Zambia is a large country at the heart of Africa and the only place in the world where 4 countries meet. With huge open plains, and barren rolling hills separated by a network of rivers, the wildlife is abundant, scenery is stunning and it offers any visitor an amazing African experience…
But a typical African adventure is not what we do at Kesgrave High School. Our teams go well off the beaten track and in July 2017 our team of 22 spent time in rural Siansowa, camping in semi-desert and working on sustainable projects designed to make an impact and lasting difference to one of the poorest communities in the world.
In an area that receives no school funding at all and where basic commodities such as food are in very short supply, our focus project of building a chicken coop was at the heart of our stay. It all sounded so simple… … dig some foundations, add a bit of concrete, build a few walls, add a roof, and there it is, a chicken coop ready to supply the community with eggs, a vital source of food and potential income for the school. But life “on project” doesn’t always go according to plan. The ground has been baking for months in the hot Sun and is either hard as concrete or like dust that simply collapses around our feet. Sand for building must be dug out of the ground from over 500m away and then carried by hand to our building site along with clay bricks and any other items that we need. No mechanical aids here, and all concrete / mortar is mixed by hand by our willing team.
First aid training
Siansowa village is home to several hundred people, living in a scattered assortment of houses that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The traditional wood and mud huts are still the predominant housing types. Life is exceptionally hard and with access to medicine often involving prohibitively expensive trips by bus lasting 4 hours or more, even serious injuries often go untreated. Our expedition teams always travel with trained first aiders and through donations from Manningtree First Responders, we were able to travel out with large quantities of basic first aid supplies to donate to the community. But we were able to do so much more, and by using the expertise of our team we were able to provide basic lifesaving training to key members of the community so that the equipment could be used appropriately in the future.
No luxuries here!
Our project site is located in the grounds of the local middle school and facilities are sparse. Our campsite consists of an assortment of tents that tentatively seek shade from the few trees that have retained their leaves in the baking Sun, but keep a respectable distance to avoid the scorpions and snakes that also like the shade of the loose bark. One water tap serves us for everything and we soon learn to appreciate the cool water from the borehole (it’s either that or water from Lake Kariba that has a distinctive odour and taste since it is unfiltered). No electricity, no showers, long drop toilets, and no mobile phones. Cooking over the wood fire is simple – source any food we can get (including crocodile), put it in the pot, stir it up and serve!
From the moment we first arrived in Siansowa we were made to feel especially welcome and our every action was often followed by an eager crowd of children that were curious about us and our work. The phrase “Hello, how are you?” is everywhere and any and every reply brings laughter. Our team soon felt at home and encourage our new friends to join in, whether it was building work, playing games or painting, it was truly a joint venture.
One of the joys of traveling with a diverse group of students is that everyone has skills that can be applied at some time and everyone does what they can to make our time in Zambia have impact. Whether it is project management, manual labour or any other of the vital roles, our students seek out tasks that will help and work together to make our trips successful, memorable and a true learning experience.
Our trips are exhausting and at times stressful, but are not intended to be easy – we all learnt from our experiences and all returned home somehow different inside. In July 2017, Kesgrave High School Sixth Form made a real difference.