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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1 December 2018

This is our last real working day prior our return on Monday. Yotam is a profoundly deaf boy we sponsor and attends a government special boarding school for the deaf, twenty miles out of Chipata city near the Malawi border. It’s always so wonderful to see his face light up when we arrive but one feels so helpless thereafter as communication is very difficult. The head mistress kindly gave us a tour of the school which was of particular interest to Max. Leaving Yotam clutching a bag of goodies we headed 30 miles west to find the outstanding orphan families that needed a visit. God clearly onside, we were wholly rewarded for our troubles and mission accomplished. As I write we are sitting on our verandah anticipating our second Zambian Nshima feast from Rachael and reviewing the past frantic few days. It’s been great fun for me showing our “first timers” many of the things that were so much part of my early life.

Teaching the capture of flying ants

How to catch Cicadas with bush glue for eating, how to trap flying ants for crispy nibbles, teaching the greeting of folk in the chinyanja language, dealing with creepy crawlies and snakes and eating the traditional food using one hand only and so on. The Angoni and Chewa people are really lovely, happy, smiley people especially in the villages and the little kids adorable. I could not have had two better inquisitive companions who can relay the realities of what real poverty is back to our comfortable life back home. It’s tiring work “off roading” and nearly as bad on main roads as the photographs depict and this was 3 o’clock in the afternoon on our way back home albeit on the quiet tarmac.

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30 November 2018

The headmaster at Manukwa School receiving a case of sports kit

We set off for our last trip to the bush with Mr Khunga squeezed in the back of the wagon with Max and Nick. He had left his village at 5 this morning to conduct business in town and got lucky. Our first port of call was to Manukwa School to see the headmaster and drop off some sports kit. We also wanted to catch our 5 orphans from Mawaso village who had not been at home when we last called. Summoned to the headmasters office I was able to deliver a major rocket as their school reports were simply dreadful. One was missing as she had completed her end of term tests and gone home. On to Kalemba school some 5 miles deeper in the area to again drop off two full sets of sports kit and football boots.

Nick with Emmanuel

En route Nick was again able to call on his orphan boy and give him some of his sons cast-off football shirts. As we left the area it was time to say our farewells to the folk at Makhasa village, our children at Mercers kindergarten, Headman and Mrs Khunga and see if Max’s young Moringa trees that he had planted had survived the previous nights thunderstorm – they had.

Evening spent downtown at a very basic Indian curry place but pretty good grub washed down with coke or Fanta – forgot it was a true Moslem establishment. It’s now lovely and cool at last with rain a daily occurrence Two days to go so we are nearly done.

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28 November 2018

Greatly refreshed from a good nights sleep, a day of administration beckoned for me while Max and Nick set off in a local taxi for the drive to the Luwangwa valley for a 24 hour safari staying at Kafunta lodge. With a fast and furious programme of visits to the orphan families nearly complete it was time to update our record sheets, send email reports and pictures to our dear and generous sponsors and enjoy a day not bouncing about on the bush tracks. We have registered and thoroughly interviewed six new orphans and their guardians and sadly lost one girl who has re located out of the area and one boy who refuses to go to school and is hence removed from our support. I will return home with us supporting 49 orphans in varying size family groups spread over 19 villages. I am heartened by the improvement in activity at our well projects and considerable money has been distributed to the youth teams from the sale of ginger and vegetables. Myzangulu school has at last a government paid teacher due to our initiative and is now gazetted as a government sponsored establishment from being a community school run by the villages. There are over 200 children registered who will now benefit enormously from this uplift. Our kindergarten, the school sponsored by The Mercers Livery Company, is absolutely flying with over 80 little ones being prepared for grade one education, a very rare facility in Zambia. We used the “bush house” for the first time having brought our first gap year student Max with us and while more work needs to be done refining the initiative this is one for the future. I am due an audience with Chief Manukwa tomorrow. As I bed down the sky is alight with the most amazing electrical storm and it’s pouring with the most important bread of life in these parts – water.

THURSDAY 29 November.
I rise to the day I and Stephen least look forward to. Reviewing the past six months budget and expenditure and allocating the funds for the next six months. I’m fanatically tight about how our generous sponsors’ money is spent, Scrooge perhaps fits the bill nicely. The plus is I’m excused another day rattling my kidneys in the truck out in the kingdom. The simple task of obtaining bank statements and depositing the cash I bring at the bank can take anything up to two hours and tests one’s patience to the limit. I’m pleased to say a relatively easy two hours of budgets and the deed was done. Final lumps of cash exchanged and the next six months budget agreed – yippee. Max and Nick arrived back safely from Luwangwa at 4, full of tales of lions, scorpions, snakes and wild things they had seen, their pictures are amazing.

Our last duty of the day was an audience with Chief Manukwa at his town house which is rather grand. Unlike some meetings over the past six years I came away, much encouraged. There is no doubt he is getting a grip supporting Zoe and advertising our work and aspirations widely. He had just returned from a conference on a wide range of national social challenges with the minister of health for the country and he showed us his presentation on his lap top. Zoe had received several messages and pictures in his presentation as examples of what can be done to address issues such as child poverty, education, self sufficiency and so on. I’m really quite encouraged as getting the message across has been an uphill battle for Stephen who is much respected by the chief.

Listening to the chief relay his presentation to the Minister of Health.

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27 November 2018

We all rose feeling rather shabby except Max who was still asleep as we took a wash from a cold bucket of water, had a tepid cup of coffee from a flask and a couple of lovely sweet mangoes for breakfast. Once Max joined us it was off to the the gardens where he was to plant 30+ Moringa trees. He had marked the site off the previous day, pre-positioned his young trees and with a simple hoe set to work. Stephen, Nick and I left him in the good hands of Mr Khunga as we set off in search of orphans, as school is still sitting and seeing them at home with their guardians is a lottery.

Delivering the purchases of school necessities and sports strips

There are two or three school sittings a day because there are so few teachers and classrooms – it really is depressing when you learn most of the junior classes only get three hours formal lessons a day having in many cases walked miles. We managed to get to one of our most distant orphans where we had been defeated previously by the heavy rains and caught another girl walking to school for her session. With four days to go we only have to track down two more families which means I will have seen all 49 orphans in 20 village locations. On return to our bush base in Makhasa village we found Max had completed a wonderful task of planting all the Moringa trees and staked them out.


We discovered on our trip out in May the children at the kindergarten were enthralled by balloons 🎈 so at break time Mrs Khunga the teacher allowed us to create mayhem with a further delivery with enough for all- what fun we had. With Max showing us his blistered hands from digging and the rest of us operating on final reserves after such an exciting and sleepless night previously I relented and we headed back to home base, referred to as the Ritz by Nick. (it certainly is in comparison to the bush house) As we had to go on a ration run I wanted them to visit “Waitrose Chipata” the huge African market. It’s hard to describe the sights, sounds and smells save to say it’s a unique experience. My plans for a BBQ were washed out by a major electrical storm so it was western cooking inside. After supper while sitting on the verandah chewing the cud I suddenly realised I was alone and it had gone very quiet. My happy band had slunk off to bed and the hour of nine had not yet passed. They were both no doubt dreaming of lions and elephants in their room as I had wangled a night in the Luwangwa game reserve and they leave tomorrow morning for a 24 sleepover. I am dying to hear their tales on return Thursday. Good night.

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26 November 2018

This day will go down as one of the most memorable days I’ve spent in Zambia. The plan was to stay overnight at Makhasa village in a very basic house and for Max, our gap year student to supervise and plant 50 Moringa trees while Nick and I continue visiting orphan families. Challenge one was to supervise the logistics of an overnight stay with basic facilities eg they both seem surprised when I packed a toilet roll for use in an outside toilet. Having unloaded for our stay, rigged some sonar lights, had a bucket of water delivered for washing and made our beds then Mr Khunga led us to the gardens to prepare and brief for Max’s project planting Moringa. Nick, Stephen and I then set off to visit our remaining orphan families.

Granny in front of her house before repairs.

As we left Makhasa village Stephen spotted one our granny guardians sitting on the step of her house off our planned route so we detoured and oh what a distressing situation we found. She and our orphan Kezias had been completely flooded out by the rain I referred to earlier. Nick had never been into such a poor thatched roof dwelling and Stephen and I were simply left speechless and that’s saying a lot. I made a decision that as we were expecting another storm that evening we could not ignore their dire straits and therefore turned about and headed for Chipata to purchase two large tarpaulins which we could put on the roof to make it water tight. Three hours later and dear Mr Khunga having gathered a team of villagers standing by to re-thatch the house with a layer of grass, tarpaulin and then grass. All done as yet again the thunder clouds and darkness descended.

It was back to the house to have our Zambian dinner of nshima, chicken and cabbage prepared by the village ladies. As darkness descended the fun began. Creepy crawlies of all sorts and sizes started to appear even though screens have been installed and this is always the case when the annual rains have broken but I must confess the number and diversity amused me. We then had an appointment for a night meeting with a three child orphan family about half a mile down a bush track and so we set off in single file, Stephen leading with Max complaining Stephens torch was destroying his “ night vision”. He has just completed his military training! We found the family having their evening meal lit by one small torch all sitting in a circle. Business concluded it was a night Patrol back home. This was when the real fun began. Chewing the cud on our enclosed verandah and much jumping about because of the creepy crawlies Nick quite calmly pointed out a snake was moving along a wall of the room. WELL, Stephen went into orbit for Africans are renowned for their fear of snakes and you would think my two white companions were equally traumatised. Trying to maintain a semblance of calm I happily shooed the snake out of the room but in doing so a big hunting spider (completely harmless) decided to get in amongst the party. I’ve seen nothing like it albeit Max had the presence of mind to keep recording the entire excitement on his phone. It goes without saying getting every one to bed after this was a challenge and it was a pretty restless and very hot, humid and sleepless night.

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24 November 2018

A happy Mrs Phiri on the shopping trip.

Saturday was a day of two parts. The morning was spent on a shopping quest for our new teacher at Myzangulu, Mrs Phiri. A generous donor had been so pleased we had finally been allocated a teacher the wish was to give her a good head start in running the school. Shopping in Chipata is a challenge at the best of times but after three hours visiting various Indian shops we have a load to deliver next week which she had selected as her priority.

The afternoon was a marathon of bumpy rides catching up with our most distant orphan families with greater success than I could have hoped. The visits have been a major eye opener for Max and Nick where they have been able to experience what real poverty is and how our orphans live their lives. We found some of our children catching cicada by applying wild glue to long bamboo poles and then trapping them. The cicadas are then stuffed into empty plastic bottles and taken home to eat. Playing football with balls made of tightly wrapped plastic bags, attending a baby health clinic where mothers have walked many miles to have babies weighed and being invited into a guardians house to see just how little people have are some of the highlights. The evening was spent at Mamarulas, an oasis five miles out of town watching England thrash Australia 😀 while eating huge T Bone steaks washed down with a cold Castle Lager. Another great day in paradise.

SUNDAY 25 November.
A leisurely start sorting the contents of 5 large suitcases of sports kit, football boots and trainers for distribution to the 4 schools in the kingdom. It was then off to church which is always great to catch up with pastor Geoffrey and Martha his wife. Nick found the experience of African harmony singing very moving along with the wonderful welcome visitors receive. The afternoon was spent seeking out our orphan families at the extreme eastern end of the patch but I feared as we were approaching the first home we were going to have fun. Dark clouds were looming and we were not disappointed. In no time at all the roads were running like rivers and while it’s difficult enough driving when you can see the deep ruts and holes but when they are hidden by water all my early driving experience was called for. We only managed to catch up with Chiziwa family before I decided to abandon the area but by this time I thought we might be in trouble. Fortunately 4 wheel drive came to the rescue and then as quickly as the storm had started it cleared and we managed to see further families.
As we then slipped and slithered our way home I believe Nick and Max recognised just how difficult it is for Stephen to keep in touch with the families deep in the bush during the 4 month rainy season and we are only at the start! Our last call was a village called Mawaso where we have two families. Granny Mawaso has five orphans none of whom were in as they were all out catching Cicadas for tea so it gave us an opportunity to discuss her broods terrible school reports. If it wasn’t so serious one wouldn’t mind but page after page of reports registering “fail” had Max and Nick in fits as Stephen berated dear Granny Mawaso. Home after 4 hours with so little achieved – just another day in Chipata.

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22 November 2018

Day two was an eight hour day, temperature in the high nineties, a hundred miles of bumpy roads covered and two new orphan families registered 💪.

Our day started at Chambawa school which is the most poorly supported primary school in our operational area – now all the poorer because the excellent teacher now at Myzangulu moved from there. I wanted to not only see the headmaster but apologise for Mrs Phiri’s move. No wonder she was keen to move as you will see her previous home and where she is now living thanks to one of our dear sponsors and that’s having been criticised by the authorities for the quality of our school house!

While at Chambawa we were introduced to two new orphan boys and after a comprehensive due diligence check and a follow up visit to the boys family home I’m thrilled to report we have agreed adoption. We then caught up with orphans Emmanuel and Lingston as they were approaching Chambawa for the afternoon school shift – two of a family of three orphans. Third of the three, Anodi, we found helping make bricks further down the road. He has now finished his grade 7 exams and is awaiting his results as to which school will take him for further education, it’s like the 11 plus exam.

Anodi’s guardian with Max.

The grandmother who is guardian to these three is the most wonderful generous person, and fell head over heals with Max as the photo shows. This whole process took us to mid day and with the sun beating down we arrived at Makhasa village to our customary children’s welcome at Mercers Kindergarten. After an inspection of the gardens, verbal reports from the PTA chairperson and gardens chairman we retired to our new village house for a discussion with our leading headman Mr Khunga. He introduced us to our next candidate to receive orphan support and again after lengthy interrogation I’m happy to say we have a further three children we will support with immediate effect.

Our final call was to see how an initiative to restart the garden project at well 2 was progressing. I’m delighted to say new land has been cleared, fencing about to start and I hope to see the progress in next years visit. The reason we are seeing a re-invigoration of activity at wells 2 and 4 is because Chief Manukwa has at last seen the value from our other successful well projects but he has also given our best and dynamic tribal headman the responsibility for youth development at all our well projects in the kingdom – poor man! Our evening was a first for Nick and Max – Rachael cooked a traditional Zambian dinner for us of nshima, chicken stew and pumpkin leaf relish, all eaten by hand! I’m pleased to report it was well received as it was a rehearsal for a major lunch event in the chiefdom next week.

Steven had arranged for me to meet the Senior Provincial Education Officer at 8.30 along with the District Education chief. We duly arrived on time and surprise surprise he was tied up with provincial government business but thankfully, not after too long a delay, were marched in to see his lady deputy. After the normal niceties had been exchanged I was able to brief her on our work and express my thanks, after having waited nearly two years, for the teacher posted to Myzangulu school – I think she was rather shocked. At least I think we hit a nerve. We then, accompanied by Mrs Felicitas Nkholoma, the District Education Chief went on our way to visit Kalembe and Manukwa schools. The government have reorganised education provision in the Eastern Province which “should” streamline teacher allocation and support in the future. It was interesting to see Felicitas is clearly highly respected and important in the scheme of things. We will be going back to both schools to give out football strips and boots/trainers so will report back later.

The highlight of the day was Nick meeting both the orphans he has been supporting for the past few years. Emmanuel, who was so desperately poorly with HIV aids when we first enrolled him looks spectacularly healthy and Rosemary is still head girl and blooming at Manukwa School. To cap my day was Emmanuel’s guardian uncle got him to present a live chicken to Nick. I’ve seen nothing like the difficulty both Nick and Max had in handling the poor thing. It’s now happily ensconced in Stephens chicken coop with some mates having spent several hours trussed up in the back of the vehicle with us.

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21 November 2018

ZOE ZAMBIA. BLOG NO 1. 20/21 November 2018.

Our trip out nearly ended in excitement having barely begun. I’m accompanied on this visit with Nick Pashley a friend and trustee of the church and Max Baldwin a 19 year old in his gap year before starting university next year. Our journey to Zambia takes us via Johannesburg with BA and then on an international transfer with South African airways to Lilongwe in Malawi where Stephen, our man in Zambia, meets us and we drive a hundred plus miles to Chipata, our base, traversing two chaotic international border crossings. To my dismay I found Max had checked in overlooking the need to check baggage through to Lilongwe and hence he would need to check out of Johannesburg airport, retrieve his suitcases and then get back into the terminal, as Nick and I went the transit route which is relatively simple. I’m not certain, but while I was buying a couple of coffees, Nick was in deep prayer round the corner knowing my nerves were in shreds as I prepared to ring Max’s father to tell him I’d already lost his son and we hadn’t reached home base! I should never have doubted Max’s resolve to get through to us and as I was on the phone to his father, Nick’s email pinged and Max was trying to locate us at the coffee bar in the main terminal – whew.

The rest of our journey was uneventful. We arrived in Chipata in time to do a monster shop and had dinner at Mamarulas, where huge fillet steaks revived the team.

Day two, on reflection as I write the blog, has been one of the best days I’ve had on the project in the six years it’s been going. Started our visit at well 6 at Myzangulu where all is in good order. Were met by the key team of Philemon and Darka – crops are in even though the weather has been dreadfully hot. Then on to Myzangulu school to meet our long awaited teacher Mrs Phiri. The school was in full flow and in the couple of weeks she has been in charge the place is transformed. I confess I was a little emotional to see just what can be done in such a short space of time. There are 208 children enrolled and the future does look rosy – I will report more fully after my next visit. Well 7 is equally in really good order and the headman and his right hand man were in attendance.

Stephen then took us to a farm plot where Stanley Chulu’s uncle has started a major investment in ginger just because of our efforts at our wells. Stanley is one of our orphans. This is a major breakthrough for Zoe if we can get more guardians getting involved. On to well 4 and lo and behold there are encouraging signs that we might be witnessing progress. On our way to the The Chiefs village Manukwa again I was astonished to discover a flourishing garden project and stopped to find out who was in charge. This has raised my hopes for reestablishing action at well 1 which has been a disaster ever since we suffered the dreadful village headman who had discouraged the youth team here back in 2014. I will be following up this potential development during the visit. A brief visit to Wilson at the Hands Around The World skills centre finished us off, as by mid afternoon the sun was beating down and we were running out of both water and energy. One last gasp, money changed in town, an ice cream, BBQ supper and early to bed. What a great start!

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16 June 2018

DAYS 17 & 18


Our last 2 days and my how the time has flown!  Yesterday was the day we all dread: tying up all the accounts and final admin.  It’s all very boring but very necessary stuff so the day was spent in Chipata buried in reports or receipts.  It was most definitely ice cream and double quinine day!!  Big discovery though:  even here in Chipata you CAN get pizza delivered – filed for future reference!

Today has been our final day out in the bush trying to catch up with all the children we missed at school and if we haven’t been able to find them at home, we’ve found them walking home along the road.  Thank You Lord!

So it’s either been joyous meetings, more ‘you’re on your final warning’ meetings or ‘you must be pulling my leg’ meetings!  The reasons given for changes in circumstance/location/why children have not been at school etc are wonderfully inventive, however, Stephen knows the families way too well for much to slip past him.  Producing the children’s school reports tended to cut a few conversations short!   However, on the whole these little families can only be admired for their resilience and perserverance.

Kezias and his grandmother

Kesias, another of our HIV orphans, had walked the 20 Km to Gonda Barracks to get his medicine accompanied by his stick-thin elderly granny.  He has not been well so between them they couldn’t manage the return journey in one day and had had to ask for somewhere to sleep along the way yesterday.  How happy we were to find them on the road home (granny with a very heavy bag on her head) and give them a lift.

Two of our most cheeky little chappies are also looked after by a stick-thin granny.  From an early age grannies have had to carry water (I can’t pick up the buckets they carry never mind trying to put it on my head!), pound maize, work in the field and look after the children all in the knowledge that those children will then care for them.  When those children die they then find themselves in the position of having to care for their grandchildren, thus, for them, the hard work has never lessened.  God bless the grannies!

And just a word of warning if you ever want to pick up one of those beautiful babies – to them, if you have white skin, you are nothing less than totally scary!  Sorry little Ali-nes – hope you’ve stopped crying now!

As ever, we are always sorry to have to say good-bye but John will be back in November and I will be back in a couple of years by which time – God willing – the land we walked with Mr and Mrs Kunga this morning will be covered with more cultivated fields and an extended nursery school.

Hopefully the trip home will be less exciting than the one out here!

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