Quite some time before our departure for Zambia the idea crossed our minds to start a new project at Mackenzie Community School – art lessons. For such a project to work and make sense not only here in our parts and minds of the world, but on location in Zambia, we wanted to ensure that our plans and expectations were as close to reality as possible. Various talks with the iChange team as well as art teachers who already had spent time in Africa helped us prepare for our trip.
As we arrived during the Easter holidays, we decided to stay at home with our host family for the first couple of days. During this time, we roamed the immediate surroundings of our neighborhood and made ourselves comfortable in the little house that is used to house volunteers. In doing so, one thing became clear – a well-stocked and functioning household needed to be assembled. Various trips by bike or bus to the city to gather necessary household items helped us orient ourselves and find our way around Ndola. In addition, the whole Chisha-family had made it their goal to give us the 'full & real' Africa experience from day one.
Despite what we thought were thorough preparations our first day at school turned out to be a real jump in at the deep end. Instead of the expected 40 students we were suddenly confronted with the hopeful faces of 80 to 90 children of all ages! In addition, we found out that our expectations with regards to the artistic skills of students were probably a bit rosy. Even the task of drawing their favorite animal turned out to be quite a project – many of them held a drawing pen in their hands for the first time in their lives. Over and over did we try to motivate and show the kids how to approach this topic. We did sketches, helped little hands glide over the paper... and then it happened: BOOM! From one moment to the other our little artists were on a roll and could not be stopped anymore. After the first picture right away a second one and another one... Each child – when presenting their efforts to us for review - naturally expected a compliment, which was always answered by one of the broadest grins possible on their faces. In addition, each painting had to be hung on the walls of the classroom right away so that others could admire it, too. Even though there were three of us (during our first week a good friend from South Africa stayed with us) this completely overwhelmed us after a while and desperate looks were exchanged. Due to the language barrier, we were unable to calm down and coordinate the children anymore, but fortunately for us we always had some of the local teachers with us who knew exactly what to do in such situations. Despite the slight overtaxing of our abilities, it was one of the most wonderful experiences for us – to motivate kids from 0 to 60 in a matter of less than 20 minutes.
Our subsequent first experience in conducting sports sessions followed a similar pattern. We immediately became painfully aware that the kids were far ahead of us with regards to physical fitness and strength. Especially their ability to withstand the heat was unlimited – quite to the contrary of our tolerance levels. Quickly it became obvious that in this subject matter we mostly would be the source of conceptual ideas. And even when putting these ideas into action new obstacles arose. Many things that we took for granted were new to our children, for example how to form a circle at the beginning of each lesson. This exercise, which we had thought to be a matter of a minute or two, in the end took about half an hour the first time around. As a result, we had to rethink our lesson plans to ensure that implementing them would be possible at all.
Compared to these activities our visits to the orphanage were of a completely different nature, as we went there 'project-free'. This resulted in us not being entirely sure in the beginning what our task would be and how/where to fit in. Were we there to play and cuddle the little ones only? This did not entirely satisfy us and therefore we decided to take the initiative. We asked the staff to tell us where help could be used and was needed: changing diapers, feeding, preparing food, doing the laundry, whatever there was. But in the end, it was the realization that we could do so much with so little that counted the most: 'just' playing and cuddling turned out to be worth so much more than we had thought. To simply play with a particular child for a couple of hours allowed us to give the little ones the attention and love that otherwise often fell a bit short as the staff usually was more than busy with all the other things which needed their attention. And thus, our work at the orphanage became a time of many important and fundamental experiences for us personally.
We quickly found our weekly rhythm. Each Tuesday afternoon there were sports lessons, Thursday afternoons were booked for art classes. In between we spent most of the other days at the orphanage. Even if this sounds like a rather boring and repetitive setup for our time in Ndola it was not like this for us at all. Each day and visit allowed us to meet new people and with each passing week the throng of children turned into a group of individuals which we got to know well, including their character traits.
Over time we also found the courage to try out more as well as new things. For example, we started a project at the orphanage where once or twice a week we would bring fruits and offered them to the children. But we also had to learn and accept to keep an open mind and recognize our limits in how much help we could deliver.
Our two months in Zambia definitively were one of the most amazing experiences in our lives. Not only were we able to provide and give humanitarian support, no, butwe were also allowed to experience this country in its full diversity and beauty. Both of us have no problems to see ourselves returning to this unique country again in the future.