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    Building at Kumbaya

    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. IMG_2328.JPG

    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.


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    How was Zambia?


    I’ve just come back from spending a couple of weeks in Zambia with my family, working on aid projects with the fantastic folks from Mission Direct.

    We had an absolutely fantastic time out there, which I really want to share with all of the folks that encouraged us by supplying stuff we took out, donations towards building materials and, perhaps most valuably of all, kind words of support.

    The main construction work was on a couple of projects, one at Kiine School, which serves the Kaunda Square compound, and Kumbaya School in the Chaisa compound. We also had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with other projects in Lusaka that MD support, which really helped understand the need and background. Having seen how much even tiny amounts of money and resources can do when put directly into local projects we are incredibly grateful for literally every penny, dress and T-shirt that folks sent us out with.

    We got back home late last Saturday, and to be honest I’m still processing everything I saw and did in Lusaka but everyone wants to know how we got on and, in summary, I think that this was possibly the most fruitful and positive two weeks of my life!

    My family only signed up for this around Easter, and the run up to meeting our team of 16 folks from all over the country at Heathrow late on the 5th July was a bit of a whirlwind. It didn’t help that somehow my big mouth, and innate ability to boss people around got me elected team coordinator – in truth this wasn’t particularly onerous, it merely involved setting up some comms so that we could stay in touch and plan the journey, arrange to meet at Heathrow etc. The good bit of a 20-hour journey to Lusaka is that there was plenty of time to start getting to know each other, and it was at that point that I realised what a fantastic group of people I was going to be with for the next couple of weeks.


    After the rigorous order and bustle of Heathrow and Dubai airports, arrival at Lusaka set the scene for our culture shift. No air bridge or tugs, on arrival the huge Emirates A340 just pulls up on the last bit of spare concrete as close as it can get to the terminal building directly behind an Ethiopian 737 which is in poll position and pointing back out towards the runway. We embark down the steps and are left to find our own way into the terminal building. Inevitably people loiter on the tarmac to take photos in front of the plane, probably not at all a good idea, but nobody pays much attention.


    Eventually we find the entrance to the terminal building and queue to buy our visas at immigration. Although there are multiple kiosks and queues, each with a strict category: (Zambian Nationals, Zambian resident permit holders, Others/Tourists, and Diplomats), these seem to be largely ignored and a group of of 16 Azungus each needing a Business Visa, arriving at immigration rush hour seems to get us moved from queue to queue randomly.

    Visas stamped, and luggage collected, we walk out through the double doors to the waiting arms of Colin, Geoff, Mannie, Mr Chika (our driver for the week) and Ruth, the local Mission Direct Team. The very first thing they did once the luggage was loaded on the bus was dish out ice cold bottles of water, a small thing, but incredibly welcome.


    Our first evening simply consisted of introductions, dinner and bed. The cottages are fine, basically cozy and secure with comfortable beds. There is hot and cold running water. This is clean although not apparently too safe to drink for our fragile western stomachs so we have a fridge full of bottled water yay.

    Day 2 – First building day

    For our first day, we hardly move off-site. We will be working on the floor slab for the new toilets at Kiine school in the morning, and this is in the same compound as the cottages so we just collect tools from a shipping container and walk up to the building site. On the way, we are greeted and welcomed to the School by Gloria, the head teacher. P1050782.JPG

    Then it’s sleeves rolled up and start working by moving and levelling a load of soil and quarry waste which will form the sub-base to the new floor slab inside the already constructed foundations.

    The fantastic folks at Autographer loaned me one of their life-logging devices for the trip, and I wore it around the site to try and capture some time lapse of the building work progressing. You basically wear their device and it takes 1000s of photos a day of it’s own accord, using sensors (PIR, accelerometer, GPS) and a built in algorithm to determine when something interesting is happening. Unfortunately it decides that standing around drinking water or chatting to other people is interesting, but moving around the site isn’t so I end up with literally thousands of photos of breaks, but none whilst I’m actually working, which rather defeated the point for my particular use. It is still a brilliant device and I can see lots of uses for it, but the algorithm doesn’t seem to work well for this particular case (could well be user error though).

    Predictably, I’m the first industrial accident of the week as I run a wheelbarrow off the side of one of the ramps and end up in an embarrassing heap of barrow and dirt. At least the rest of the team know what they are dealing with now!

    Kaunda Square

    After a sandwich lunch, we are off for a walk around Kaunda Square, the adjacent residential area served by the School and Church in our compound.

    Before we flew out to Zambia, I Googled for the place we were staying and found this video, made by a previous trip. The video is actually a great primer for the general background, but after the pictures of snakes (we saw none during our time in Zambia), and commentary about Kaunda Square being somewhere that we couldn’t go without a minder, I was really quite nervous about our venture into the wider world.

    I became even more nervous when we split up into small groups, I was the only bloke in our group, and the “minder” assigned to our group was a teenage girl.

    In reality, the video had given me misleading picture, we needed no “minder”, Memory was there for her local knowledge to guide us around the area. In Kaunda Square as every other place we went to in Zambia, the folks were friendly, respectful and very, very welcoming. Sure a few folks tried to hustle us to buy stuff in the market, but the only even vaguely unwelcome attention we received was from a couple of over friendly drunks as we walked through the bar area of Kaunda Square, and even then it was just the kind of OTT friendliness you get from amiable drunks anywhere in the world. I felt safer there than in some times and places in my home town!

    More tomorrow on the other building project: Kumbaya School and the Fountain of Hope project.

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    ‘Glass’ ‘kills’ ‘Privacy’

    Google Glass arrived on general release in the UK last week. This is a bit of a non-event for serious tech comment as it has been available to explorers in other parts of the world and developers for some time. I took the opportunity to grab a set for use at the office where we think they could be very interesting when used with WebRTC in a couple of applications we are developing.

    The mainstream Press need a story about these quirky looking devices though and the only feature most of them have homed in on, the camera, is nothing new. Wearable cameras have been around for a very long time and Glass in it’s current form is a spectacularly bad tool for a user with covert photography in mind. It is way too obtrusive and better options are currently on sale for this purpose.

    The ICO made a fairly balanced blog posting which has then been quoted by at least one newspaper under the headline “Google Glass ‘could breach Data Protection Act‘”. The quote marks are important, as behind them the reality is that the Data Protection Act has got nothing to do with photographs and videos taken for personal use in a public place. In any case, the ICO can’t enforce existing laws they are tasked with upholding which fix very real problems. They will probably be the last folks asking to take on the job of regulating the use of wearables (if that were even possible).

    Glass is the clunky “Release 1.0” manifestation of an exciting new group of wearable packages that will change for the better the way that we use technology. Raging against this about is a bit less relevant than Ned Ludd and his colleagues were back in the early 1800s. Back then they at least had something of a point about the real personal impacts of industrial mechanisation, it was just a bit naive to think that the industrial revolution could be stopped by smashing up a few looms. Wearables on the other hand are just a better “always on hand” way of interacting with technologies most of us are pretty comfortable with.

    As for the bar owners that want to ban Glass and presumably the other more refined wearables which will come after it, Good on you. I’m sure some of your customers right now will think that this is a good idea. In a few years though this will look as quaint and pointless as the folks who wanted mobile phones banned in the 80s!

    The BBC quote from Waterstones is I think the best comment I’ve seen about the practical implications of the current incarnation of Glass: “As a bookshop it is difficult to see how Google Glass eyewear could cause us or our customers any difficulty beyond, of course, some mild ridicule.”

    So is Glass the end of privacy as we know it, a really promising tool for some applications, or just the wearable equivalent of the Sinclair C5?

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