Homes for AIDs Orphans - Zambia 2019

Over the summer I was fortunate enough to spend just under three weeks in Mwandi, a remote Zambian village, volunteering on a construction project. The fundamental aim of the project is to build houses for the most vulnerable members of the community. These are often elderly ladies with numerous orphaned grandchildren, whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. Mwandi is a 3 hour drive west of Livingstone, the tourist capital of Zambia, where poverty is rife and WiFi non-existent. The town in general is very under-resourced with few facilities, amenities or shops. The vast majority of local people do not own a car or motorbike, but instead rely on mule-drawn carts for commercial enterprises such as getting wood from the bush. 

As volunteers, we provided the manual labour for the homes, which are essentially mud huts. The process starts with a wooden frame and from there, we gradually added more and more mud until the walls were suitably robust, thick and smooth. A wooden door and metal roof are then added in the final stage. The houses are simply made from sand mixed with water without any machinery to aid the process. We often worked alongside the families who the house belongs to and during my time in Mwandi we were thrilled to be able to complete two houses. 

The trip gave me an opportunity to meet and work alongside volunteers from a variety of different countries and backgrounds, which led to an interesting, creative and forward-thinking dynamic. As volunteers we were under the guidance of local employees leading the construction project - we had the privilege of getting to know them quite well and they made sure we were fully immersed in their traditional culture, as well as providing a communication bridge between us and the local families. During our time off on Sundays, we visited the Catholic church and went to their fundraiser. Religion plays an important part in their culture and is fully integrated into daily life in Mwandi so experiencing this first hand was definitely a highlight for us all. 

The basic lack of infrastructure definitely came as a shock - for example the road to Livingstone (the nearest city) is of such poor quality that the parallel dirt track used for the donkey carts is faster than the tarmac. It makes the distance so much more time-consuming than it would be in the UK, meaning that commuting into the city for jobs or education is unfeasible. This undoubtedly isolates the village and demonstrated the importance of the facilities we subconsciously rely on and take for granted in the UK. It is hard to imagine not being able to go to University because the M5 had too many potholes… 

It also recalibrated my need for instant gratification, which is fundamentally impossible in Mwandi. Everything takes time, communication and planning, even getting a loaf of bread. Therefore I would say that although the remote nature of the project could be a challenge, it was also one of the best things about it and why I originally chose it. 

The experience will help me with my future plans in a number of different ways. I organised the volunteering project directly with the manager in Mwandi, rather than through a Western volunteer agency, which will hopefully show potential employers strong communication and organisational skills. It also demonstrates the confidence to travel abroad, embrace a new culture and work with anyone and everyone effectively, as well as having an international outlook. Employers indisputably value time spent working on internships, work experience and volunteering projects and doing this abroad in an undeveloped country has further added to my overwhelmingly positive experience. 

From a medical perspective, it has given me the chance to observe how a Zambian community has been brutally affected by the HIV outbreak, with many children left as orphans. In addition to this, I really enjoyed being able to then help the village in a small way, by building two families in need a house each. This will then enable them to better afford school fees rather than saving money for a new roof, for example, and give them more time for work, instead of spending huge amounts of time single-handedly constructing their mud hut. 

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to the Calne Foundation Trust; without their support I would simply not have been able to go. I am proud to have been a part of such a brilliant charity and to have left my own small contribution in Mwandi.

Jessica 

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