After 15 hours travel it was touchdown in Lusaka. A sense of relief passed over me but I knew that the travel hadn’t ended there. We had another hour and a half internal flight to get to Mfuwe, our final destination in the wonderful Luangwa Valley. Boarding the rickety twin prop operated by Proflight™, a company partly owned by a friend of mine, I wondered what the next couple of weeks had in store. I looked around the cabin and the various T-shirt logos gave away that these were not normal tourists, they all had a purpose for being on this flight. And then I realised that I was one of the same!
Large parts of Africa, through war, famine or plain poverty are supported by numerous charities, small and large which support infrastructure, education, conservation and try to boost tourism to keep the economy going. I was here in Zambia to assist with two charities I am trustee for, Project Luangwa and Elephant Charge. Project Luangwa is mainly geared towards supporting local schools in Mfuwe, assisting with new buildings, increasing teaching resources and improving school life for all pupils. Elephant Charge is dedicated to nurturing the local habitats for wildlife, assisting in the maintenance of the national parks and to ensure the larger wild animals can roam free without the ongoing threats of poaching.
Being woken by the sound of elephants walking past your tent in the morning, or having to have an escort to and from your tent in case there are lions close by, or having baboons run across the roof whilst you are in a coffee shop or having a crowd of school children huddle round you, so happy and grateful for your presence – there are too many life changing and eye opening moments which happened in those two weeks to list here, so I’ll just concentrate on a couple for now.
One day we were taken to some of the schools which are supported by Project Luangwa. It may sound cliché, but some of the pupils were walking two hours to school and two hours back. They were pumping water from the well when they needed a drink and it is not an embellishment to say that teachers who stick around and not abuse the children were few and far between. The tribal system is still very much alive and if a teacher is caught stealing or abusing, then he (yes, 99% male teachers) is taken before the local chief – not police. In most cases he would be moved to another school where he is free to do exactly the same thing again. I walked past the newly built toilet block and the new undercover food space towards the school water pump. It was here I found a crowd of children all standing waiting their turn to pump their own water to fill the bottles they had brought from home – I had seen images like these on TV many times but it actually now hit home – these kids really need help. But they were all smiling…..
A huge campaign at the moment for Project Luangwa is to increase education around menstrual hygiene and to make young girls more comfortable attending school. Currently most girls miss a quarter of their education simply because of their biology. We are trying to educate the boys to respect the girls and to make them feel comfortable at school at all times. The charity is also dedicated to build clean and functional different sex toilet blocks so girls can find private spaces which are specifically catered for their needs.
I was in the back of a jeep one day heading to see a school and gave a lift to two American tourists who were going in the same direction. We had some small talk and a laugh and dropped them off. The next day I was sitting in the charity shop café, baboons frolicking on the roof, when the same tourists walked in. They walked straight up to the desk and said, ‘we’d like to make a donation’. At that moment they committed to sponsor two children through the entirety of their school education. I was almost brought to tears. A full education gives the kids the chance to move away from their home village of Mfuwe, the chance to go to Lusaka to university, to earn money and send money home. This is what the charity is about – giving opportunities and improving the way of life.
It is all because of a friend of mine, the same friend who owned the Proflight™ airline, that I am involved in these charities. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but I am so grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to be part of such important work. It has really opened my eyes and changed my whole outlook on life. We, the privileged, are so lucky and spoilt. I have now been involved with these charities for about eight years and look forward to many more fulfilling visits and encounters with those happy smiling faces.