completely new life and daily routine: Rhythmical beats of music coming from many street corners, laughter and shouting, colourful, patterned clothes (called Tschitenges) as well as flowers that almost glow out of the red dust that envelopes the roads, the smell of fish, chicken and self-brewed beer wafting through street markets, all these things together form the potent potion of Ndola's daily life. It overwhelms all my senses when I ride through the city on my bike. It is good to see how people appreciate life and are happy and full of hope. Yet the vibrating street life also deceives the casual observer. When the songs fall silent, when the workers become tired and start to tell their stories, it becomes evident that it is not just the acquisition of water or electricity that forms the hardship of life here. Almost everyone's destiny is doomed by AIDS. People are either HIV-positive themselves - every fifth person here is - or they are taking care of AIDS orphans, or the virus has already killed close family members, wives, parents, siblings. It is shocking and numbing to hear some people tell their life stories here. A policewoman, who herself has resorted to not have sexual contact with men at all to protect herself from the virus, tells me a lot about the AIDS problem. The police actually distributes condoms to prostitutes as otherwise they would not protect themselves. And of course there are Malaria and other tropical illnesses that cause misery. In a bush village outside of Ndola I also become aware of the dangers of giving birth. Here, the next small clinic is a couple of hours away by bicycle. If a woman has complications giving birth, it often ends with the death of mother and child. In addition, as yet another consequence of the village's remoteness, there is no school close by for kids to attend.
However, the more small organisations like iChange become active and work together the more it becomes likely and possible for people to not only survive but even more importantly increase their knowledge and know-how. This will make it possible for the actually very fertile Zambia to carry fruit and blossom in its fully potential beauty. Until then I am left with the hope for a fairer world system in which a litre of milk in Zambia does not cost the same amount of money as in Switzerland - where salaries are a hundred times higher.
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