Both our grown up teenagers finish exams and consequently school and college a lot earlier this year. We’ve spent practically all of the last year in idle debate about what to do this summer in a kind of spoilt for choice “term time holiday opportunity” kind of way.
Trouble is, we don’t all share the same ideas about what makes a good holiday and after interminable “debate”, I floated the idea of doing some volunteering this summer instead. I shouldn’t have been surprised when my fantastic family immediately and unanimously jumped on the idea.
That was only at Easter and a month and a half later, we have had all the jabs and are off the Zambia next month to help with a couple of school building projects. Urban poverty is a huge problem in Zambia. In Lusaka around 50% of the population live in shanty towns with limited facilities, 70% of the Zambian population live on less than $1 a day and a 16% HIV infection rate means that there is almost a missing middle generation. Half of the population is under 15 with children often looking after children. Education is key to breaking the poverty, it is where the leadership of tomorrow will come from but there are limited opportunities.
I don’t have any illusions about the scale of impact we are likely to make on the big picture — we are going out as part of a team of 16 people for a couple of weeks and are essentially working in a relay with a number of other teams who go before us and come after us in two week slices to fit around our jobs in holiday sized chunks. We are going to be working to build a new flushing toilet block at the Kiine school which serves the Kaunda Square residential area and also helping to build a new classroom at the Kumbaya School in Chaisa, one of the poorest areas in Lusaka. I’m geek rather than a builder so we’ll be labourers for the local contractors who are the specialists and actually responsible for delivering the projects. I suspect that just donating the money that we have found to fly out there, food and accommodation costs etc so that it can be used to buy more local labour would probably be more beneficial on many practical levels.
That isn’t the point though — the charity we are working with sums up it’s ethos by telling the story of a little girl who saw thousands of dying starfish on a beach.
Their version goes like this:
She started to pick them up and throw them back in the sea.
“What are you doing?” her mother asked
“How can you hope to make any difference here?”
The girl looked in her mother’s eyes and said “Well, I made a difference to that one, and that one, and that one…”
In other words: “do the good that you can do”, however small.
Another way of putting that it is the proverb “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. I’m guessing that part of lighting the candle here will be the first hand opportunity to get out there, see, ask questions, and understand how the majority of the world’s population outside of our narrow western world lives.
I’ve rambled on and still not got to the bit about paddling and bricks: we signed up for this a bit over a month ago and we’ve funded all of our travel, food and accommodation costs. We also need to try and raise some funds towards the building costs: materials and local labour. There is currently a £10,000 ish shortfall between the £26,500 local costs and the money the team has raised. I need to close this gap, so on 21st June (the longest day), I’m going to get into a Kayak and slog my way solo for as far as I can get before dusk (at least 20-miles) non-stop up the Grand Union Canal towards Leicester as a one man sponsored event. If you are reading this and agree with the Starfish Principle please consider donating a few pounds towards some bricks! Thank You.