For the first time since the official founding of iChange it became possible for all members of the iChange board to spend a couple of weeks together in Zambia. In addition, we welcomed seven volunteers from five different nations. These volunteers either initiated new activities of their own or continued projects started earlier in the year by previous volunteers. In addition, they also actively helped with and supported various projects conducted by the iChange team. By means of this article we want to briefly summarize the main events and activities that took place.
During our first weeks we focused on networking and building relationships with various other humanitarian and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are active in Mackenzie, as well as government representatives. Our main objective was to introduce ourselves, obtain a comprehensive overview of all activities currently taking place in Mackenzie, as well as discuss opportunities for closer cooperation. This will help to achieve project synergies in the future and avoid accidental doubling up in certain areas.
All in all, we were able to conduct meetings and discussions with eight other NGOs. Valuable relationships were established and even some partnerships for already existing projects were agreed upon. Helpful conversations also took place with local city and community administration representatives, where continued mutual support and cooperation was agreed upon.
Already during last year, a community health clinic was identified as one of the most pressing needs for the people in Mackenzie. After many previous planning meetings and further discussions during our visit we finally arrived at a point where we were able to start implementing this project. Despite the thousands of people living in Mackenzie no permanent health infrastructure exists there currently. Fundamental objective of this project thus is the initial establishment of basic medical services in Mackenzie Community.
To achieve the most efficient use of the limited funds available for this project iChange agreed with the Mackenzie Community Council that a couple of rooms in the barely used existing Mackenzie Community Center can be remodeled for the purpose of a small health clinic. While iChange provided all required building materials the community contributed all necessary labor and skills. In the future, government personnel and health workers have agreed to staff and operate the clinic.
As part of this remodeling the need for sanitary restrooms became apparent to be able to meet government regulations for such clinics. On this occasion the opportunity arose to cooperate with another NGO, 'Doors of Hope', which is already active in Mackenzie, operating a vocational training center for young people there. Doors of Hope recently started the construction of a row of toilets which now also will contain restrooms for the clinic. Both organizations also agreed to extend and increase their cooperation in the future.
Mackenzie Community School currently depends on the ongoing support from NGOs as this represents the only way to provide free education of a certain quality. Since 2010 iChange has financially supported the team of teachers at the school and provides basic teaching materials. In addition to iChange, in the past one other NGO provided substantial support for Mackenzie Community School as well.
As this organization has gradually reduced or ceased its support for the school our team started to look for and evaluate options as to how the school can be supported in a sustainable way into the future. After discussions with the teachers and representatives of the community council the concept of a local grinding mill was developed. On the one hand such a milling operation would enable the community to process its main agricultural product, corn, on location without incurring the need for long distance transport to another mill. On the other hand, profits of such a venture could be used to secure continued support for the community school. At this point, iChange is waiting for the final approval and provision of a piece of land in Mackenzie were this mill will be constructed.
In addition, the team started preparations for a new program which – beginning in 2012 - will provide five students at Mackenzie Community School with the opportunity to qualify for scholarships and the financial support needed to continue their schooling at a public school. At this point, Mackenzie Community School only provides schooling through grade four and the cost of continuing their education thereafter is too high for most students and their parents. If successful, it is planned to extent this program over the course of the next years.
Last but surely not least, Mackenzie Community School received a new coat of paint all around. Painting supplies were donated by a local sponsor and the work was performed volunteers and members of the community.