My stay in Namwala is now over and I am safely back in Switzerland. In my luggage I have brought back a lot of experiences and little stories, which I would like to share with you.
During the three months I stayed at the school I obtained a deeper insight into the life of the Zambians and everyday school life. I could see on site what had been done with the help of the Namwala Friends Association and what unfortunately still urgently needed to be done.
I was warmly welcomed by the people of Namwala, and with their help I was soon familiar with the school. I was surprised at the size of the boarding section and that the origin of the pupils is not limited to the region or the province. From the whole country young people are sent to Namwala, which is surely a sign of the good reputation of the school.
My main contact person was Mr. Christopher Mukuwa, whose whole family looked after me during my stay in a warm and attentive way. Because of him I was able to share the Zambian way of life as a member of his family. I could witness how their children were looked after, how they lived and took care of each other. I was very touched by the fact that half of the children who lived in this household were not my host father’s own children. He had taken them in because their own parents could not pay for them or had died. Life is considerably more communal than we are used to in the western world.
It was impressive to observe how respect was shown towards elderly people in the society. When an elderly person is spoken to directly, the younger person crouches down and talks softly, to show servility and respect.
The omnipresent staple food is nshima: a porridge out of white maize which is eaten with bare hands. I ate this at almost every meal and I must say that I didn’t get tired of it during my whole stay.
I must mention that modern life has come more and more to Namwala and that the living standard is much better than I expected, which has probably to do with the political stability and the fact that Zambia has never been involved in a warlike situation. Independence was gained by protests and demonstrations and not by weapons.
The main idea behind my stay was that I could contribute to the preservation and renewal of the school in Namwala. I was able to help with a number of projects.
My main project was the manufacture and installation of the window grilles for the assembly hall and the dining hall. The 200 grilles were made out of 12 mm iron bars and directly welded onto the existing window frames, in order to obtain effective antiburglary protection. Afterwards they were painted to prevent corrosion. I also mounted new door lock systems.
These grilles are needed on the one hand because pupils often enter the food storage rooms without permission in order to steal food. The school provides the pupils with meals three times a day, when they can eat as much as they want, so all pupils should have enough to eat and stealing is unnecessary.
The real reason for this project, however, is a new system for the safe-keeping of the desks and chairs. Because a lot of desks and chairs are willfully damaged, the school decided to give every pupil a chair and desk marked with a number. During the holidays the school furniture will be kept in the unused rooms of the dining hall and assembly hall. This is to guarantee that
- the desks are kept safely and checked for damages
- repairs can be done simultaneously
- in the case of willful damage the pupil can be sued
- every pupil has his own desk and chair
- the allocation of desks and chairs can be done efficiently with little administrative effort
With this system the lifetime of the furniture will be extended. At the beginning of my stay the necessity of this system was shown. My first job was to collect all broken desks and to repair them and I was very surprised at the large number of badly damaged desks which were still being used. I mended 60 desks. Unfortunately this is not enough by far, as a lot of pupils still have to share their desks with two or three other pupils.
Apart from the repair of the desks I did several smaller jobs, for example the mounting of metal sheets at the windows of the mattress store to protect them from rainstorms during the rainy season. This protects the mattresses from dampness and mould. During this job a mishap happened, which still makes me feel scared when I think of it. During the welding flying sparks caused a fire which spread quickly. Thanks to the fact that the showers were in the same building and large water containers were available we managed to extinguish the fire so that nobody was hurt and only a slight blackening of the walls remained.
The second big project was the erection of 300m fence and a water pump for the orchard. The orchard will improve the future nutrition of the pupils and reduce the costs. In Zambia the free moving livestock eat the young shoots and the ripe fruit, so a higher and more stable fence was urgently needed. In the past it was very easy for the animals to get through the two former fences.
Together with pupils I embedded large metal poles more than a meter deep in concrete, the edges were stabilized and bigger round poles were made to allow more tensile strength. Additionally the garden was extended to give room for another 60 plants.
With the same fence system the waterhole was secured. The government wants all waterholes to be shielded from animals in order to prevent diseases.
The last project of my stay was the manufacturing of two steel doors for a separate room in the assembly hall. Here valuable electronic equipment and material for the caretaker will soon be kept.
All in all my stay abroad was a huge enrichment, which provided me with unforgettable memories. It was not always easy to be so far away from my family and friends but this plunging in a remote culture was what I wanted.
Therefore I would first of all like to thank Hans van der Weijden, who made this stay possible. He had the confidence that my skills could make a contribution in a faraway country.
I thank my family and my friends for supporting my plans and for allowing me to go. I missed them a lot and am happy to be home again.
I would like to thank my host father Christopher Mukuwa and his family: I was accepted as if I had always been a member of the family.
Many thanks also to the Namwala Friends Association for financing the projects that I was able to realize. I am proud that I could contribute to the improvement of the infrastructure of the school with their help. I tried to do my best and did my work as diligently as possible in order to obtain durability and sustainability
Mupone kapotu (Chitonga, the language of the Southern province, for: stay healthy)