Back home – back to Zambia. Since my first visit in 2008 this African country has fascinated and excited me ever more. Yes, the days there are usually filled with hard work and one must forego various daily luxuries and amenities, but I am looking forward to returning to Zambia – my 'second' home – each time.
Already on the first day back I realized that compared to my second visit in 2009 many things had changed. For example there was the wooden bridge, which already three years ago could only be passed with quite some effort. Its condition now was worse than ever before. Of course, a bridge might not necessarily be categorized as life essential; yet this one is used by more than 700 people daily as it represents one of the most direct connections from the Hillcrest neighborhood to Ndola city center. School children take a 45-minute detour on their way to and from school each day as they are by now afraid to cross the bridge. In addition, our iChange volunteers often use the bridge multiple times each day with their bicycles. We therefore decided that one of our projects this time would be to repair the bridge and put it back to safe use.
Some of you now might wonder - why did the local population not try to do this on their own before? There were various attempts to fix the bridge; however, these efforts usually used wooden planks which were not securely fastened to the bridge's steel frame. As a result they never stayed in place for long, but were stolen for building purposes as the cost of such items is enormous in Zambia. To put things into perspective – one plank for the bridge and four strong bolts & nuts to secure it cost about 12 Swiss Francs. On average, a Zambian worker earns less than 2 Swiss Francs a day.
We therefore set out to address this situation and Simon, our carpenter from Mackenzie, gave us various helpful tips and instructions. This included how to fasten the planks in a secure and lasting way and how to treat them against insect infestation and rot. Each passerby thanked us for our work and we were able to have many interesting and informative talks with them. Some of them even stopped what they were doing and joined us in our project wherever they could. This allowed us to finish this project within three days. Especially the children showed their enthusiasm over this joint accomplishment by running back and forth and dancing on the newly planked bridge. From now on, they do not have to make long detours but can simply cross the bridge on their way to school.
During my stay in Zambia this time I also visited the AIDS Orphanage and school projects of BOCCS in Kabwe, together with some of our iChange volunteers. Altogether BOCCS' six schools in Kabwe are attended by more than 4,000 students. In addition, more than 600 hundred lunch meals are prepared and distributed daily. As there is no electricity in these schools the meals are prepared over open charcoal fire pits. Up to now viable alternative sources of energy were not available as solar or other technologies are either too expensive or unreliable. To counter the rapidly progressing deforestation in Zambia BOCCS started a local project centering on a biogas toilet system. This new source of energy was put into real-time use in March 2011.
At one of their locations, BOCCS was in desperate need of toilets for the more than 400 students there. Underneath the new toilets a biogas system was inserted which not only catches human excrements but can also take on kitchen and plant waste or another biomass. Via a gas line connection the naturally developing biogas is captured and routed back to the kitchen where it is used to prepare the daily student lunches. In addition, the system produces natural fertilizer which supports the school's garden.
Of course, any such system poises the question of health safety and hygiene, as the gas is used to prepare food. The local BOCCS project manager allowed us to thoroughly inspect the new toilet/biogas system and we definitively got the impression that everything worked well and in a clean way. Even an up-and-close 'smell test' at the gas line impressed through the absence of any foul odors.
Right next to the new biogas toilet system the school grows taro plants. This plant has a solid stem and large green leaves, which makes it a good biomass producer to be added to the biogas system. Another helpful reason this particular plant was selected – as the leaves have a very smooth and almost soft surface they are often used in more rural areas as toilet paper substitute.
On behalf of all our friends in Zambia – many thanks for your ongoing and generous support.