When SCIAF (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund ) asked me to go to Zambia to see their work there, a few things were made clear to me. Most people are very poor, but at the present time, there was no emergency. In fact, if anything, I should experience a feeling of optimism.
The Kalima programme wanted me to see the help farmers get for a much better harvest for their labours. I felt reasonably prepared. I packed a simple suitcase along the guidelines I'd been given: long trousers, a hat, mosquito spray and strong shoes...oh and a waterproof jacket...it will be the rainy season.
On my second day in Zambia we took a car west of Livingstone towards the small settlement of Siakasipa and on leaving the main tarmac road immediately entered the rural Africa I'd half-thought would have gone some time ago. It may be.... it probably is ....naive for me to confess this, but I really expected Zambian village life to have moved with the times in the way so much of modern life seems to do. Surely there would not still be a circle of thatched-roof mud huts without water or electricity? Surely there would be easier access than a bumpy dirt road? But no, a few miles away from a modern airport whose new departure terminal would be the envy of any western country, we were in the middle of a scene which could not have changed much in the last 1,000 years.
Zambia, though a peaceful country since its independence in 1964 is still largely a rural economy. In the north of the country there is copper, but the vast majority of the population still eke out a very meagre living by planting crops and keeping some animals. The crops will feed their immediate family and any excess will be traded for oil, salt and other household goods. Animals will be bred and eventually sold when money is needed to pay for school fees in the basic education system provided by the state. Here there is no money for holidays, Christmas treats or a family car. Transport is still mule-drawn or by the ubiquitous overloaded bicycle, but most usually it's by foot. Things...inevitably take a long time.
I spent time away from the main village where I was invited to see the house and small farm of a woman called Vainess Moonga. On a warm January morning when the grass, trees and crops look at their greenest due to the heavy rainfall it would be easy to mistake Vainess's place for a rural idyll. Vainess is one of the farmers SCIAF has helped with seeds, livestock and training in how to grow more food using organic farming techniques. As we sat under her shelter and she stroked her dog, Pacha, she told me of the children she still provides for and her pride of the grandchildren running around herding up a small family of goats. As the fire for cooking burned gently I looked around at her maize fields, the three small buildings which make up her home and took photos of a brood of chicks scurrying after a mother hen. Home - it was hard not to sense this was a special place for her and her family. There was something so happy and peaceful here I allowed myself a short burst of western envy at the simplicity of life. Then the reality broke in.
In her quiet voice she offered me another thought. 'I have a vision,' she started. I was curious. 'I would like to have water. Here at my house...my own water.'
Lost in the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the clutter of children and animals I'd failed to notice the lack of any basic amenities. Water for Vainess came from a pump a couple of kilometres back down the road. To get it, she and her children would walk and carry gallons of the stuff twice or three times daily. All this - just to have water. So you can imagine the rest. No bathroom, no shower, no toilet, electricity, phone or any modern 'luxuries.' What had seemed an enviable ascetic retreat from the big, bad world was simply a concrete example of the poverty affecting millions in the developing world.
Here on Vainess's land I started to understand how different the idea of Home was to people in Zambia living on one dollar a day or less. What were the visions I had for my home? I know I've dreamed of many things but taken the basic amenities as givens. I'd been in Africa less than two days, was still thinking about my own home, but already I knew so much more than when I arrived.
SCIAF helps families in some of the poorest countries in the world to free themselves from hunger, poverty and injustice, get an education, and fully recover when disasters strike. The charity's WEE BOX BIG CHANGE appeal runs through Lent (1st March to 16th April). To make a donation or find out more, visit www.theweebox.org.