'Mulishani – how are you?', 'Bwino – I am doing fine!'. There is simply no other way to respond when being asked this question while in Zambia. And it describes our overall impression of the Zambian people: joyful, open, content.
One of our first orders of business upon arrival was the sourcing of some bicycles, as these serve as our default mode of transportation. And once successfully completed – we spent countless hours at the bike repair shop, as is usually the case: broken pedals, severed chains, flat tires and other breakdowns. And every time something like this happened – we had to wait, and wait, and wait… Here in Switzerland we have watches, in Africa they have time…
As a result of these challenges we only managed brief first impressions of our two main areas of work over the next weeks: Mackenzie community and the St. Anthony Orphanage. Instead, we took time to settle in and soon had successfully assimilated into the 'African Rhythm of Life'.
Already during our first week we ran into a variety of challenges: virus-infected computers, overloaded electricity grids, and so on. Thankfully, our broad range of backgrounds and skills paid off handsomely when it came to dealing with these obstacles.
Dominik successfully cleaned up all our computers, thus enabling us to keep friends and family at home informed about our experiences and time in Zambia. Mirjam found her calling in caring for a neglected family of rabbits; soon 'Mama Rabbit' had made it her goal to provide these adorable creatures with a somewhat easier life around our living compound. David, our carpenter, saw project opportunities at every corner, among others a kitchen expansion in our volunteer home. Even without a full set of tools, in particular no power tools, he was able to put his full skill set to productive use. Rebekka spoiled us with freshly baked bread and for this purpose implemented various kitchen improvements, among other things a wood-fired oven behind our house. Naomi gave her full attention and heart to the children at the orphanage and in Mackenzie. She simply had a knack for making them excited and happy wherever she went. Tabea repeatedly was called upon to act as translator and remove possible language barriers. In addition, she took care of our finances and made sure that everything was in order at any time. And Daniel, our president, had his hands full coordinating and managing so many people and projects. At times, he really needed two sets of ears instead of only one.
Thanks to iChange all of us had the opportunity and freedom to engage our very individual skills and gifts for the benefit of the local population and the various projects. As is often the case, it's difficult to put a finger on how much immediate change we were able to accomplish, but we for sure learned a lot about ourselves. We truly complemented each other perfectly.
Livingstone – THE tourist spot in Zambia. And, of course, the Victoria Falls, the biggest waterfalls in all of Africa, located at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. With a free height of about 110m these falls make the Rheinfall in Schaffhausen, Switzerland look like a small drop of water. During our time in Zambia we thoroughly enjoyed this awe-inspiring wonder for a full day. And in the evening, we closed out the day watching a true African sunset, drink in hand. The latter, though, at very Swiss-like prices. And, isn't it simply impossible to return from a visit to Africa without ever having seen a giraffe? As a result we also drove for a day into Botswana in order to visit the Chobe National Park there. On the water as well as from the air we saw elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotamus, water buffalos and even a leopard! And during an additional outing we were even able to add zebras to our 'finds'. For those who already had seen these inhabitants of the wide open plains before, there was another interesting object to watch: busloads full of tourists. While most of us took pictures of a variety of animals, Daniel managed to return home with only pictures of tourists… Later on during our visit things went down to the wire – Dominik took the risk and bungee jumped 111m down from the large bridge at the falls. Thankfully, the rope held up and Dominik continues to be with us.
However, in addition to the many beautiful impressions of Livingstone and the Victoria Falls we also made different experiences. Tabea developed an acute inflammation of the middle ear which provided us with the opportunity to visit the hospital in Livingstone. Once there, things went very well: we had competent doctors and wait times were rather short. However, the usually free dispensation of needed medication ended at 4pm and we had to buy them at the regular local pharmacy. This was no problem for us, but we soon realized that that is not the case for many locals. Right outside the hospital we were cautiously approached by a man. He conceded that we probably had been told not to give anything, but he was nevertheless wondering whether we had anything to eat on us. He was visibly suffering from a club foot and, having missed the cutoff for dispensation of his medication, he had to wait until the next morning, not being able to afford his prescriptions outright at the pharmacy. Together with his wife and their two year-old daughter he was preparing to spend the night outside, something they hadn't planned for and therefore didn't have any money left. Under normal circumstances it is indeed a judgment call whether to give anything in such situations as even food is sometimesright away peddled for money. But here in front of us we saw a stranded family which in the end were overjoyed about the last two of our sandwiches. Their thankfulness and positive attitude, despite the uncomfortable night ahead, touched us deeply. In particular as the whole scene played out right next to one of the expensive tourist lodges.
After one week of being tourists we finally went back to what really matters – how to support and help the people of Mackenzie in their daily struggles.
A shout out by the ladies to the men in our group. For full four days we vacated our volunteer home for some major maintenance and renovation. Wall-mounted cupboards were removed to create more room, a coat of paint was applied and some other necessary maintenance performed. Now Malaika Home, as the volunteer accommodation of iChange is called, is ready for new rounds of volunteer groups. One particularly delicious addition – an outdoor wood-fired oven. Test runs with bread and pizza delivered outstanding and yummy results.
In the course of this project, we put the new carpentry shop at Mackenzie to its toughest test to date. At times, five Swiss carpenters were at work simultaneously. Among other things, the new bunk beds for Malaika Home were built there during this time. Pressley and Isaac, two friends from Mackenzie, also joined us during these days as they wanted to learn more about how to work with wood. In the end, we had a rather un-African atmosphere in the carpentry shop – every one, without exception, was hard at work.
While taking a walk through the community today we ran into a family whose son had attended Mackenzie Community School. Thanks to iChange-sponsored computer lessons at that time, he had ultimately succeeded in landing a stable and paying office job upon graduation from school. This made a visible impact on the family's situation as their home now counts among the nicest in all of Mackenzie. In the meantime, the son's employer even sponsored a one-month training visit to France for him. Clearly, this young man used the opportunity presented to him during his school days in an impressive and encouraging way.
In the same vein, we noticed advertisement posters for computer lessons in the Hillcrest community, where Malaika Home is located. Classes take place in a nearby school. In 2009, iChange volunteers had provided free computer lessons for the teachers at this school. Upon learning that the teachers knew how to operate and use a computer, the government equipped the school with a computer lab. Now the teachers are in a position to pass on their knowledge to new generations of students.
During summer of 2013 some of our volunteers started a dental hygiene project at Mackenzie Community School. After each school-provided meal all children were shown how to properly brush their teeth to maintain their dental health. But we were realistic – it's difficult to keep such a project going once our volunteers leave. But – much to our surprise, the project continued on its own and the students still brush their teeth after school lunches. Instead of re-starting the project, as we had expected, we only did a brief refresher on proper cleaning technique to further motivate the children.
Lastly, two years ago, Daniel found a digital camera in a trash can in Switzerland. Upon inspection he realized that there was only minor cosmetic damage and decided to take the camera to Mackenzie. There, he gave it as a gift to our friend Pressley – who now has used this camera to start a small photography business.
'Chisuma Zambia, hello Switzerland' – after wonderful weeks together it was soon time for most of our volunteers to return home. But right up to the day of departure we were going full-throttle: our carpentry projects got their final, finishing touches, the students learned 'Never Give Up!', and final purchases were made. During this time a friend of ours, who was staying with us, was down and out in bed with high fever – probably malaria. It reminded us of how much protection we had experienced during our time here. Nobody in our group got seriously ill and despite 20km of biking every day we had no major accidents. And no disputes and confrontations in our group either.
Right in time for our final night the new bunk beds were ready for use. Only hours before we had transported the still separate pieces with the help of rented small truck to Malaika Home. Only when you sit in the back of a truck like this you realize how rough the roads truly are. But, all was well in the end – not only did we complete the beds, but we also had the chance to teach our local friends how to use and maintain the tools in the carpentry shop in Mackenzie, making it ready for production and use even after our departure.
In the end we are left with a deep feeling of thankfulness and awe for the many experiences and encounters we had. Thank you also to all who contributed to the success of this stay.