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Mpongwe and the Mumba Mosaic project. Day one: zombies, beginnings and learning about school.

Got here Monday night. Mildly delirious from being up for 40 hours. (Can’t sleep on planes.) If you’re interested in such things, my aerial film choices:

  • Ironman 3 – meh **
  • What we do in the shadows – amusing in places ***
  • Terminator Genisys – surprisingly, disappointingly, dull *
  • Spy – hilarious. Especially Jason Statham’s self-parody ****

Stopover: Dubai spaceport. Where coffee costs eight pounds. Views flying out over the city are incredible, as are the ensuing desertscapes.

Arrived at Lusaka to be greeted by a scene from the start of the zombie apocalypse – travellers being temperature checked by be-masked health workers. Didn’t see what happened to the ones that failed…

Having happily transpired to not be one of the Walking Dead, I continued through immigration to be greeted by Mary, a friend of Hilda’s. (Hilda runs the Mumba Children’s Project – where our project’s taking place – is generally formidable, and is either related to, or a friend of, everyone in Zambia) Mary (also formidable) negotiated my way onto a local bus. Six hour, uncomfortable ride to Mpongwe (although accompanied by a kindly man who bought me a most welcome bottle of fizzy pop) arriving (properly zombie-like) shortly after midnight (or about 2am Dubai/Mos Eisley time.)

Day one of the Mumba Mosaic project: we (me, Mara (our glorious leader, founder of CAST and mosaic artist – amongst other things) Rosemary – therapist, founder of Winning Women Essex and Valli – board member for CAST) were warmly welcomed by Hilda’s family and friends at the village where Mara’s leading aforementioned mosaic project.

Jobs for today: chalking up the wall of the school/children’s centre where the mural is to go, and making a start on the mosaic artwork – a large African hand, surrounded by smaller hands, wearing a MPONGWE bracelet. People arrived from the village and further afield to find out what we were up to and to learn how to make a mosaic. Everyone was incredibly hospitable, helpful and keen to get involved.

Next door to our workshop, school was in session. Overhearing substance misuse and alcohol, I moseyed over to have an eavesdrop. Effectively, a PHSE lesson was in session. (With children of primary school age and younger.)

And why do people drink too much alcohol? Yes, because they have problems at home.

What does drinking too much alcohol do to your body? Yes, it damages the liver and the brain.

And what happens if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol? Yes, it can harm the baby and cause it to be deformed.

The teachers here are young, committed and hard working. They’re also only partially qualified – not being able to afford the fees required to complete the teaching course. They have limited resources and large classes of mixed ages and abilities. The pupils are attentive and well-behaved. They bring out well-loved work books that are falling apart. They’re pleased to receive their gift of a pencil each. (The donated coloured pencils and crayons are kept at the school for the pupils to use whilst there. As are the plastic dinosaurs. Children can never have too many plastic dinosaurs.)

We interrupted class to hand over said pencils and other donations. Teachers and pupils alike seemed delighted with the bounty. The two children’s microscopes were well received – scientific resources are effectively non-existent.

Our school offered to share their gifts with a school in a neighbouring village; a larger, grander building where a maths session was underway with a young teenage class. The class were asked to welcome us. Thanking them and with an opportunity to talk to them, I asked who enjoys maths? (Silence. Polite, and possibly slightly terrified, silence.) The teacher encouraged them to answer the strange lady who’d just burst into their lesson to dole out pencils. A few hands slowly lifted. I said something about the importance of maths and science and asked who wants to be a doctor? One hand shot straight up. A young man (who then looked a tad embarrassed at this attention drawing action) of great ambition. I fervently hope he gets the opportunity. I then asked; and how many of you girls want to be doctors? Silence. We need more lady doctors. It’s very important for girls to study maths and science. Happily, the (male) teacher backed me up. Yes, we do need women to study the sciences. From what I’ve heard so far, things are changing for girls and women in Zambia. Of course it will take time, but, everything has to start somewhere. Mighty oaks, acorns, and so forth.

Lunch was prepared by the volunteer ‘dinner ladies’ who ensure each child that attends school receives a free healthy meal. (We presented these women with two aprons donated by Southend’s public health team – they love them. They want one more though – for their assistant.) Beans, nshima (made from maize) and vegetables: wholesome, hearty and absolutely delicious. These same amazing women keep up topped up with tea throughout the day. A full day’s work. Zero pay.

We’re meeting people here who have little themselves but are striving to do what they can for their community – especially for the children. It’s common to informally adopt here. Orphans aren’t unusual. I’m told (by Hilda’s sister Petroba, on our walk back from the neighbouring school) there’s been a high incidence of cervical cancer – many mums lost at an early age. Access to screening is improving, but women are anxious about getting screened or going for treatment. (I’ve not yet established the situation re cancer treatment and care. I expect the figures would show that cancer deaths in rural communities are relatively high. Including from the more treatable cancers.)

It’s dry season here. It’s very dry. And hot. Very hot. By 2pm – by virtue of lack of sleep and general-not-coping-so-well-in-the-heat I had once again adopted a Walking Dead demeanor. We packed up around 3pm and headed home. Home being a rather super ‘lodge’. I have a comfortable room with a double bed, a hot shower and, so far, just the one massive spider. (She didn’t bother me, I didn’t bother her. It works for us.) Compared to my usual digs when working in Africa, this is exquisite luxury. At around 12 pounds (there’s no pound symbol on this keyboard) per night. And there’s even t’internet. Which is nice.

There are many photos happening, which will accompany this blog retrospectively, owing to my lack of technomological wossnames and thingamajigs.

I hope to blog each day so that everyone that’s supported the project (and helped fund my flight over here) and anyone else that’s interested can learn more about what we’re up to. If you have any questions or ideas for me , my fellow volunteers, or the community, fire away!

You can read more over at Rosemary’s blog: www.RosemaryCunningham.co.uk


One comment on “Mpongwe and the Mumba Mosaic project. Day one: zombies, beginnings and learning about school.

  1. Glad you arrived safely if a little frazzled! Sounds amazing already. 🙂

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