4 November 2019

An easy start before motoring up the Lundazi road to visit the District Education Board Secretary with whom we are liaising regarding the new school build. It was important that she understood exactly what our commitment is to the project and what we expected in return. I’m pleased to say she is a woman I can do business with and have every confidence she will support STEPHEN in what is a major undertaking. To see what the World Bank are funding we went some way to a school build that Chris and party visited in May as a yardstick for our project. Well, 6 months have passed and I’m not surprised how little progress has elapsed.

Just I was writing the last sentence Stephen yelled come and see the national news!! There we were in all our glory from last week’s visit. I hope it transmits as Ed filmed the sequence. The only other thing of note was the first storm of the season. High winds before the deluge caused a large branch in the yard to come down. It’s marvellously fresh, we have the BBQ on and bingo the mains have just been turned off for another 16 hours.


Mr Khunga, Stephen, site foreman and Edmund Cudlip.

Just returned from our last bone-jangling, kidney-bashing trip – what a relief.
Mains electricity is still not restored so our poor old generator has had a serious run during our time here. A visit to well no 2 set me off as usual. Plenty of tobacco seed beds some vegetables but zero ginger in a field I inspected on my last visit. Then to add to my ire the village folk were complaining the pump rods were not working to pump water at full capacity. It’s a frustrating business trying to encourage innovative crops which earn money outside of the normal crop cycle. A visit to our occupied beehives and a lesson to Ed on Moringa trees before visiting the kindergarten and school build for the last time concluded this trip. Incidentally we now have a large herd of goats and will be selling some, the money going to increase the support to the kindergarten and Mrs Khunga. On return it was what I term as “ a wet towel round the head day”, reconciling the accounts for the current half year, allocating the budget for January to June next year and now made even more mind bending with a major project account. Stephen is meticulous in accounting for our money and I have the greatest admiration for his frugal spending. Even when the mains electricity is off he will not use the generator but tough it out because diesel is expensive.

We dined at Mamarula for our last night and took Stephen and Rachael with us. It’s been a great, if hot and tiring trip and Ed, who has travelled me, has enjoyed his first foray into Africa. He is producing some wonderful video for you to enjoy in due course.

Mr Khunga and Edmund.

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2 November 2019

It’s Rugby World Cup final at 11 our time so I’m afraid it’s Mamarulas, a South African owned establishment at 10 for the build up. Written before we went so now back home seriously chastened by a magnificent Springbok demolition of the brave red roses. You can just imagine the kindly abuse we suffered as the hosts started their celebrations in earnest – oh well France 2023 it will have to be. Work doesn’t stop however and Stephen was back in town hiring lorries to transport crushed stone and cement as we should start laying concrete tomorrow on the teachers houses we are building. It’s amazing how he achieves this as there are no rental or transport companies, it’s word of mouth getting trucks and his network of contacts beggars belief. Following church tomorrow we will be off to see the 5 remaining orphans yet to be seen.

With great relief the Pastor was in control this morning and we were able to get on our way to the villages in under 2 hours and it was a little cooler to boot. I’m delighted to report the mopping up of the last children to be seen was a success albeit they were spread over the entire kingdom and we got back just before dark after some tough driving. It’s two working days to go so it’s almost mission accomplished – thank goodness as this has been a tough one.

Patrick, a new boy to join us, with his grandfather of 87 years.

Mrs Khunga, the wonderful head teacher of Mercers and wife of the village headman.

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31 October 2019

We are over halfway on this trip and just starting to feel the pain particularly as even Stephen is finding it too warm for his liking. The plan was to meet Chief Manukwa sometime after 9 and before he set of for the capital Lusaka. Well well well the meeting never took place and he’s scarpered. To be fair I was hoping for a relative rest day, do some catching up with our records and send orphan updates to all our sponsors. Edmund my travelling companion is a little off colour today so the “ the old colonel” has allowed him some well earned rest- simply by chance! Mid morning I had the chance for a 30 minute interview on Radio Maria, a province wide radio station, selling Zoe, which is always fun. Checking delivery build times and cost for classroom desks and other miscellaneous admin tasks completed a very restful day. The mains power has just gone off and scheduled to be off until sometime tomorrow so thank the Lord for our generator. A split half chicken has just gone on the BBQ, it’s about a nice cool 80 degrees and the gin and tonic slipping down nicely. Good night as I contemplate a very long day tomorrow which will follow.

1 NOVEMBER ( one day before we beat the Springboks).
At last, the sun is shrouded in cloud as sunrise beckons a new day and it’s discernibly cooler – could it be the rains are about to break?

The provincial officer talking about our project for national TV.

Now I’m not one for getting excited but we have had a rather special day. The Provincial Education Officer had asked if we could take him to see the new school build and so set forth in convoy with our vehicle filled with a national TV reporter, camera man and build project officer. In his vehicle his important sidekicks. A full tour of the site including the kindergarten and market garden interrupted by numerous interviews and culminating with a round table discussion in snake house. I really do feel we now have the attention of the authorities and this was reaffirmed when he asked me to lead onto Manukwa school, the biggest in the kingdom, as he was aware of my concerns for the headmasters there (this was not on the agenda). When I was in the army we all dreaded “snap inspections” from our superiors but in reality non choreographed visits generally got the real message across much more honestly. You need no more boring details other than to know it is an historic milestone in Zoe Zambia and what little we are doing for children who would have absolutely no chance without our intervention. Thank you all who are so generous.

The classroom concrete base curing. We need to keep it wet for three days because of the heat.

Buying stone for the project.

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29 October 2019

After a breakfast of fresh strawberries, mango and pineapple it was time to drive our guests to Mfuwe airport adjacent to the Luwangwa valley game reserve two hours distant. The adage of give yourself plenty of time paid off as we came up behind a funeral cortège crawling at 20 miles an hour and overtaking is a no no! It was clear when the convoy finally left the main road it was someone important as in the convoy was a police escort –  all funerals here are a full day affair and I feel sorry for the bereaved family as every one who attends gets a meal.

Our meeting with “Happy” in the Deputy Heads office.

On our return it was on the road again to see two of our orphans at boarding school. Happy (yes his name) is our only orphan who has qualified for higher education so far. Chizongwe school has 900 boarding boys and was in being when I lived here in the 50’s. Such an amusing reception. On easing the deputy headmasters door open we found him asleep in an arm chair with his shoes off! Once he had recovered his dignity and us trying to appear as if we hadn’t noticed he gave us a full review of our boy’s performance. The prognosis is excellent and we will probably be financing Happy to university in four years time. What a result for a boy who had been educated in the bush and never been away from home before and is an orphan to boot.


Tuck in hand! Note the expert signing. 😉

It was then onto Magwero school for the deaf where our lovely young Yotam boards at this specialist school. I do find it difficult and rather surreal with the silence unlike a rowdy normal school. It’s all signing and hand movements with the odd grunt or squeal of delight. Nora, the headmistress is so welcoming and reports our boy is doing very well. On both the visits Stephen spirits in a big bag of “tuck” – he really does act as their father or parent. An easy day so we will be at full throttle again tomorrow.

Discussing Yotam’s progress with the head teacher.

30 OCTOBER 2019.
After visiting the build site at Makhasa I was well pleased with progress but was starting to recognise the extreme difficulty in positioning materials. For example we need a huge amount of crushed stone and river sand to make concrete. We have to source small stone from whatever source we can find as our villagers breaking boulders into pebbles using hammers and metal pipes can’t keep up with demand. It means hiring lorries of questionable road worthiness and transporting materials cross country – a real logistic challenge.

Then onto to Kalembe school to present a full team football strip. Without hesitation the Head had the school team don the strip for a photo shoot. The exact response at Manukwa school a little later in our travels. In between schools we called on two of the orphan stable and one orphan girl at school in grade 12. If she passes her exams starting on the 17th of November it’s off to boarding college elsewhere.

It became simply too hot to continue so back to base for a breather then we had some errands in town plus the life invigorating ice cream – thank goodness they are still operating. I want to close with just an overview on what breaking stone is all about. The quarry area in the picture is a free for all site where a person can simply start working rock by hand and people like me go and barter the price of a pile of rocks. It’s almost medieval, no safety, no goggles, no gloves and survival of the fittest. There’s a new curry place opened close to where we live so Ed is having a night off- how lucky we are.

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27 October 2019

Being Sunday it’s always a semi rest day, as it’s a leisurely rise before attending church. The downside of where church is held is that the hall is like an oven by 11 o’clock at this time of year and we weren’t disappointed. The upside is it’s lovely to catch up with pastor Geoffrey and his wife Martha and many of the regular congregation. Geoffrey was in full flow this morning about the value of worship and after 50 minutes we had nearly all expired!! He’s not normally so cruel but what the heck, his message was as usual on the button. En route to the villages we had to call in at Mamarulas to see how South Africa had fared and we caught the last six minutes of the game against Wales in the rugby World Cup. Well, the South Africans were all hopping from leg to leg with the score equal and then of course huge celebration as the Springboks closed out the game by a 3 point penalty. Bad luck Wales.

In the afternoon we called on three orphan families which allowed our visitors to witness our work. It never surprises me to see their reaction, firstly to the uncomfortable drive into the villages and then the abject poverty our families endure. Equally the smiling faces, cheerfulness and enthusiastic hand shaking on arrival at a family home never fails to strike a chord. We also had the opportunity to show them two of our well projects and Myzangulu school. I think our guests were specially shocked how basic the school is and I had to explain I could show them far worse! I was very heartened by what passed as positive observations from our guests over a magnificent BBQ supper cooked by Edmund my young partner on this trip. Tomorrow will be a very busy day and our guests will meet up with the three boys they are sponsoring.


Our guests with their chicken present.

The Hilux loaded it was an early start to see our guests’ three children they sponsor. It’s an interesting experience especially if you have never been to an African village hut in the middle of nowhere, to watch the interaction between sophisticated Europeans and a very poor African family. That said it was a great success, presents given and in return a sack of peanuts and a live chicken. 🐓. We were all then given the most wonderful session with the children of Mercers Kindergarten which concluded with turning teachers immaculately behaved children into whirling dervishes as we all blew up balloons for children to fight over. A review of the new school build and borehole garden really reinforces the great value I place on both Mr Khunga the headman and his amazing wife. Then the reality of life on the edge. A very old grandmother who is guardian to one of our young orphans had her entire grass roof torn off during the night and Mr Khunga had organised a team to re roof the house which was ongoing. So we high tailed it to her house to find her very distressed. Only those who have been to Zambia will appreciate this dire family situation. As had happened I had bought some dried fish, beans and maize meal which we had with us for her so some succour. This was the same house that was flooded when on my last visit which we repaired. It was then back to the site to enjoy a Zambian meal prepared by the ladies of the village, all part of a visitors experience (didn’t all go strong on goat intestines!!). We are experiencing a heat wave at present which is due to pass through on Friday so it’s especially hot just now – we drank over 16 litres of water between us today while out and about. Our guests leave in the morning and I will run them the 100 miles to the nearest airport. God bless and goodnight.

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25 October 2019

It’s 5.30 am and as I sit on the verandah having my first cup of coffee the sun is just breaking cover, it’s already 80 degrees, Vincent, Steven’s son is washing the vehicle (Steven’s pride and joy) and the city is coming to life – what a place!

Happy choppies at Chambawa school.

The mission is to see as many of our orphan families as possible making use of the recently declared extra national holiday. We are not as successful as yesterday but still manage to review 7 families, some being those at the extremities of the area and two of the families being new to the charity. One new family in particular really highlights the plight of a little girl. Try and imagine living in the middle of nowhere, being blind and having to survive as a subsistence farmer. That was our first port of call, mother being led round, unable to even cook and relying on help from the community to sustain herself and her daughter. It makes all our efforts and the sponsor’s generosity immeasurable. At Mawaso village we have a grandmother who sustains five orphan children who of late have not been good at attending school etc. A final warning was given as to their continuing to receive support when Chris and the team were here in May. Success! While academic results leave a lot to be proud of, their attendance record was excellent and saved me an unpleasant task. Tomorrow I drive to the Luwangwa valley game reserve to collect a sponsor friend who is coming to visit us for two days. It means, on my 74th birthday I’ll miss England beating the All Blacks!!

26 October.
Oh my. When we met up with my friends at Tribal Textiles, the most marvellous if expensive community craft centre in the Luwangwa valley, the first thing Marc told us was the wonderful rugby result – eat your heart out you All Blacks!! It’s been a easy day other than a 200 mile round trip to collect our friends. Stephen needed a new phone so before our trip Vincent’s son, who is a bit of a techie, was our advisor as to what to purchase. Stephen is now connected to every APP you can think and this will seriously aid his task running things here. This evening was spent watching the highlights of England’s tremendous win while eating huge T bone steaks, tilapia fillets and chicken curry at Mamarulas – a place we used to stay in times past. It’s been my birthday so enormous pleasure to escape our usual bouncing about in the bush and having a few drinks and supper with friends. Tomorrow it’s church, rugby and orphans.

A village lady preparing the planting of grasidiya a tree that mysteriously imparts nitrogen into the fields.

This fresh mango purchase was just £1.20

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23 October 2019

A very good start for the day meeting Dr Lingambe the Provincial Education Officer.
For the first time in the 7 years I have been dealing with the bureaucracy of a new nation, well one of 55 years old, I feel we have finally got serious government support in court. Recognition of our efforts with the orphan programme and Zoe’s involvement in trying to improve education facilities is, I believe, being recognised at the right levels.

Having delivered stores to the Makhasa school building site a visit to the main school in the kingdom, Manukwa, my euphoria of the business visit was somewhat shattered. A school of 540 primary children grade 1 to 7 were being taught by only 3 trained government teachers and 2 untrained volunteers. The secondary section were marginally better off but oh what a desperate state the education system is in. There are simply no government funds to recruit more teaching staff and hence the progression of children to higher education is bleak. I do hope we will not suffer accordingly when Makhasa is built!

Taking a break from the unrelenting heat.

Two of our well farm visits were reassuringly positive and our final call was Myzangulu school the last of our schools in the kingdom supporting some of our children, a community school the church helped build and get gazetted by the government last year. Mrs Phiri the head is an amazing bubbly lady who has really transformed a very ordinary community school into well run primary.

Our journey home followed the route of what was a very good dirt road 18 months ago which has deteriorated to an extraordinary driving challenge in many places. Again a lack of funds for maintenance is clearly the reason.


School report review with some of our orphan families.

An ideal day for our visit programme to catch up with the orphan families and we weren’t disappointed. Nine villages visited and the well-being of sixteen children checked out. In desperately hot conditions it always amazes me how climatically it has little effect on the local folk. They are all tilling their fields in expectation of the rains as this is a crucial time to be ready and the sun is beating down at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  I suppose I’m blasé about life here but Ed who is with me on his first visit to Africa keeps noticing how very hard life is. Families have nothing but the clothes they stand up in, a few pots and pans, the important “cooking stick” used to stir their basic staple maize meal when cooking and plastic drums for storing water all housed in a one or two room grass and mud hut. He has also been taken by how friendly everyone is with much hand shaking and “Muli Bwanji” the traditional greeting. Tomorrow is more of the same as the President only two days ago declared the day as an additional holiday- at least it will give many who have over indulged today time to recover and there are plenty will need it. Good night.

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21 October 2019

Hi All,

Here we are again in paradise (well sort of). An uneventful trip, all luggage arrived, met up with Edmund Cudlipp who had flown in with Ethiopian airlines via Addis Ababa to join me in Lilongwe. Only seven roadblocks, no trucks on the road due to a strike and an easy passage through 2 borders US $400 lighter for visas!! Shopping done and what joy, Edmund is an excellent BBQ cook so well fed and after 27 hours of travelling it was to our beds with a full day planned for our first day in the villages tomorrow.

TUESDAY 22/10.
On rising Edmund enthusiastically set to for breakfast and bingo the oven and plugs electrical breaker burnt out so no hot water for coffee and cooked breakfast TIA (this is Africa). The chief had requested we met the Deputy Provincial Secretary on my arrival so at 8 o’clock we lived in hope it would happen and not waste valuable time in the bush. Incredibly we were done and on the road by 9 after an interesting and possibly useful exchange of pleasantries.

Our first port of call was Makhasa village and the school project. I’m delighted with the progress and will report further as my visit proceeds.

Meeting the headmaster at Chambawa school.

Before meeting any of the orphans I wanted to see the headmasters of the schools our children attend and visited Chambawa and Kalembe primary schools. I’m constantly amazed at their wonderful resolve under the most trying of conditions. A full review of 19 orphans attending these two schools has now armed me with the latest information before tracking them down.

At Chambawa I found the school empty and on investigation learned that the couple of days before celebrating Zambia Independence Day (24/10) all the children with their teachers go into the communities to do jobs for the aged. We witnessed this happening at one of the grannies houses where she actually is guardian to 3 of our orphans. Water for her home is 2 kilometres away so all the girls, with water containers, were off to fetch water and the boys sent into the bush collecting firewood – we could learn a lesson from this. Two other orphan families visited and with sun’s heat at its highest it was back to base pretty wrung out. Into town to barter for 4 wheelbarrows, shovels and picks for the project and home for a cold beer. Oh no! The electricity had been off since 9 o’clock and the generator switched off.

A full day ahead tomorrow and Edmund should get his cooked breakfast – the electrician has been yippee and cold beer in the fridge. Goodnight.

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5 June 2019

Well that’s that, travellers. This team’s last day here in beautiful Zambia. We’ve been feeling very reflective, thinking back over what we set out to do, what we accomplished, and all the amazing, inspiring sights and sounds and people along the way. Looking further back as well, with Chris remembering the very first trip and first ‘spade in the ground’ all those years ago. This is the seventh year of operation now for Zoe, and over that time the friendships, hardships and achievements for this worthy cause, supporting the futures of charming Zambian children, have built up a genuine connection between the lovely people in our two hemispheres. This is evident in the very warm welcome we’ve all received (including the new visitors in the team) for being part of an organisation that is now so well known and loved in these parts. All in all we’ve been feeling very glad for the Zoe project and excited for the future. We hope you are too. The team are coming away with lots of notes, photographs and a plan of action for next steps – not to mention fantastic memories.

We’ve also discovered and learned lots on our adventures, and so wanted to share our top bush survival tips with you:

1. Bring gingernuts on any outing, especially with Stephen.
2. Follicle numbness is a thing, long periods of open windows and hair lashing around will do this to you. Bring a good hat.
3. It takes about 3 days to get your ‘sea legs’ on the bumpy roads, stick with it.
4. Always carry Ngwee (pennies) to stop for bananas.
5. Good bush picnics include peanut butter and said bananas.
6. Have a good driver (suggest Stephen or Caroline).
7. Know your reptiles and how to spot a Black Mamba slither pattern!
8. Look out for UFO’s (Uniformed Fleeing Orphans who should be at school).
9. Don’t bother looking for the North Star.
10. Must be home before dark for a sundowner.
11. If you need phone reception, stand on an anthill.
12. When the power cuts out for the 4th time in a day, it’s acceptable to barbecue pasta.
13. Watch out for falling snakes when walking under trees.
14. There are no tigers in Africa.
15. Regarding critters: where there’s one, there’s more and where there’s littleuns, there’s bigguns!
16. Flip flops can be made out of tyres, and they’re great for cornering.
17. A 4×4 is a big mistake, bring a helicopter.
18. Avoid eye contact with giraffes and spiders.
19. Only eat nshima with your right hand (google it).
20. If someone gives you a large quantity of peanuts, don a pair of rubber gloves to avoid shelling blisters.

PS. Please enjoy our end of trip out-takes, ones which didn’t make the cut!

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4 June 2019

The team were sung to sleep last night, by a chorus of hippos (or were they laughing, we’re not sure). This felt very much like home at Zoe House, Chipata, where we’re graced most evenings by the local dog chorus, as the lights start to fade – and at the off and on of every electricity blackout!

Unlike home however, we had a VERY early start this morning. 05:15 (Zambia time – 04:15 UK!) for a dawn drive, to catch more critters as they started stirring. It was a rather difficult task for the team to rise that early, but oh so worth it with the phenomenal Luangwa park on top form again. Impala, puku and baboons were out in force, and although we didn’t catch lions or leopards today (or tigers, who knew) we did see traces of big, catty pawprints along our path which were just magical. The landscape in Zambia is truly awesome, and it’s fantastic there are still these unspoiled places intact with such rich and wonderful variety of life. We’ve observed that it’s a little bit ironic that with our downtime from bouncing around in a jeep searching for children, we chose to bounce around in a jeep searching for leopards! But we all felt very lucky to be there and to see what we saw.

The team at Kafunta Safari were exceedingly hospitable to us as well. Knowing we were staying just one night they put on a very unusual lunch for us today, high up on a platform in a giant tree! From there we enjoyed table service with a backdrop of incredible views of the Luangwa river, utterly brimming with hippos. How splendid! We were joined by Stephen for this and it was a real treat to celebrate the last fortnight’s successes together in such a special way.

Driving back into town is a bit of a surreal feeling. More so than the drive in somehow, the stark change from the luxury of the tourist industry to the poverty of the local people is so quick, so clear and so sobering. Exactly the thing we needed perhaps, to get our heads back in the game for a very important meeting this afternoon – Stephen had lined up an audience with Chief M’nukwa.

We met the Chief at his home in Chipata, a handsome house fit with beautifully kept gardens and decoration, and the meeting went very well. The Chief seems satisfied with the progress Zoe is making for his people, and supportive of our activities – even to the point of suggesting areas for growth in the future. He explained Zoe is becoming somewhat of a household name in the local villages, known for the good things we’ve made happen; and among other organisations too, as an example of good practice and perseverance. Everyone involved can feel very proud of this!

We’re all starting to feel very sad to have to leave this lovely place, so hope to squeeze in as much more Zambia as we can manage on our last day tomorrow.

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