30 May 2019

Today has been a VERY busy day! We have ticked off quite a portion of our targets and managed to have some really special time with the children.

Gotta catch ’em all

We started off by going on an orphan hunt, bouncing around in our 4×4 truck we criss-crossed the chiefdom pulling up at schools and homes to find our beloved children. The purpose was to check on their health and wellbeing, seeing as we already had their school reports and had talked through their academic progress with their Head Teachers. It was great to put a face to a name for the newbies in our team and for the more experienced members, it was good for them to see familiar faces. It was quite a scheduled criss-cross as the schools are split into afternoon and morning sessions, and we needed to ensure that we were at the correct school for the correct school period. In most schools, the older children attend in the morning and the younger in the afternoon, though each school does differ.

Stephen shared that school admissions in Zambia used to be subject to a simple test. If the child could stretch their right arm over the top of their head and touch their left ear then they were big enough to go to school… School Admissions is part of Chris’s team back in Bracknell Forest and he is definitely going to include this in the eligibility criteria for applying for a school place back in the UK.

Two more families were interviewed for prospective sponsorship and acceptance onto the Zoe Zambia program, huzzah!!! Wonderful news, and the team are thrilled to be involved in the probable life changing event. The children are wonderful and always seem shy at first until they are encouraged to open up, cheeky sides are then seen 😊

It was an exciting day for Stephen as he was given his very own chauffeur! He was able to relax a little and enjoy being driven around. Caroline very much enjoyed being the chauffeur and bouncing around the red dirt roads all day, and has even considered a 4×4 as her next car in England. Who’s turn will it be tomorrow….. read tomorrows blog to find out!

A huge highlight of our day was visiting Mercers Preschool. We sped along the road to make it in time before the children left for the day and were greeted so beautifully by the children. The team were asked to sit at the front and the children sang several songs which they had practiced to perfection in both English and Chinyanja. How clever for preschool age children! Several children came up to show off their skills, we were treated to colour names, the ABC and each child saying their name and where they are from, all in English. A beautiful girl full of spirit came up and gave the story of Adam and Eve and the rest of the class joined in at several points, although it was in Chinyanja we could follow the story perfectly and it was such a great little performance to watch. After the singing we thought we would impart a great British favourite and asked the children to join in a good old round of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes!! They joined in with us, whether they thought us a little odd is another matter.

Caroline was very much looking forward to this special morning with the children, and it was so good for the team to be able to spend a few hours playing and engaging with the children. Some are shy and some are so funny how they run to the front and make themselves known! As Caroline is a Mummy to 3 little ones she is well versed at toddler group games and so gave a play parachute to the preschool. We spent a bit of time getting children to run underneath and the squeals of joy were delightful! Amy had thoughtfully brought bubbles and the children had such fun chasing them around the playground, tripping over each other whilst trying to get the last bubble before it blew across the bush. It was so funny watching some of the boys run across the playground with the bigger bubble wands, leaving a trail of bubbles for the little ones to pop! Such a soul filling time, the team felt very happy after this experience and Caroline had happy tears!

We are all becoming a little better each day at Chinyanja and can now say simple things like “Good Morning”, “How are you?” and “Thank you”. All of this helps us to get by a little bit and make better connections with the families we meet. Exciting!

Tomorrow is another busy day, with the team splitting in two as there are different agendas to cover, make sure to check the blog tomorrow for more updates.

Animal Of The Day: Pig – Nkhumba
Orphan Total: 38/49
Nshima Eaten: 1

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29 May 2019

This morning we made a visit to the school uniform shop in Chipata which makes the uniforms for the children. Stephen brings them into town from the villages and this is a day out which the children really enjoy, coming from the rural villages into the big town.
We found a small enterprise making sandals from old car tyres and Claire and Caroline with ever an eye for a bargain have made purchases of these. These sandals have good road holding and safe cornering and are very effective in the wet.

In 2015 we helped Makaaza village build a pre-school building which is known as Mercers House after the generous donation from the Mercers Livery Company that made this possible. The pre school is now full of 60-70 small children and due to the distance to the nearest primary school the time has come to look at providing a primary school facility at Makaaza. John has been in touch with some UK fundraisers and has been liaising with the Zambian District Education Board (DEB) who we went to see today. They made us welcome and are interested in this possible future project. The idea is that if we can provide the classrooms etc DEBs will adopt the school and supply the teachers. We met the DEBs Building Officer and he and Chris talked about how to commission and construct the school buildings required. We went with the Buildings Officer to see a similar new school being built by DEBs which is currently under construction in another location, and we hope that this proposed new project will go ahead.

In the afternoon we went to visit Mwazangulu school which when Chris and Claire were last here in 2017 was a struggling community school being paid for as best they could by the village. Zoe helped pay for the roof to be provided on the school building and Mwazangulu has since been adopted by the Zambian Ministry of Education and now proudly flies the Zambian flag. They are also now receiving learning resources from DEBs including new text books and have constructed new toilets.

Whilst we are driving through the bush we see lots of domestic animals like pigs, goats and cows which are all free range and sometimes run into the road. So far we have managed to avoid them all. The Yanga word for a goat is Mbuzi and we saw them again today being taken to market on the back of bicycles.

We mostly drive with the windows down because of the heat which means we are also sometimes visited by what Chris calls “critters” or non-domestic wildlife including crickets, grasshoppers and other creepy crawlies and flying insects. This can sometimes be quite alarming especially when they decide to jump or fly in through the car window and land on your face.

We found out today that Zambia has 73 different languages but the common tongue is English which makes it easier for us to understand and be understood here. Zambian schools teach English as part of the national curriculum in Key Stage 2 and so all children learn to speak, read and write in English.

We had an evening out this evening and went to Mamarulas which is a local campsite run by South Africans who we have known for some years now. They have a friendly Labrador dog called Frankie who likes to stand up on his back legs and eat ice cubes off the bar. Caroline was introduced to Amarula which is an African liqueur from which the campsite apparently bears its name because the mother of the current owners was apparently so partial to it. Caroline is now also partial to it….

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28 May 2019

Firstly, Chris wishes to impart great news for anyone from the UK … they have Nik Naks here!!
They also bake bread and scones in amazing pyramidal brick ovens. We had not eaten much all day when Stephen explained this, and we found ourselves fantasising about Zambian cream teas…. What would that look like? We have some marvellous mango jam from the supermarket…..
We also accidentally froze some yogurt in the fridge by turning it up to the max, and discovered…. Frozen yogurt! It was good!
We have also learned from Stephen today what to do if your mobile won’t pick up the network out ‘in the field’; stand on an anthill (higher ground) to get a better signal! (Anthills here are about 6 feet tall and not very safe…)He discovered this one day last year when the old truck broke down. We were glad we didn’t need to try it out!!
A very vivacious granny with a great sense of humour, on discovering Amy is our daughter, taught her how to curtsey to her parents in traditional Zambian manner to say thank you, apparently this is what children should do when approaching the dinner table. Amy was instructed to teach her sisters how to do this, so Chris is expecting the proper formalities to be observed when they come round for dinner…
We are learning a lot here. Every day we try to learn the name of another animal in Cinyanja, the local language. Today’s animal: the cow, ngombi. This is easy to remember because we see a lot of them crossing the road, usually unexpectedly just as the vehicle approaches…
Today’s mission was to visit Chambawa, Kalembe and Mnukwa schools. Mission accomplished!
It was great to meet each of the Head teachers who were all very welcoming and happy to be ambushed by visitors asking lots of questions. They know the Zoe project and get regular visits.
They were generous with their time to go through each sponsored child’s school report with us and discuss any concerns about each one.
At each school we were able to present them with a new football, and at Mnukwa, as it was the end of the school day, this led to an immediate impromptu football match, and what joy from one simple object!

Our ongoing mission on the visit is to see all 49 sponsored kids. This is not as simple as it sounds when it involves driving some pretty exciting off-road terrain! (Today Stephen let Claire drive and she actually drove over a small tree in the middle of the road!)
So, on day 1 we saw 3 children, then the next day was 9, and so on, by the end of today the count is 27 out of 49 so we are feeling pretty pleased with ourselves! Expect a daily count update. Of course Chris reminded us frequently how much easier this would be with a helicopter. Chris is recommending a secondhand Westland Lynx, so we have added this to our watch lists on ebay. In the meantime, Chris ordered a model of the recommended machine on Amazon, for John to consider.

Thanks team!

The highlight of the day for me was getting anti malaria pills to the lad we saw on Sunday who had a high temperature. We bought the pills yesterday in town and delivered them to his brother at school today, with instructions on their use, so hopefully he is feeling the benefit already. Very satisfying.

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27 May 2019

We have had a good day today.

We went to visit one of our orphans who attends the school for the deaf at Magwero. This is a residential school so Stephen ferries him between school and home in the village at the start and end of each term, and he also gets visits from the Zoe team on every visit and also from Stephen during term time. The Headteacher showed us round the school and it is like a community in its own right where people work together, live together and they also grow food in a garden which is cooked in the school kitchen. It is good to see how much progress our orphan has made since he joined the school in 2016, and he seems very happy there. The whole school seems to be well run. We visited each class with the headteacher and tried out the one or two words of sign language that we had learned. Zambia uses the American version of sign language which is different to that we use in the UK.

Offroading by bike with five bundles of charcoal

Driving around in Zambia we have seen a number of interesting things being transported by bicycle including a mattress, four car tyres, huge lengths of sugar cane, large amounts of charcoal, live goats and also a pig on his way to market covered with leaves to keep him cool. We understand that John calls this a “pig in the fridge”.

We have another orphan who attends Chizongwe Technical Secondary School which is the only such school in the Eastern Province and we understand it ranks the highest out of all the other such schools in Zambia. This is also a residential school so Stephen performs the same taxi service at the beginning and end of each term taking both these boys to and from their respective schools. Chizongwe is a selective school which is high performing (even for UK standards), and the school uniform is a black suit, white shirt and black bow tie – the pupils look very smart and are extremely well behaved. The motto of the school is “Knowledge and Integrity”. For our orphan to have come from the village primary school into this high performing establishment of national renown is entirely down to his own efforts, as he has had to achieve the high grades required to make him eligible to apply, and we are extremely proud of him. A big thank you also to his sponsors because we know that the fees for secondary school are higher than those for a primary school.

When we fly out here we bring all our clothes and personal possessions in our carry-on luggage but we each also take a suitcase filled with goodies for the orphans and the schools. Clothes for the children are always needed, and we travel around the chiefdom with the suitcases in the back of the truck. When we see one of the orphans in need of clothes, we rummage in the cases to find something suitable. Caroline has three children, and is particularly good at this. She has taken a great deal of satisfaction handing on the clothes that her own children used to wear to the orphans.

We were touched by how interested everyone is here in the political situation in the UK and the Brexit issue is being followed closely here by Zambians. There is interest here in the UK and in British things in general – we met a Headteacher today who supports Aston Villa!

The plan to buy a helicopter has really taken off. We have found an airstrip outside Chipata where we can park it, and Chris is already on Amazon choosing the one he wants – Stephen wants a blue one. If we have any money left on this trip, we will be making a down payment on a suitable machine.

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26 May 2019

Sunday in sunny Chipata meant a trip to the local church for our team; we attended The Central Chipata Evangelical Church, which is part of the Evangelical Church of Zambia, and met a very lively and spirited couple in Martha and Geoffrey who Pastor the church. Martha lead the worship team, and wow were we treated to some awesome worship! Booming voices which didn’t even need microphones and some pretty special dance moves. It was really wonderful to witness such freedom and happiness in one room.

The Zoe Team were asked to stand and welcomed by the whole church, Chris then took the mic at the front and gave greetings to the church members from everyone at the Wokingham Vineyard.

After a great church service, we ambled out to the villages in search of our beloved children on the Zoe program. We headed to our first village and met two boys, one of which is coming in at the top of his class. After a well deserved spot of praise for his school work, he seemed shy but happy to be recognised for his academia. His brother is very sadly suffering with malaria and looked pretty lethargic which was very sad to see, we hope he recovers well soon.

The Monsters Back

This drive was the point where Caroline wished she had not said “These roads haven’t been too bad, I don’t know what the fuss is about”. Well, we were treated to some truly special off roading experiences today. Long grass whipped us through the windows, branches seemed to want to join our voyage and a little grasshopper tried to make friends with Claire. Stephen was an absolute hero, driving us through areas that we couldn’t quite believe were roads and narrowly missing tree stumps! We have named a section of the path “Monsters Back” as Stephen had to adopt 4×4 style driving and bounced us very skilfully across it. Amy managed to video this episode, although she was almost left behind by Stephen as he drove away leaving her to wonder if a night in the bush was coming up!

It has been suggested that the best solution would be a helicopter….. after today and the appalling roads, the team is very much in agreement! Next step – flying lessons for Stephen!!

Onto several more families, with special mention to a wonderful lady who ululated us into her grounds and greeted us with energy and dancing. We all commented on how wonderful it was to meet such a lady. Unfortunately, at this house we were unable to see the children as they had been playing all day and had gone to wash their school uniform, what dedication to their schooling! We were also very happy to discover more possible children to recommend for prospective sponsorship, great news!

One of our missions has been to give as many children hats as possible during our trip, we are all particularly fond of a Daffy Duck number….. of which we are yet to find someone willing to wear. Stay tuned!!

After visiting many families, we took a quick stop with Mr and Mrs Kunga in the Makhaza area which was a great pleasure, and we were quickly surrounded by happy smiling children. As we left the village all the children chased the car squealing and shouting which was just lovely.

Yesterday a kind family gave us a bag of their groundnuts, which Stephen and Chris meticulously shelled last night. Tonight, Chris is enjoying some yummy fresh groundnuts with a sundowner which he is super happy about!

Tomorrow will see us hopefully visiting a school and making plans for the new school in Makhaza.

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25 May 2019

On a Saturday, it’s an important time to visit the homes of our orphans, to catch them while they’re not at school. So Saturday means an extra early start and a very full and active day in the field.

Setting off to the outer edges of the Mnukwa Chiefdom, our first stop was a prospective new orphan for the programme, eager to get to school, but unable due to the severe poverty in her village. Her father has passed on and her mother is partially-sighted so the family struggle significantly to get by. The desperate need for help here was obvious. We took a lot of notes on this young girl and her brother so that the Zoe team can look into a new sponsor pairing for them both. As we left, Claire also bought a bunch of bananas – for just 1 kwacha (about 7p!) – more on these later…

We drove from there to see one of our families with a girl and a boy under sponsorship. Vibrant young things very much enjoying school (Science especially). And very fond of Stephen – on seeing him they ran down into his arms. Chris and Amy took the opportunity of that energy and cheer to introduce the village of Funsam’tima to Frisbee. And they took to it with finesse – what strong throwing arms! We left the frisbee there (along with some sensible provisions for the kids too, of course) certain they’ll get great enjoyment out of it in their fantastic open spaces. We have a few more frisbees to hand out too so perhaps we’ll even start a new Zambian trend.

Nearby lives another of ours with his uncle, grandfather and cousins. As well as the usual check-up, Stephen was very excited for us to visit the uncle’s nearby plot of ginger and aubergine. He describes this plot as a bit of a star within the agricultural projects, and plans to show it off to others as a fine example of the potential that can be achieved with the right attitude and a bit of elbow grease (not to mention the most incredible views of the surrounding hills for inspiration!) The crop was indeed impressively full and lush and the great care taken with the crops was clear. For example; due to the harsh sunlight at this time of year, each ginger plant was dressed with dried grass at the root, held down with large stones, and this helps keep the moisture in and the bulbs plump and growing. The ginger will be ready to harvest in a couple more months and he should make a good income from his hard work, which is really encouraging to see. It was fortunate that we had with us a scarf for his favourite team – Manchester United – which went down really well as a gift of appreciation.

The grandfather of 86

We took the infamous ‘Victoria Road’ from there to see more of our families, then another prospect, another young girl and her brother. Their amazing 86yo grandfather was a very eloquent English speaker and told us of his belief in education as the future and way forward for his family and village. The head man in the next village had the same attitude, particularly about English fluency which he described as “the passport to all subjects” (at secondary school, all lessons are given in English). They were incredibly grateful for the support, and we should be very motivated to have this coming from such wise and experienced individuals. Just imagine what sort of change they’ll have seen in their villages and country over those 80 years.

On Victoria Road

On the way back, having checked in on 9 of our sponsored orphans, 4 new prospective orphans, 3 wells, a school and more besides, we pulled up for an impromptu picnic, deep in the bush. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches, with ginger nut biscuits (Stephen’s favourite), apples – and the bananas bought in that first village. As you may have heard, some bananas out in Africa taste very different, more similar to the artificial banana flavour we’re used to in our sweeties; but these were very much like the bananas from home.

We’ll need this energy for another big day tomorrow; after church, it’s off out to the field again, hunting for more of our kids before they’re back to school on Monday.

Yes! We have some bananas ..

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24 May 2019

We are finally here in Chipata, Zambia after embarking on our journey through several airports! We were all very surprised at how quickly we made it through various securities and check ins, in fact we made it through Malawi immigration in just 45 minutes whilst being sent to many different desks and all paperwork being written by hand! After a long, but very smooth journey we were so happy to be greeted by Steven’s smiling face yesterday!

As we had been able to make a food shop, we filled up with brekkie and then went into town to carry out some banking jobs which took us to two banks and a wonderful emporium filled with goodies from footballs to chicken feed! And a super friendly and enchanting man called Youssef directed us to where we needed to go, and we managed to get our jobs done.

After lunch, we made the journey to M’nukwa school to visit the Head Teacher, Mr Nejovu who was a very well dressed and welcoming man. It was an extremely exciting visit as he had just received a large delivery of schoolbooks from the government. We had a look at the books and they were incredibly detailed, covering many subjects from Home Economics to Maths and Computer Technology.

Whilst we were at the school, the ladies were treated to a game of rocks with the children….. we still have no idea how the game was played but it was nice to interact with the children! The little ones were holding mugs of oaty porridge which had been provided by Mary’s Meals, and we found the various types of utensils for eating it to be amusing – a ruler was the favourite.

Next stop…. Makhaza to visit Mercers Preschool. We were met by Mr Kunga (Head Man) and a lovely little group of children. Chris and Mr Kunga sat down to go through the plans for the proposed new school and there was a great hive of excitement whilst they pored over the plans. Mr Kunga found the new name of the Snake House very amusing as he remembered the story of Nick and John’s previous night’s stay with their new snake friends. So, lots of discussions and nodding of heads over the plans before half the team walked the grounds to assess the suitability for each item drawn on the plans. It appears that the ground is large and flat enough for the proposal and also appears technically viable, so the next step is to be gaining pricing for all the building materials. Which is VERY exciting!!

We met Mrs Kunga and Laxon are the preschool teachers and they gave us all a great tour around the preschool, playground and veggie garden. Caroline took a tour with Laxon and was very impressed with the content the children are learning at preschool level. The two teachers are volunteers and teach around 150 children… no easy task and their dedication is incredible and inspiring. There were some very happy children swinging and showing off their skills in the playground, but we found the boy sliding down the scorching hot almost vertical slide very amusing.

Mr Kunga gave us a very thorough tour around the market garden next to the well and it was very encouraging to see the different plots of veggies growing. The young adults have been allocated a plot each and it is their responsibility to cultivate their crops and sell any successful products at market. The proceeds are then shared out between all the youth team, which is a fantastic idea to create team support between them. What was really encouraging was hearing from Mr Kunga that the there is so much demand for more plots that they are opening another market garden for others to claim plots!! The positivity in the place was tangible.

A while back, Zoe Zambia provided beehives to the village and we were very lucky to see the fruits of this venture. A very happy lady carried in a large and heavy tub of honeycomb, which was very skilfully carried on her head! Everyone was really proud to show off the thick and rich honeycomb inside. Chris and Amy got to taste the honeycomb and the rich, runny honey and their wide eyes and murmurs of “mmmmm” gave us the idea that it was pretty special. The honey will be taken and sold on, with the proceeds going back to the village which is wonderful news. We also saw the Moringa trees that Max planted on the last trip are still thriving, which was great!

Tomorrow, we will be visiting as many children as possible at their homes seeing as it is a weekend. We’re excited and expectant to what tomorrow will bring!

Discussing the day back at Zoe House

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