Report on Killina to Kaoma, June 2019
24th September 2019
Killina To Kaoma June 2019
On the 3rd of June 2019, three teachers and 11 students from Killina Presentation Secondary School departed from Rahan for the Western Province in Zambia. This was the third student trip by the Zambia Immersion Programme team in recent years. The aim of the visit was for both students and teachers to experience first-hand the day to day life of the Zambian culture. This programme was set up with the help of the Presentation Sisters here in Ireland and in Zambia through the Global Education Experience. The visit was the culmination of ten months of preparation by the team. Whilst in Zambia the students would be working in a school with students of a similar age and exchanging knowledge on their cultures. The group consisted of TY and 5th year students and it was important that they bonded as a group and were prepared, as much as possible, before heading so far away from their families.
Following, two long plane journeys, we arrived in the capital Lusaka on Tuesday the 4th June. Our first stop was a visit with Ambassador Seamus O’Grady at the Irish embassy in Lusaka. The Ambassador informed us about the role of both the Embassy and IrishAid in Zambia. Later that day, we visited Barefeet Theatre, an organisation that works with street children, providing guidance, support, food and in some cases accommodation. They use the methods of drama and dance to help children cope with various issues going on in their lives, such as physical or sexual abuse. It was originally set up by an Irish man with some locals in Lusaka. Here, the young children are able to learn in a safe environment and can attempt to help get themselves off the streets. We heard the stories of some of the committee who themselves had been living on the streets before they got involved with Barefeet. It is a wonderful organisation that is trying to bring their message to other areas of Zambia and it was great to get to visit them in Lusaka. Our time here was really enjoyable and made everyone come out of their comfort zone and get involved.
The next day we headed west on a 6 hour bus journey to Kaoma, which was to be our home for the next couple of weeks. One of the primary objectives of the program was to visit a school on the outskirts of town similar to ourselves in Killina. Mahilo School provides education for children from four to 18 years of age. It has basic buildings which struggle to cope with a school cohort of over 1400 students. We received a very warm welcome from the students and staff. Upon arriving at the school it was evident that our arrival had caused great excitement. A hand-made banner was held by a group of students while traditional songs were sung by the school choir. From working closely with a group of 25 students, it became evident to us that although the school had very little resources, education was important to the students and they enjoyed being there. It was hard not to make comparisons to Ireland where we have a multitude of educational resources. It was also a harsh reality to learn that no matter what their aspirations may be, whether it be to become a doctor, teacher or nurse, more than 90% of Mahilo students will not continue past grade 9, the equivalent to our Junior Cert. It was humbling to see the enthusiasm with which they received our simple resources such as copies, footballs, sports equipment. We were shown the new toilet facilities which had been built with donations from our previous visit. They had also used some of that money to purchase new desks, chairs, etc. At the same time it was encouraging to see the students in Mahilo swapping Facebook addresses with our own students so that technology will allow some friendships to continue across the continents.
Whilst in Kaoma we got to visit some of the projects set up by the Presentation Sisters. Sr. Molly, who hails from Tipperary, runs an orphanage and thankfully due to the continuing support in the treatment and management of AIDS the numbers of children currently living there have greatly reduced. In order to fund this Sr. Molly has a large farm, butchers, and guesthouse which is rented to travelling groups. She also set up the local community school in Kaoma, which now has over 1200 students. This year they are building on a new block for higher grades and a computer room. They are doing this with funds coming from Presentation Sisters in America. As a result the school is being put back into Presentation Trusteeship by the Zambian Ministry of Education.
On Saturday we went to the local village of Kabanga where Sr. Inez has set up a home based care program with the help of the Friends of Nano. They are active in the community and provide a safe place where women with HIV come to get ARV drugs and to meet with their peers. The whole community came out to welcome us warmly with songs and dancing and shared a meal with us. The students and teachers all got involved and nobody was thinking of illnesses as we danced around, singing, in the green. It is now completely run by the community. They also support up to 200 children in need of homes, food, general care. This year it was sad to see that many of the locals crop had died due to the rains not coming this year. It was a stark reality to learn that many in the western community will have severe food problems this year.
After Kaoma we headed further west to the township of Mongu. Here we visited the Cheshire Home, a school for children with disabilities, which was set up by two Irish Presentation Sisters, Sr. Cathy from Laois and Sr. Stella from Clare. They provide education, medical care and rehabilitation for children from infancy to eighteen years of age. Although they are state funded, it was clear the resources are scarce. We have seen some progress in the supply of resources however there are still many handmade wheelchairs and high ratio of children to carers. Despite these challenges, it was clear that the children are loved and cared for. At first this was a challenging experience for our students, however they were quick to get down on the ground to play with the children, most of whom had no English. The children there were so happy with the company and playing games with our students. We only got to spend a short time with the children there but it was an enlightening experience for all our students.
One of the aims of the Zambia Immersion Programme is that we gain a deeper understanding of the Zambian Culture and experience first hand the important work of the Presentation community. This was definitely something we were made aware of by seeing the impact that the Presentation Sisters have had on the communities in Kaoma and Mongu. The people they work with have such love and respect for the Sisters and it is clear that they are having a positive impact in the areas they work.This reminded us all of the impact the closure of the convent here in Rahan will have on our local community. The visit to Zambia has given the group a deeper awareness of the inequalities that exist in our world and a greater ability to empathise and see where help is needed. It has taught us that we are all part of a global community that share the same values and we each have a role to play in that community. It is clear that we also have many things we could learn from the people of Zambia. We look forward to hopefully returning to visit Mahilo School and the Sisters in Zambia again in the future.