First Day of Building at Kumbaya
Today was our first day on the second building site at Kumbaya School. We had been brifed that this site wasn’t as calm and controlled as the Kiine site. Kumbaya is in the middle of Chaisa, one of the poorest districts of Lusaka. Our building site was on some newly acquired land to the rear of the existing school where we were building a “fence wall” to extend the school boundary and putting down the floor slab for two new classrooms.
Keen to avoid the image of a white aid team being bussed in and then spirited away again, we are dropped a few roads away from the school so that we could walk down through Chaisa to the Kumbaya School. As in Kaunda Square, we were greeted by everyone we passed in a friendly way, and mobbed by local kids as the news of the visiting Azungus spread.
Eventually we got to the gates, said goodbye to the waves of local kids we had collected and dragged our tools into the School. Today is a Bank Holiday in Zambia so there were no kids inside the school. Our work for the day consisted of compacting the spoil subfloor, and barrowing materials: sand and aggregate from the heaps that filled the tiny courtyard playground up to the new area behind the school so that it could be hand mixed into concrete for the floor slab.
I had a hard job taking in the sight when I first looked around the area behind the school we would be working on. It had been part of the residential area and there was a row of one-room homes still standing, most were unoccupied, but one still had a family living in it. Everywhere around the site there was the paraphernalia and detritus of everyday life in Chaisa. There is no such thing as rubbish, or rubbish collections here. We were briefed that there is no recycling in Zambia, but actually exactly the reverse is true, the whole of life is a recycling exercise. In the poorest compounds, just about everything seems to have value to somebody, and when you have finished with an object, you throw it out into the streets. Somebody will probably find a use for it, and anything left unclaimed becomes part of the topsoil. Looking down at the dampened muddy topsoil we were compacting into the base of the school building, it contained lots of bits of random junk: an empty toothpaste tube, a small plastic bag containing something slimy, a USB car charger, broken glass. Kids were walking around in all of this lot in bare feet. It bugged me so much I couldn’t carry on, and coward that I am decided to throw myself into barrowing aggregate around without looking down too much.
At one point a minibus pulls up outside the school with supplies of wood for the concrete shuttering. I was near the gate so go out to help the builders carry the wood into the compound. As we are bringing it in a local chap stops to say a few words to Amos, the director at Kumbaya who had been driving the bus. They are talking in Nyaja, and I can’t understand what is said, but we continue bringing the wood in. Later I meet Amos again and he tells me that the man was expressing surprise at a white person carrying wood and picking up a shovel. In their experience white people stand there with a clipboard whilst the locals do the hard work. For me it is a huge privilege to be able to come in and do something practical for this community, they have so little but want to do so much to help themselves. Picking up a shovel to show even the most token of support is quite literally the least we can do.