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Zambia - The place I'll never forget


In September 2022, I was fortunate enough to be selected by my current employers to be one of ten people to take a week long trip to the village of Chingola in Zambia, to help assist with building and teaching at Ipalo School.


I remember getting the email to say that I had been chosen and my initial reaction was that of pure excitement. At this point, being honest, it was purely selfish, I don't mind admitting. The opportunity that I would probably not take, a Country that I probably would not visit, the chance of a real adventure. These were all of my initial thoughts.


As it got close to the trip, excitement turned into a certain amount of apprehension. How dangerous is it there, what facilities are available, what are the do's and don'ts. All of these things!!


I soon settled once we were given the trip itinerary and I stopped stressing about the "bad stuff" and focussed on the positives.


TIME TO GO


I had collected a number of donations of clothing, sporting equipment and other bits and piled them into a suitcase for the hold. I personally travelled light and managed to get all of what I needed for myself into a cabin sized bag,


We were picked up at our place of business and then driven to London Gatwick Airport, arriving there at about 4pm.


Our first flight was on the impressive A380 to Dubai for a 7 hour flight. A very quick layover in Dubai, then saw us legging it to make our connecting Boing 777 Emirates flight to Lusaka (the Zambian Capital). After another 7 hour flight, we landed in the Capital and my initial impression was that of surprise.


It's difficult to fully try and explain what I was thinking. Maybe naively, I was expecting all of Africa to be the same. The Africa that we see on the TV here on charity adverts or programmes like Comic Relief. Lusaka Airport was not like that at all. Beautiful greenery, palm trees, immaculate roads, paths, facilities.







After a 3 hour layover in Lusaka, we then boarded a small plane for the 45 minute flight to Ngolo.


This was my first time on a much smaller aircraft. Flying at a lower altitude and just as the sun was setting, we managed to see some truly stunning views across Zambia en-route



My lame photography does NOT do this any justice (I'm blaming the window of the plane).


We landed in Ngolo and the sun was very much gone. It wasn't as humid as I was expecting, but the air was very dry. It's something we all noticed immediately.


After a 2 hour minibus journey down to the village of Chingola, we arrived at our hotel. By this point is was close to 11pm local time and we had a 6am start the next morning so after a full 26 hour journey from door-to-door, it was time to get my head down.


DAY 1


We woke at 6am, heavy-eyed and heavy-headed, then grabbed a very quick breakfast in the hotel before making the 20 minute minibus journey to Ipalo School.


We arrived at the school which seemed in the middle of nowhere and on a vast plot of land, mainly of dry sand/dust. The buildings looked in good condition as well as the garden plots that we drove past to get to the main parking area. Our company has been one of a few organisations that have funding the development of the school over the past few years.


We got out of the van to the sound of genuine joyous music (or so we thought). Still tired and weary, we walked along a path down the side of a building which then opened up to a covered opening.


We were welcomed to the sound of every single child from the school, singing to us. IT...WAS...PHENONEMAL!!!!


It took everything I had to not break down from the pure emotion that swept over me instantly. I looked at a few of my other colleagues and they gestured that they were feeling the exact same way. This was genuinely one of those moments that will be impossible for me to forget.




Once we had our introductions, met the children, met the teachers and volunteers, it was time to get straight to work.


We had been each set an itinerary for the week. Mine was mainly made up of helping with activities within the grounds, like helping to build a playground, a netball court, clearing areas for future projects etc. Throughout the week I was also due to teach a football lesson, an art lesson and a Netball session, amongst other things.


I met up with one of the employees at the school called Steven, who was like a site manager for the various building projects that were in play. Steven has a very sad and heart-warming story to tell which I will come onto a little later.


It was approximately 10am at this point, not a cloud in the sky, the air very dry and temperature of around 37C... I was given a pick axe, a shovel and a wheelbarrow and we made a start.


The day consisted of a couple of hours levelling an area which will become the playground for the younger children, a stop for 45 minutes lunch and then in the afternoon, I was helping fill large crater-like holes along the main access road through the campus.


We finished our duties around 4pm when the school finished. Now at this point, you would think that the children go home... Like me, you'd be wrong. The school is such a safe haven from the various horrendous backgrounds and living conditions that await these children so they all stay at school until it starts to get dark.


Well if they were staying, we were staying. We spent the next few hours just meeting the children, getting to know them, playing football and games. It was truly heart-warming. No matter how tired and achy I was physically, I was just inspired to keep going, do as much as I can in the short time that I was there and this included this "downtime" with these amazing kids.




DAY 2


Feeling sluggish, still from the travelling, the pure randomness of every emotion on Day 1 and the added physical duties that the previous day had in store for me, I woke up again around 6:30am, prepared for the day, had breakfast, and headed back to the school for 8:30am.


Today, was more of the same although this time, it seemed a lot warmer. I was out with Steven and a couple of my colleagues, clearing and levelling an area that would soon to be a netball and volleyball court.


It was a hard slog, but we kept going. My water intake was absolutely insane but it was so hot and so dry, it was certainly needed to keep going.




During this time was when Steven told me about his life and his back story. He is a truly great guy. Always seems happy and has a great sense of humour. Steven is a true god-fearing Christian, as is everyone at the school. He has a wife and 2 children (one of which is at the school) and now he has this job and then preaches and volunteers on Sundays.


It hasn't always been like this for Steven though. He was telling me how a couple of years previously he was in a job where he would be gathering copper and then lugging bags of copper up a huge hill to the sorting factory. These bags would weigh no less than 30kg and if they turned up light, they wouldn't get paid. They would be at it all day and he would maybe get 2-3 trips completed in a day. Each trip he would get the equivalent of £5 GBP. He was a young, fit and strong guy too so there were may others that would work all day to only manage one trip. He had even seen men just collapse and even pass away half way up the hill - for pittance!!!!!! It was so sad to hear and I felt truly helpless as to what to say or do as he was telling me. Steven had lost his parents at a young age. He didn't say how but a lot of people in the area are exposed to AIDS or HIV and other life-threatening conditions.


This guy inspired me even more. I was so glad that I had been put with him for the majority of the week and he was just so appreciative of my help (even though it felt like I was hardly even making a dent).



Steven - And yes, we had to get him in a Pompey Shirt!!!!



DAY 3


Day 3 proved to be a much easier day on the muscles but absolutely gruelling on the heart and soul!!


In the morning I was visiting the homes of a couple of the students. I really did not know what to expect. You see the kids at school, and they are all very well turned out in their uniforms and hair all done. They seem really happy and genuinely glad to be learning and doing things there. We had heard how the families are extremely poor and other children in the household are roaming the streets trying to sell anything they can for money or food.


That did not prepare me for what I then saw.


The houses were in extremely poor condition. I would liken them to the size of a garage, with holes in the roof, no electricity or running water, and usually split into 2 or 3 small rooms. Some of these houses were housing upto 8 or more people. It was extremely grounding, and again, another experience that I don't think I will ever forget.


The school has a social worker and he was with us on the visit. He was explaining to us that they have to means test the children that go to the school. They get around 350 applications each year but could currently only accept about 30 at most. He said that he would have to take a number of things into consideration and when he would go to some of these houses, they would have maybe 5 children, but he could only accept 1 of them per household. I asked why, and he explained that having a place at the school would mean they would obviously have access to education and skill learning which would then get them into further education and/or a "well-paid" job. This would then support that whole family. Therefore, accepting one from each household means that in time, they could help bring more families out of poverty...... Beyond tragic!!




Onto the afternoon, and what better way to help ease my mind, than to be teaching netball and football to the kids.


They love being active and love sports. I was more than happy to get some little tournaments underway and watch the smiles on their faces.


Again, an emotional rollercoaster of a day. I remember phoning home to my wife and just breaking down as I was telling her all about it.





DAY 4


Nearing the end of the trip and another day mainly working on the soon to be netball and volleyball courts in the morning with Steven.


In the afternoon, I was assisting with teaching a Grade 3 class (8 year olds) in an art lesson. Being completely transparent here, I am useless when it comes to anything arty. As much as I want to be good, I just don't have the knack. So what to do... Part of the curriculum that they were currently learning was patterns. I decided to get them to each draw round their hand. Once they had done this, I got them to draw inside the line by a couple of millimetres and repeat until the whole of the inside of the hand was covered. They seemed to love it and liked the patterns that they had created,


They then sung me a Christian song as a way of saying thank you which was just so humbling.



DAY 5


This was our final day at the school as we were heading back the next day in the afternoon. We had a "free day" to just roam around the school, in and out of different classrooms, chipping in where we could and just spending time with the children.


At the end of the school day, we had a leaving assembly and once the children left, we spent some time saying good bye to the staff and other volunteers, Again, it was very emotional and every one said a little speech and exchanged small gifts.


That evening, we were invited to a restaurant with the senior leadership team of the school to say a final thank you and good bye



Heading Home


It was Saturday morning and time to pack and check out of the hotel to start heading back that afternoon.


We packed up our minibus and then we were informed that we were going to spend a couple of hours at a local nature reserve on our way through.


To our surprise, we were met there by the classes of Grade 9 at the school and we went round the nature reserve with the kids. This was about 30 minutes from the school and these children had NEVER been.


We saw Zebra, Gazelle's and various other wildlife. It was the perfect way to end the trip and such a happy couple of hours.


Then we had to say yet another goodbye, and it wasn't any easier. I was looking forward to seeing my kids, my wife and my other family for sure, but a big part of me didn't want to leave, or stop helping.


Sadly, it was time to go....





Ipalo School, Chingola, Zambia..... Thank you!!!


Thank you for sharing, thank you for opening my eyes, thank you for letting me help you (albeit a very small amount|)..... and thank you for being a part of the rest of my life!!!

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