We landed in Ndola on Friday, June 21st and were right away welcomed. After a 15-minute car ride we arrived at Malaika Home, which translates into 'Home of Angels' in English. Like almost every property in the Hillcrest neighborhood the Chisha house is surrounded by a tall stone wall, which protects the family from intruders and wild animals. But once we walked through the wide iron gate we stood in a beautiful yard, full of shrubs and trees, where chicken are roaming freely and doves are flying in and out of their nesting area. The whole family welcomed us warmly, showed us the volunteer house, which is located right next to the family's living place, and then helped us to settle in. A joint dinner in the evening closed out the day and made us already feel like a part of the family.
For the first week Mirjam and I were the only volunteers, and we utilized this time to get used to our new surroundings. Together with Mom Antoinette we did some serious supply shopping in town. The first time we did so we were able to experience the reaction of the local population to 'white people' in their midst. Of course, people noticed us, greeted us and some even came over and wanted to just chat and talk with us. The people of Zambia are very joyful and open towards others. In the beginning, I was uncomfortable with all the attention; but we greeted everyone back so as not to appear rude and people really appreciated that. Mom Antoinette showed us all the key places where we could buy supplies. There are a lot of people in town usually and one must be very careful with traffic. Right the first time around my thought was 'wow, this is dangerous, hopefully I get out of this alive!' But within a really short time I got used to it and adjusted well to the craziness on the roads. Next on our project list was the maintenance and upkeep of our main mode of transportation – bicycles. Once completed, Nico took us on a tour of Ndola to show us around. Back at home we helped with the little shop on the Chisha property and by doing so quickly learned how to deal with the local currency, Kwacha.
With all these new impressions the first week went by in no time and Daniel, Tabea, Rebekka, David and Dominik arrived at Malaika Home. There was quite some excitement that now all of us where on location and we could start the 'official' part of our visit. Personally, I was also glad to have a larger group with us when traveling around town, in particular some men. While I never felt there was any danger for just us two women traveling, it still made me feel somewhat more relaxed and safer to be in a group. But first things first – to be able to do things together as a group we needed four additional bicycles. So, we bought some additional means of transportation. While not expensive the quality at times is reflected in the price and we ended up spending a couple of hours back at the bike shop during the first month in order to address all kinds of repair needs, for example a broken pedal or loose steering bar. Traveling by bike thus was always a bit of an adventure, something that I enjoyed a lot.
Having achieved a matching number of volunteers and bicycles, Nico then took us for a first visit to Mackenzie, a settlement on the outskirts of Ndola with a population of about 10,000. All the students at the community school there welcomed us with a song and listening to them touched our hearts. We then took a tour of the settlement to get a first set of impressions about the conditions there. From there Nico showed us the way to the orphanage in Masala. Upon arriving at the playground there all kids stopped and started running towards us to welcome our group. We introduced ourselves to the caretaker team and from them learned more about the orphanage's background and story. Afterwards, we started right away to play with the children. They were full of energy and excitement and would have liked to keep playing forever. At that moment it became clear to me that this was the place I wanted to spend as much time as possible during my visit. At times it was hard to comprehend and see that so many children must grow up without the ongoing love and care of parents. I therefore tried to give them as much of my love and attention as I could during my short time in Zambia. We often played with them until we were the ones who desperately needed a nap. Besides playtime we also assisted with teaching English and Math and helped the caretakers with feeding the little ones in the group. Unfortunately, it occurred rather often that kids started to hit each other when they could not sit on our lap or hold our hands. One little girl in particular, Grace, often did not leave my arms for the whole day and determinedly attacked anyone who wanted to take over from her. We therefore made it a point to show the children that we loved them all the same and that they all would get some time with us. It often pained me to see what kind of fear the children had instilled into them by their previous circumstances and personal history. Over the course of my month there, Grace started to trust me more and more and did not immediately cry when I put here down here and there. I do miss the kids a lot. And no, I could not adopt them all together...
Besides the orphanage we also worked in Mackenzie. Our initial objective was to support the teachers at the school, not the least because it is quite a task for three teachers to care for up to three hundred students. But we soon found out that the teachers had had very mixed experiences with volunteers from other organizations in the past. Often, they would mostly focus on play time and games; in and by itself also valuable activities but they ended up interfering with the regular class schedule and thus with the overall teaching progress. It often happens that volunteers show up for a couple of hours a week, conduct some games with the kids and then ask for a written confirmation that they participated in a volunteer project with the community school. Given these issues it was not easy for us to gain the trust of the teachers. In the end it took time and multiple open discussions to convince them about how important the actual content curriculum was for us as well and that all we truly wanted to do was to support them in their endeavors. In response, the teachers admitted that they really would appreciate and welcome some constructive and ongoing support and we started to fill in at times for them during Math and English classes. Doing so provided them with the opportunity to review exam papers and prepare their upcoming lessons. But until each child receives a solid and complete primary education there is still a long way to go.
As I like to do sports, I started a side-project in Mackenzie by establishing a small volleyball team. The kids showed great interest and talent in trying out this new sport. So, we bought a real volleyball and I taught them how to train and learn the various components of the game. After my departure from Ndola, Pressley, one of our closest friends in Mackenzie, took over my role and continued to work with the team. It admittedly wasn't the most pressing issue to have a volleyball team in Mackenzie, but I felt it added yet another afternoon activity option for the teenagers who often start drinking early in the day due to lack of things to do.
The longer we stayed in Zambia the more we gave up our 'Swiss' mentality and habits and took on the local customs. While being shy and insecure in the beginning, I soon felt comfortable and at home in Zambia. I ended up really liking to talk to strangers on the street or greeting everyone in passing in Bemba. There was no denying it – the joy of living which is so prevalent in Zambia had taken full hold of me.
At the end of my month-long stay we turned into tourists for four days and visited Livingstone. While there we visited the Victoria Falls and went on Safari. It was a special experience to see more of this beautiful country during these days. But – there was also a certain uncomfortable feeling about just being a tourist and spending money for our own pleasure. During these days we talked with many of the locals about their life and circumstances. While we initially had assumed that in touristic areas like Livingstone poverty would be somewhat less of an issue, we quickly realized that this is not true. While foreigners make good money there, the local Zambians must wonder day-by-day whether they will make enough money to sustain and feed their family at home.
My month in Zambia was filled with wonderful, exciting, funny, emotional moments and learning opportunities. My decision to travel to Zambia was the right one and I would like to thank the iChange team for allowing me to join them for this time. I also would say that one month seemed a good length for a first-time visit. Clearly, one must be realistic that not too much can be fundamentally changed in such a short time. However, it is enough to learn first insights about the people and their circumstances and start to build a cultural understanding. It is these experiences in the end that bring forth ideas how to truly help and support people in need.