Zambia Immersion Project 2013

Zambia Immersion Project (ZIP)

O’Connell Secondary School

February 1st – 18th 2013

O’Connell Secondary School has had an immersion link with Zambia since 2005 and members of the school community recently embarked on the school’s fifth excursion to this beautiful African country. This article is a collage of the thoughts and reflections of the OCS Zambia crew who had been planning the trip for the past 12 months.

Games at the Cheshire Home
Group Photo at the Cheshire Home
The Team at Limulunga
Sr. Peggy and the Crew at Limulunga!

We were all very nervous as we came to school (our meeting point) for our send-off. We were nervous because we had no idea what lay ahead of us. We were also conscious of everything that we had to bring and we were running through our check-lists to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.   Conor Grey’s brother had gone on a previous ZIP and he had told us loads about it, but it was still very nerve-wrecking. He told us that it was going to be “the best trip of our lives” and that made us feel a little less nervous and a bit more confident.

It is now customary that all the students and teachers going to Zambia assemble in the school and all the remaining students give the travelling group a right old OCS send-off! This year was no different. All our teachers and mates were hugging us and wishing us well. We all had so many emotions running through our heads, but it felt so exciting and amazing. As we left for the airport in the school minibus, some 1st year students were waving the Scoil Uí Chonaill flags and wearing the school jerseys. It made us feel so proud that we were now representing our school and were seen as role models for our younger students. On the way out to the airport, we realised that there was no going back now……….We’re Zambia bound!

We touched down early in Lusaka on the morning of 2nd February. Most of us were very tired as we hadn’t slept on the plane. The lure of uninterrupted movies and free Coca-Cola kept us awake! We stepped off the plane expecting a ‘barrier’ of heat but because it was still early in the morning, it wasn’t that hot and more surprisingly, the countryside was actually quite green and luscious. Driving into Lusaka, the capital, we all just stared out the window taking in all the sights. We noticed that all the local people walking on the roads were staring back at us, but we didn’t feel intimidated or threatened by it. We were eased into Zambian life with a trip to the Irish Embassy (complete with tea and chocolate biscuits!). Claire and Barney (Embassy Staff) made a presentation to us about the work they do in Zambia and they were interested in the work we planned on doing in Mongu (Western Province, Zambia). We had never been inside an Embassy before, so it was an exciting way to start our trip.

Any of us who thought that this was going to be some sort of a holiday were greatly mistaken once we got to Mongu (after an epic 9 hour bus journey from Lusaka). We went straight to work on our various projects:

  • The Cheshire Home for disabled children run by the Presentation Sisters,
  • Limulunga pre-school and building project run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate,
  • Namushakende Pre-School and Mother & Babies Clinic run by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate.

We were up each morning at 7.30 in order to have breakfast and get ready for work which commenced at 9.00.

In Limulunga, our tasks were to teach the children basic English language and to entertain them during their break. Because they were so young, it was very difficult for us to engage with them at first. This is when we realised the hard work teachers do every day in order to teach us. We had to use chalk to write/draw different things on little blackboards; things such as a house or a fish! During break, we had to play with them and keep them entertained with games such as British Bulldog and the Cat & Mouse game. In the afternoon, we helped with the construction of blocks for a new building. This was really hard work, especially in the Zambian heat. We were guided by an Irish builder called Peadar who taught us how to make cement, lay floors, make concrete blocks and insert mosquito nets into window frames. Peadar and his wife Rachael were a real inspiration to us all because they have devoted their lives to helping people in the Developing World.

In The Cheshire Home, we worked with a volunteer physiotherapist called Elaine. Here, we did either hydro-physiotherapy with the children in the swimming pool or we were given some muscle building exercises to do with a group of children in their playground. One afternoon, we performed a concert for the children in the Cheshire Home. We sang songs, did some dances, played the tin whistle and did a ‘cup’ trick that we’d learnt. They also did some party-pieces. One girl sang a song about disabilities which was genuinely beautiful. She also sang ‘Amazing Grace’. Another girl called Mondé did a little dance. Then we all joined in together to do a dancing game – even the teachers got involved!

In Namushakende, we did a wide range of work – working in the pre-school, helping the nuns with their gardening and visiting local villages to see the work being done by the nuns there. On one occasion we met some HIV/AIDS victims at the mother and baby clinic. It was really harrowing to see what this awful disease can do to people. Thankfully, there is a new drug available that can help in the fight against AIDS, and the nuns make sure that it is made available to all victims and that they take it every day. We also presented some of the women with some basic rations (sugar, salt and rice). They were very grateful for them and sang us a song in gratitude. We all had serious respect for these people because, even though they’re infected with HIV/AIDS, they were always in such high spirits. We have an even greater respect for the nuns for the work they put in. They’re truly inspirational.

The Zambian people are some of the friendliest on the planet. Everywhere we went, they were so welcoming. They were always smiling and had a traditional way of shaking your hand which helped you to relax and feel welcomed. The students we met, particularly in St. John’s Secondary School, were so well mannered and greeted us with a song. The younger/pre-school students always greeted you with a high five! When we arrived in Livingstone, we noticed a lot of street traders and engaged in ‘bartering’ with them. They wanted us to ‘buy’ their goods, but they didn’t use intimidation to do it. We were also really shocked that they knew basic Irish words and phrases like ‘Dia Duit’ and ‘Conas atá tú?’ This was a real eye opener for us all.

We were all surprised at how happy the people in Zambia are, especially given the huge poverty that they have to endure. In Ireland, we give out all the time about stuff, but we don’t know true hardship like those in Zambia do. The most noticeable difference between us and them (excluding the obvious skin colour) was poverty. We visited some local villages and witnessed first-hand how they live their daily lives. They live in mud-shacks without running water or electricity. Some of them might have a make-shift bathroom, but more often than not, there are no sanitary facilities at all. They also have very few items of clothing and tend to wear the same thing every day. We couldn’t imagine having to do that! We also met students and teachers who have to walk long distances to get to school, some without having had any breakfast. They have such a desire to get on in life, and they are so aware that education is their only way out of the poverty trap, that they are willing to make huge sacrifices. It made us so thankful for what we have back here in Dublin, especially as we don’t have to pay for our education.

The eight of us talked a lot about what we missed when we were in Zambia, and we all agreed that family, friends and loved ones were top of the list. What made it even harder was that our phones didn’t work in Mongu, so we couldn’t even talk to people back home. Thankfully, Mr Canning’s phone worked, so we all got one phone-call each back home. We didn’t realise how much we relied on our phones and the internet until we could no longer access them. Most of us missed our own personal space and having to take 11 other people’s feelings and thoughts into consideration on a daily basis. Everything we did was based on teamwork, and towards the end of the trip, we were all just so tired. Living, working and staying with the same 11 people for 18 days does take its toll on you, but thankfully everyone got on really well and we were respectful of one another.

While we all had a great time in Zambia, we were all really happy to get back home and were greeted by all our family and some teachers in Dublin Airport. Guess what, Conor’s brother was right; it was the “best trip of our lives”.

Conor Gray Stephen Yao
Jordan Gray Graham Fitzpatrick
Dean Murphy Leon Myler
Valentine Cocis Daryl Preston
Mary Shanahan Emer Campbell
Damian O’Brien Kieran Canning