Monday, 9 August 2010

Sub-Sahara Africa is the poorest region in the world and was ravished by the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS virus. The only continent to have become poorer over the last three decades, Africa suffers from mass unemployment. 64% of Zambia’s 12 million population earn less than the equivalent of one US dollar a day – which in turn causes a whole series out various problems relating to social development. However, there is one company is that is determined to offer its workers well above minimum wage in good working conditions. Alive and Kicking is a football (and netball and volleyball) production company, offering disabled and HIV/AIDS infected workers the chance of decent income and an escape from their desperate situations.

I came to find out about Alive and Kicking through the two Sport NGOs I’m working with out in Zambia. EduSport and Sport In Action both purchase their footballs from Alive and Kicking. Our equipment cupboard at the house is packed to the rafters with their products. Each ball proudly displays their logo, a warning of the dangers of malaria and their real signature, the writing ‘Against child labour’ around the ball’s air supply.

A massive fan of their ideals and interested to find out more, I managed to organise a meet with their Managing Director, Chad. True to most communication in the 21st century Chad and I originally conserved through SMS, therefore, I was caught offguard when we eventfully met in person. Chad is a American, and white – an important factor. I must admit, my first reaction was that of cyncialism. I was wary that perhaps everything I had heard of Alive and Kicking had been created for intentional marketing purposes. I guess that’s just a product of living in a Western society.

However, it didn’t take me long to realise I had been massively wrong. Almost immediately after we had passed our introductions, Chad offered me a cup of tea (after I told him I was English). One thing that struck me straight away about him was how passoniate he was about his job and how thoroughly he believed in it. Although he had only been in his role since September of 09, you’d think the way he spoke about the company, it was his own.

We spoke for a while, about Alive and Kicking, and also about the IDEALS project I was proud to be apart of. He was genuine and although he stated how manic his past week had been, he had made plenty of time for our meet. I was given a tour of the stitching rooms, which were spacious. I was told of the process of making a ball and shortly learnt of the skill required to be able to stitch.

Each stitcher has the aim of making 3 balls a day – which doesn’t sound a lot, but Alive and Kicking balls are of the highest standard. Even in the terrains of the compounds the IDEALS students operate, the Alive and Kicking balls are hard wearing and do not fall apart – something more famous production company’s products could be accused of.

I sat with Chris, one of the stitchers (pictured below). He told me about his average day at the stitching centre, located at ZamLeather, Zambia’s biggest producer of leather.

All of the stitchers seemed to enjoy their job and enjoyed a good standard of living, all of which is of course relevant to the country in which they live.

It was a pleasant environment to be around and seemed nice enough to be working in. There was a good atmosphere and additional activities were encouraged by the management. The workers were very enthusiastic about their work football team, playing every Saturday morning in a league.

Chad treated me to lunch – nshima, chicken, tomatoes and cabbage. I can quite comfortably say I’ll miss Zambian food so much when I return back to Britain.

After lunch, we returned to our conversation about the organisation – I call it an organisation because it stretches well beyond the definition of a business – offering a decent standard of living for those that would ultimately struggle otherwise.

There are reasons to remain optismistic – since their company’s birth, they’ve created over 130 jobs for Africans. Despite their American managing director, they stay true to their roots boosting of the fact their products are: made by Africans, in Africa for Africans on their company t-shirts. Through their work, they’ve targeted over 25,000 children with the intention of educating them about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. They’ve distributed 250,000 footballs, netballs and volleyballs all together. After today, they will have distributed 250,001. You can order personalised footballs or organisations such as EduSport and Sport In Action can have a specific design for their required desires.

Friend of EduSport, a UK charity supporting the work of EduSport last week created a formal partnership with Alive and Kicking. Supporting their work and ordering ten footballs for their Go! Sisters world series to be held next year, Friend of EduSport are more than happy to give Alive and Kicking business.

Made in Africa, by Africa, for Africa – Alive and Kicking.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

One down (nearly) - Two to go

So it’s been 3 weeks since my last blog and a lot has happened. Group 1’s stay in Lusaka is almost at an end. There’s just one week more before Hayley and I do the whole thing over again with Group 2. I think it’ll be hard to say goodbye, but at the same time, I’m excited to be working with new faces.

The last few weeks have been fairly routine in terms of placements. The students, as expected, have grown attached to the people at their placements and their departing party will be emotional as its probably the last time they’ll see the peer leaders.

My last few weeks, similarly to the guys, has been fairly uneventful. Everyday I try and do something different just I don’t end up regretting not making the most of my time here, but unfortunately for one reason or another, that’s not always been possible. Chloe, placed at Kalingalinga, unfortunately collapsed one day which gave us all a bit of a fright, so we rushed her to the clinic and had the problem diagnosed (her malaria tablets weren’t compatible with her system).

However, since my last blog, I am pleased to say Hayley, her friend Caitlin from Stirling, her uncle and her father have started work on a big project of theirs at Kalingalinga. They’re building a netball court there which we as a group helped work on. With the help of the British Charity ‘Friends of EduSport’ Hayley and Caitlin, who were both placed at Kalingalinga on the project last year, wanted to give something back to their placement which has offered them so much.

Yesterday I attended an EduSport ‘Kicking Aids Out’ workshop in Bauleni which was ran by Paul and Klevin from the EduSport office. The HIV virus is a massive issue in Africa which I’m sure you all knew. In Africa, 7.3% of the population between 15 and 29 has the HIV virus and over 2,000,000 Africans die of the virus every year. The objectives of Kicking Aids Out is to train peer leaders to pass on the information on the dangers of the virus and how to prevent it – through practicing abstinence and wearing protection. Because of that, I did find it slightly ironic that they held the workshop at a Catholic Church, but perhaps that’s just me.

The work EduSport and Sport In Action never fails to impress me. They tackle the major problems in Zambia (alcohol and drug abuse, gender power imbalance and HIV/AIDS amongst others) through people’s love of sport. Pretty much loves sport, especially young people and because there’s not a lot else to do they are brought together by EduSport’s and Sport In Action’s ability to provide equipment to play and then use this togetherness to educate them. If one film could symbolise their work, it’d be Coach Carter (possibly one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen). Those tht have seen it will understand what I mean, those that haven’t, it’s one of the worst omissions from those 1001 films you have to see before you die books.

Everyday the two NGO’s work impresses me further, the peer leaders are inspirational and I believe in their work and aims so much I’m privileged to be a part of it. There’s this one peer leader at Fountain of Hope (an orphanage) situated near to the Sport In Action office called Jackson, whose story is amazing. Our media student wrote it and I’ll post it on this blog, alternatively, check out our ‘Zambia Project Blog’ here where it’s already posted.

On Monday, he took us to the areas of Lusaka he used to beg, steal and borrow to stay alive. He used us a lifesized model train that he used to sleep in at nights just to attempt to stay warm. He’s starting his own orphanage which would be a permanent home for homeless people as Fountain of Hope is only a home for children until they’ve completed their exams. I’m going to make a short film about it soon so I’ll post it here as well. Anyway, Boel’s article is far more moving than my attempt to sum up his story so read it.

Since the last blog we’ve also hosted Zambian Night (all the students have a traditional Zambian meal) and then British Night (where we treat the guys at the office to a roast dinner) which were both a success. In the words of Elma Fudd (I think), that’s all folks…until next time.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Scene "Gazed Upon by Angels in Their Flight"

It’s been about a week since my last blog and everyone is firmly settled into their placements. They’ve had over a week worth of day’s at their sites, coaching sports, leading school PE sessions and taking education classes about HIV and AIDs.

A lot has happened since my last update. For starters, I’ve just got back from the first of three trips to Livingstone, home to one of the world’s seven wonders, the Victoria Falls.

Hayley unfortunately was unable to come on the trip because she was required to lead Netball workshops in Chipata, around 7 hours away from Lusaka. Me being soley responsible for 11 other individuals sounds a little daunting, but it was fine (I say that, but you’re probably better off asking one of the guys for an unbiased opinion), if maybe a little stressful at times.

I managed to arrange transporting with my good friend Wiseman, whom I met last year on the trip. He charged us 3.2million Kwacha for a return trip, that’s about £450 between 12 people, which is pretty reasonable (Livingstone is an 8 hour bus journey).

He’s a good friend, such a good friend, that when I found out he had a new born baby (only 4 days old at the time), he decided he was going to name him after me. Therefore, Wiseman’s new child is named Andrew, which to be honest, is just going to look out of place on the register at his school – but Wise didn’t seem to care!

Everyone in Zambia likes to know the meanings of songs and various words so he was quite happy when I said Andrew was a Greek name meaning a leader of men – however I had to use myself as a living example of how meanings don’t always transfer into reality. When he told me his plans, it was probably one of the happiest moments of my life – I say this full in the knowledge of the risk of sounding soppy. He’s promised to bring him round to the Wallace house shortly so I can meet him, so I’ll have a picture for the next blog.

The rest of the trip was good, I had taken part in all the real touristy activities when I was on the project last year, so spent most of the time relaxing at Jollyboys, officially one of the world’s best backpackers. I did however go back to the waterfalls, it was Wiseman’s first time in Livingstone so I wanted him to see it – he got really excited by it. The picture below is the two of us with his friends that travelled with us.

We walked around the falls, got very wet from the spray and then walked down to boiling point – which is the bottom of the falls.

I got this picture of the bridge people bungee jump off – much to Wiseman’s disbelief. Two of Zambian’s biggest fears? Heights and water…

Lots of people went and did safari and white water rafting as well – but I was more than happy taking pictures of this monkey I found.

I spent the rest of the day lounging around the backpackers soaking up the Zambian sunshine. Pretty sure I’ll be bored of the place by the end of the 3rd trip! However, when the 3rd group do arrive, the water levels in Livingstone and at the falls will be lower, which will mean me and Hayley will be able to try out Devil’s Pool – a little area right next to the edge of the top of the falls you can swim in.

I do sometimes find it hard to experience the very tourist orenitated Livingstone in between experience the depths of deprivation in areas of Lusaka, but you can’t really go to Zambia and not see the falls – it’s almost a crime.

Since the last blog, I’ve also seen my friend Vince who took me along to the new Lusaka Youth Development Olympic complex near the compound of Chipata. The complex was created with the pure intention of training children in Lusaka in Olympic sports whilst also educating them in the process. The complex is astounding and has facilities we’d be proud of in 1st world countries.

I joined in with one of Vince’s basketball sessions and just proved how epically unfit I was getting knackered within the space of 10 minutes. This is one of the things Greg pointed out to me when he first saw me again 3 weeks ago – “Andrew, you’ve put on weight” (dumbo is the word for a little portly in Nanja) , this was then repeated by pretty much the population of Lusaka – but 4 months of nshima and basketball sessions should put me in good stead.

Often when you’re visiting a placement, the peer leaders who work for the two NGOs will very kindly invite you round to their place for lunch. I’m already a big fan of nshima so I’m always keen to take them up on the offer. However, as I’m sure my parents will back up, my last attempts to make nshima last time didn’t go too well as it just looked like soggy porridge (I suppose porridge is always soggy really). So I’m practicing my nshima technique and will have another bash for folk when I’m back. I’ve splashed out on a Zambian cook book too so people should be excited for caterpillas and rats when I’m back (jokes, it will be nshima and sweet potatoes with peanut butter).

A sneaky wee snap of me stirring the nshima for the day.

I’m actually really enjoying the food out here. I thought I’d miss food from home, but the chicken here is just so good it’s not an issue at all – although I might have changed my mind after 3 months.

Today as a thank you to Greg, Kelch and Paul (who all work at EduSport) I took them for lunch at a marketplace restaurant near the office. It was 6,000Kwacha (around 80p each) for nshima, the best chicken I’ve ever tasted with cabbage and gravy. It was amazing. Afterwards, they bought Boel (fellow Stirling Media student) and I fruit and sugar canes to complete a true Zambian lunch. I wasn’t such a fan of the sugar cane and having to tear it open with my teeth. I felt like, and apparently, looked like a panda wrestling with it before attempting to eat it.

My Dad found an interesting article in the Guardian about the company Alive and Kicking – situated in Zambia – and forwarded it to me. They make footballs, employing disabled people to help offer them a source of income when it can be very hard. Sport in Action and EduSport both buy all their footballs from the company – so here’s a little picture of one of their balls to finish with.

If you search for them online, you’ll easily find their website. There’s a link to famous people that endorse and use their footballs across the world. There’s a picture of Obama alongside no other than Robert Green – no doubt that will not be there in a couple of weeks! Unless they’re trying to prove their products aren’t goalkeeper friendly.

Friday, 11 June 2010

A Mzungo Back In Zambia

So it’s 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m sitting in the living room of the Wallace house, the house in which the Wallace students of Group 1 are currently residing. The Wallace group is a group of Universities from across Britain. They are: Stirling (from which myself and fellow team leader Hayley attend), Northumbria, Cardiff, Loughborough, Bath and Durham. Other the next four months, 2 other groups will live in the Wallace house, situated in Lusaka, capital of Zambia.

The Wallace Group are currently enrolled in a project called IDEALS (International Development through Excellence and Leadership in Sport), a UK sport institutive which operates in a number of countries across the world.

The project which myself and Hayley were selected team leaders for is The Zambia Project, now in its 6th term. Last year I was involved as a media student with the objective of promoting the project through various media. I was in Group 2 of the 3 that were out here in 2009. This year, along with Hayley, I’m co-ordinating and supporting all 3 groups (each of which will spend 6 weeks here in Lusaka), spending a total of 123 days in the world’s 8th poorest country.

Hayley and I were certainly thrown straight back into Zambia Culture. There is currently a group of St Andrews students doing similar work to the Wallace group in Lusaka. On our first night back, they invited us to their house for ‘Zambia Night’, a good chance for all students to get a real taste of Zambian culture. The peer-leaders that take sessions throughout the year make traditional Zambian food for the students to try. It was another chance for me to taste caterpillar, which doesn’t actually taste too bad, but the texture of thousands of legs on your tongue was not missed.

The Zambia project is a rare project in the fact that both parties involved benefit hugely. PE students from the Wallace group of students can apply to come to Zambia for 6 weeks and coach under privileged children in deprived areas of the world. From UKSport’s point of view, they are developing the leadership skills of today’s future and tomorrow’s present. They come and undertake placements arranged by two of Zambia’s leading Non-Government Organisations, EduSport and Sport In Action. These organisations benefit from the money invested by the Wallace Group and the coaching skills and knowledge of British students. It’s a win win situation. The NGOs use sport as vehicle for social development.

Although poor economically, the country is rich in culture and personality. It certainly hasn’t taken me long to get well back into the swing of things although has been a bit of a culture shock for the students staying in Africa for the first time. One thing is for sure, the whole of Africa seems to have caught World Cup fever and there’s a real sense of unity brought together by nations pride for the first time the world’s biggest sporting event to be held on African soil.

Sport In Action go further than sports coaching, their coaching sessions try and educate, inspire and empower young people through participation. They go even futher than that too. One of their latest ideas involves taking a massive screen out to rural communities (like, mud huts and no electricity rural, much much more rural than Sible Hedingham) of Zambia and showing games from the World Cup for all. I’ve decided that I’m going to travel with the screen to one of the communities and watch a game out there before returning to the Wallace House.

The students under went their induction to the two NGOs they will be coaching for. The induction included presentations about staying safe in Zambia and also a trip on the back of a massive truck to all the placements they will be working: Kalingalinga, Fountain of Hope, Chipata and Chawarma. They start their placements tomorrow. I will be travelling to Chawama with two of the students just to make sure they get there OK – especially considering how hard travelling in Zambia can be.

The bus system could almost be a whole blog post in itself, but if I describe it now for you, hopefully it will paint a clearer picture of how Zambians do things. Basically, there are very few bus stops. There is no bus timetable and there is no set fee for trips. If you need a bus, you set off in the direction you need to be going, wait for a man out the side of a bus (which is basically a big van) to shout the final destination of their trip, and hail it down if that’s where your going. Before you get in, you need to negiotate a fee.

Getting a fair fee can be hard because they assume as a white person, you are going to be very wealthy and will try and charge you extra for a journey. So once you have let them know you’re not going to pay more than 3,000K (the equalivant of 40p, which is a lot for a bus ride in Zambia) and won’t be taken for a ride (that’s an unintendly good pun), you can get on. But even then it’s not that simple. Buses will take up to 14 people and you may have to squeeze in very closely to a lot of local people who will all give you strange looks because the mzungos (white people) in Zambia they know will all travel in un-neccessiarly large 4x4s.

Once you’re in, you might have to wait a while because buses usually won’t go any further until they’ve taken maximum profits possibly by filling up the bus as much as possible. Finally, once everyone is in and the bus is moving again, the conductor will take your money off you and may not return any possible change until he’s got some money off another passenger. There’s also only one door, so if someone right at the back needs to get off somewhere, everyone will have to get off and back on again to let them out. It can be a nightmare. But also good fun if you’ve got some banter going with some of the drivers.

It’s also been great to see everyone again. We’re in the same house we were in last year, so its been great seeing Grace (the maid) and Hendrix (the security/ground maintenance man) again. They’ve welcomed myself and Hayley back with welcome arms. The house is great, we’ve even got cable TV for the World Cup.

These first 5 days in Zambia seem to have been very very long, but 123 days will go very very quickly I’m sure. This has been a very long first re-entry so thanks for reading it all, or as they say in nanja (one of 74 Zambian dialects) ‘zeecombo quambeely’ (thank you very much).

Remember to join the ‘Zambia Project’ Facebook page and also follow @zambiaprojectuk if you use Twitter at all for more updates!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Goodbye Scotland!

So as many of you know, back in January I applied for the position of 'Team Leader' for this year's Zambia Project. If this is the first your hearing about the Zambia Project then please check out this site for more information! Sports Director at Durham University, Dr Peter Warburton, interviewed both myself and fellow Stirling student Hayley Barr along with one other girl for the position.

They were ideally looking for one team leader to have Media capabilities and a previous experience in Africa and one to have Netball coaching qualifications, so myself and Hayley fit the bill perfectly, I could have played for England Netball team back in the day (.... that was a very bad joke).

Anyway, the position requires us to return to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia next week and co-ordinate this year's student's Zambia experience for 4 months. It sounds very patronising calling them students when we are both students ourselves, something which has never happened! The team leaders have always been graduates and myself and Hayley are the youngest ever selected team leaders, something I'm very proud of (without blowing my own trumpet).

So if you enjoyed reading my blog when I was a student out in Zambia last time, then keep following it this year! I'll have plenty of good stories and keep you all informed of what I'm actually doing out there! I'll be flying out next Friday and I'm leaving Scotland till October this very afternoon!