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2010 May

From the monthly archives:

May 2010

A New Start

by Kate on May 31, 2010

Title: Lusaka to Lilongwe (Malawi), Plan Project in Chadiza

Dates: 12th to 18th May GPS:

Distance: 755km Total Distance: 15,021km

Roads: Good tarmac, hilly around Luangwa River

Weather: Cool evenings, warm days - and the usual headwinds

I set off for Lilongwe with a completely different team. John arrived back from Scotland after finishing seeding (on the farm) to replace Simon. Dan had decided to move on having been with us since the start. His knee is fine again, but since his injury he never regained his motivation to cycle, preferring to work solely as expedition support – which he was also brilliant at. He’s now back in the UK planning his next journey.1c. Luangwa River Zdenek had to return to Europe for four weeks to sort a number of things out. He will rejoin the expedition in Kigali, Rwanda on 9th June. Therefore it was just John and I who set off from Lusaka. Actually the first day out on the road after the long break was my birthday, and so after receiving phone calls from each of my family members (and a whole stack of emails from friends), I set off from Kristin’s place (Kristin from World Bicycle Relief kindly put us up in Lusaka) out along the Great East Road, through Chongwe (WBR projects) and on. As John also had a bit to do to get ready, we decided that I should ride on my own for the day, then John drove out to collect me, returning to Lusaka so we could enjoy a celebratory birthday dinner. The next day we said goodbye to Kristin and drove to where I had reached the day before, 110km northeast of the city.

Scenically the main road to Lilongwe was superb all the way; the gently undulating high plains near Lusaka morphed into big rolling hills and a couple of longer climbs around the Luangwa River, then back to high plains with rugged granite outcrops and isolated hills near Chipata, 600km from Lusaka. Chipata was our target for the four days. Travelling is simpler with just two and we share more of the normal duties such as cooking and cleaning. There is however, less flexibility. If John has to do some shopping for example, there is no one to watch the vehicle, and when he travels ahead to find a campsite (always hidden well away from the road), he then has to wait by the roadside for me to arrive rather than get on with setting up camp. All in all, we manage pretty well though.

1d. Typical village, Eastern Province, note maize drying on roof

As we headed east I noticed an increase in the level of poverty. More people, especially women and children would regularly beg and hold out their hands as I rode by. I saw people doing their washing in puddles beside the road. At Katete, 95km from Chipata we camped at a great place called Tiko’s. All proceeds from camping, accommodation and the bar/restaurant are ploughed back into an initiative set up by a German woman to assist people living with HIV/AIDS. There we met two VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) workers, Alessandria and John. John worked at the nearby hospital. Alessandria, who is based in Chipata, offered for us to stay at her place while we visited the Plan project the next day.

In Chipata we met Benjamin Phiri, Plan Zambia’s Health Coordinator for the Eastern Province and facilitator for the Chadiza Programme Unit. Benjamin led our day excursion, firstly driving us about 80km over some rough roads to Chadiza. The town is tucked away in the south east corner of Zambia, not far from the Mozambique and Malawi borders. The road wound through small villages and fields of cotton, sunflowers and maize mostly. The countryside was studded with rugged hills; developing into a more comprehensive range towards the Mozambique border.

On the way we had time to discuss the HIV/AIDS situation in Zambia and learn a little about the project we were about to see. While we are focusing on a small part of the problem in Zambia, HIV issues are equally as serious in most countries in southern Africa. Currently about 90,000 Zambians are dying of AIDS each year leaving behind a growing number of orphans (993,000 orphans at present; 600,000 under the age of 17). About a third of Zambian children have lost at least one parent from AIDS. All parts of the society are affected, but the most vulnerable group are 15-24 year old women who are four times more likely to contract HIV than young men of the same age. Prevalence is highest among mothers aged 25-34 (approximately 19%) and among pregnant women (16.7%). A number of factors resulting from gender inequality contribute to the higher prevalence among women. Women are taught never to refuse their husband’s sex or to insist their partner use a condom. About 15% of Zambian women report forced sex, but as many will not disclose this information, the figure should most likely be higher. Young women usually become sexually active earlier than men with a partner who is on average five years older and who may have already had multiple sexual partners.

3c.

Mother to child transmission of HIV has serious implications for the survival and development of children. Thousands of these children are abandoned due to stigma or a lack of resources. Others run away because they have been mistreated or abused by foster families. There are many stigmas and much misinformation about HIV/AIDS and possible ‘cures’. One myth claims that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS! Unfortunately this has led to children contracting HIV after sexual abuse. In 2003, police handled 200 cases of child rape in a three month period, but experts believe that this is probably only ten percent of the real figure.

These statistics and facts are horrific, but some of the effects on the communities trying to absorb these tragedies are also alarming and contribute to keeping these people trapped in a cycle of poverty. Benjamin pointed out a couple of boys herding cattle along the side of the road. “These boys are orphans, bound into unfair contracts of forced labour”. From about the age of ten, they are taken in by ‘foster families’; contracted for usually four years to herd cattle with no pay, no school and no protection. Sometimes they are given shelter and perhaps food, but no protective clothing for the weather. Once their contract is up, they are ‘rewarded’ by being given an animal – perhaps a goat or a cow – which is usually in poor health and often dies within a few weeks. These boys reach their late teens illiterate, having had no parental guidance or role models.

Before visiting the project we collected a local reporter, Judith whom we had hired to help us film the meetings. Benjamin then took us to meet the Chief District Commissioner as a courtesy/PR visit. While we were there, the Member of Parliament for the Eastern Province arrived, so we met him too briefly. He was there to see how the new school and hospital were developing.

Finally we arrived at the Naviruli community in the Chadiza district, about an hour later. We were a little late, but the group of about 25 HIV/AIDS positive people had waited patiently. The Chadiza project has been funded by AusAID via Plan in Australia to reduce community vulnerability to HIV and AIDS from 2005 to 2009. In a nutshell, the programme involved firstly setting up and running support groups to educate about the affliction; encourage early diagnosis, acceptance and management. Secondly small plots of land were converted into vegetable gardens where those involved in the programme were educated about the importance of good nutrition and how to grow a variety of vegetables to achieve maximum productivity. They have also set up ‘banks’ and learned how to save any profits made from selling the excess produce.

3a. Group listening and supporting each otherThe group were a lively bunch. We must have sat out in the occasional drizzly rain for almost two hours. It was a little difficult to get the conversation going as I asked some general questions – I was a little cautious at first as I did not want to push them into discussing anything they might be sensitive about. I needn’t have worried though. The support group had been so successful in encouraging people to articulate about their illnesses and concerns, that they were accustomed to speaking about it. There have been (and still are in many communities) some real stigmas and discrimination attached to those with AIDS that this was a major deterrent preventing diagnosis and treatment. The formation of the support groups, I think are the cornerstone to the success of the programme. I asked a few people to describe the story of how they knew they had HIV/AIDS, what led them to take the test, how they deal with related ailments, and how they make a livelihood. The group members really opened up and it appeared as if it was therapeutic for them to describe their experiences. Sometimes I could see it was painful as they relived what they had been through, but they all seemed to finish with the positives.

The group members shared the following:

  • Signs of HIV included chronic malaria, diarrhoea, pains in the legs, skin blemishes and irritations or general body weakness.
  • Testing – those that were counselled by people that Plan has trained in psycho-social counselling were advised to test for HIV, while others were encouraged by the health institutions as they sought remedies. I was told that when the headman of the village agreed to be tested, and was positive, it led many other men in particular, to get tested and face their own illnesses.
  • Dealing with ailments – many are on anti retroviral (ARV) therapy. ARVs have had a huge effect, allowing people to become productive in their community once more.
  • Livelihoods – almost all of them have been supported by Plan to maintain gardens; growing cassava, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, rape, aubergines, capsicums, cucumbers, beans, sugar cane and bananas. They said that they make around 100,000 Kwacha per month (approximately $20) from these gardening activities which they use mostly to meet their children’s school requisites, pay for milling maize, and buy household items like sugar, salt, or soap.

4a. Off to the vege gardenI asked to see the vegetable garden and so after we finished our discussion, a few of the group members piled in to the back of the pickup and we drove a few kilometres to their plots for a tour. The member’s garden we focused on was impressive. On his small area of land he was able to produce enough for his family and the excess he sold. AusAID/Plan in Australia had provided training, tools and storage facilities. Part of the group therapy involved nutritional education as well as providing technical gardening skills. Traditionally rural Zambian diets are limited to maize, meat, potatoes, tomatoes and onions. There is little variety. By learning to grow and prepare a range of fresh produce, general health and immunities improved markedly. Along with all these usual vegetables, the moringa tree which we first came across in the Sahel region had been introduced. The powdered moringa leaves are like a ‘super food’, full of anti-oxidants and immune-boosting properties. I was very pleased to see the tree being used in the programme. He had built gravity irrigation channels to water his garden. Banana leaves were used as mulch and fertiliser added. Seeds supplied were in the form of a ‘seed loan’ which had to be repaid at the end of harvest. This project has been so successful that some of the group have been able to reduce, even live without their ARVs. It is certainly not a complete answer, but this initiative certainly helps.

One of the questions I asked of the group was “What were their biggest concerns?” They were all in agreement that the major worry was that their supply of ARVs would end. This would be like a death sentence. I couldn’t say anything then, but this is a real concern, not only for these people, but AIDS sufferers in many developing countries. Financial support for the treatment of AIDS from developed countries is dropping away, out of vogue, as the major donors are now focusing on more easily treatable diseases. ARVs need to be supplied for life and are expensive. Kristin from WBR sent me an alarming article, attached here as a PDF – personally this is more alarming now I can put some faces to the issues.

While I was in Zambia, I learned of the level of corruption the country has to try to absorb. A number of people have confirmed the same story. Apparently the president before the last president swindled 70% of the country’s health budget along with money from other departments. He was tried in the British High Court and found guilty, but back in Zambia, he was exonerated – they let him get away with it! It is difficult for Zambia to get the help it needs when donors can’t trust those who run the country. The European Union was all set to tarmac the road to Chadiza, but due to level of corruption, they pulled out of the project. Zambia is a beautiful country and should be doing better. It has a relatively low population, soil that can grow anything and a better infrastructure than most countries I have visited so far, but health issues amongst the majority poorer rural population is a serious concern.

In between discussions in the car we listened to the local radio. Chat shows and advertisements were constantly educating the public about their human rights, health and safety, fighting corruption, the need to vote and major community issues. Radio is the most powerful form of media as it reaches the biggest audience. People walk along the roadside with radios strung around their necks. We arrived back in Chipata just on dark. It was an enlightening day meeting a group of such positive people – with healthy minds and now healthier bodies. A great job has been done in Chadiza; one that has a sustainable future and that can be replicated. I thank all at Plan Zambia, especially Benjamin, Mwape and Tim Budge.

10a. Into Malawi

From Chipata, I did a long 155km day, across the border and in to Malawi. Initial impressions were being swamped by children’s friendly faces. In Lilongwe John and I were looked after by Globe Metals and Mining, an expedition sponsor, but more on our Malawi experiences in the next blog.

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Back to the Congo

by Kate on May 26, 2010

Title: Back to the Congo (DRC that is)

Dates: 5th - 7th May GPS:

I was looking forward to our mini two-day excursion to Kinsevere mine site near Lubumbashi, where Ausenco, one of the expedition gold sponsors is building a copper mine for Anvil Mining, another Australian resource company. In particular, I was interested in how the companies develop and work the mine with minimum impact on the environment and how the project benefits the local communities and people of DRC – what sustainable contributions they make to help alleviate poverty.

Simon dropped Zdenek and I off at the Lusaka airport and said our goodbyes. Simon was due to fly back the UK that afternoon having been with us since Yaounde. A small drama unfolded there. When we finally got to check in, they wanted to see our invitation letter from Ausenco, which we did not have. Everything had been arranged in Lubumbashi and we were told that it would all be sorted out on arrival. They refused to let us on the plane until they had clearance that we were going to be able to enter DRC legally. I called my contact Hamish who sorted everything. Just in the nick of time we got the all clear and Zdenek and I sprinted along the tarmac to catch the flight.

Lubumbashi is a city of about six million in the far south east corner of the DRC – just a 45 minute flight north of Lusaka. It lies in what is known as the Copper Belt; a region which produces some of the world’s highest grades of copper. As we stepped off the plane, Joe (Joberty) from Ausenco was there to meet us and everything ran smoothly after that.

Lubumbashi looked to be better kempt than what we’d seen around Kinshasa. The mining industry here drives the economy and we passed some extensive building developments. Kinsevere is about 30km from the city, much of the distance on a private road. Immediately we were made feel very welcome by everyone and after the obligatory safety induction were ready for the grand tour, planned for the next day.

Ricardo, a construction engineer showed us around the construction site, explaining the process of copper refinement in basic terms, from crushing through to electrowinning (electrolysis). There was quite a bit to see even though Ausenco are not due to finish construction until just before Christmas.

I watched and listened with particular interest when we were shown how the acid tanks are made leak-proof with many stringent tests to ensure nothing leaches into the soil during the mine’s 20 year lifespan. ‘Event ponds’ which flank the settling tanks (which will contain a potent cocktail) are designed to hold and contain the fluids should the system malfunction.

The site CEO, Bill Webb then kindly gave us some of his time to discuss the project and give an overall perspective of how he manages such complicated logistics, employees from 12 different countries (I think 12), liaises with the local community and the authorities – and how they produce a state-of-the-art mine for their client, Anvil. They employ a substantial number of (mostly) unskilled local workers, therefore providing employment for people in surrounding villages.

As Ausenco are only there for the length of the contract which is about two years, they have to be careful that the work they do for the surrounding communities is sustainable while avoiding the trap of just giving handouts. Bill said they are organising a contribution of some educational equipment and books to local schools before they complete their job in December. Anvil, on the other hand, will be in the region at least for the lifespan of the mine, so they have taken the opportunity to put in place some excellent initiatives.

Phil (Ausenco) introduced Zdenek and me to Michel Santos, is Anvil’s Community Development Officer. Michel explained Anvil’s commitment to improving social infrastructure and the extensive community program. One of the most important programs, I think, involves facilitating village leadership; mobilising a range of community leaders, such as the headman, teachers, women… and teaching organisational skills, decision making, planning and management skills. With a better social structure these communities will be able to take charge of their direction and cope with challenges as they arise. They have provided 15 villages with 26 boreholes and built schools.

We drove just outside the mine grounds to Kinsevere Primary School and dropped in on one of the classes. Not only have they built the school and provided learning equipment, they have also paid the teachers’ salaries as the government had failed to do so. These children are now at least having the option of a primary education. Anvil has also been looking after the women by setting up literacy classes for adult women. This includes providing training in forward planning and money management.

Beside the school is a new health centre, soon to be equipped. With both education and health they are working with other stakeholders, including local NGOs to ensure that when they leave, the work with appropriate expertise is continued.

Another vital area where Anvil is making a difference is with food security and agronomy. 440 farmers have been provided maize and vegetable seeds as a loan; the seeds are paid back after harvest. The farmers are educated about how to plant, when, how much fertiliser to use and the importance of weeding to maximise production. This program also teaches business skills and the importance of saving for tougher times.

On the final morning, before Zdenek and I returned to Lusaka, we made a small tour of the region with Elise (Community Development) and Dedy (Agronomist). We visited a vegetable garden at Kinsevere which makes use of purified water from the mine. Nine women and one man worked the garden. Dedy was responsible for teaching them how to grow a range of vegetables which they wouldn’t normally have grown. They are able to sell the vegetables to the mine and provide for their communities.

We drove to Mumanga, a village about 25km from the mine. Here it seemed they were expecting Anvil to provide everything for them – unfortunately it appeared like a bit of a ‘hand out scenario’. They wanted a new building to house the TV they were given as the rains had destroyed their last one. I thought this was not priority and something the village should be able to take care of. So when I asked the headman what he thought his village needed most, I was pleased to hear him say that they most needed better school and learning facilities.

The school houses were three tiny traditional mud and thatch buildings spread amongst other village buildings – quite a contrast to the new school at Kinsevere. The forty-two students of the second form primary class were crammed into a tiny space (see photos). The pump seemed to be in constant use while we were there.

One lady insisted we inspect her ‘show house’; consisting of a living room and two bedrooms. Her four children shared a single bed which was far too small for just me! She then insisted we try some of their homebrew liquor. It was rocket fuel – very rough and even worse at 9.30 in the morning.

Returning from Mumanga we stopped to talk to some charcoal producers. The forest is slowly being erased because of the growing population’s need for fuel. The charcoal burners we spoke to said they had been given one hectare of bush to clear. Trees were cut and the wood arranged inside an earth furnace. They said they could produce 25 large bags of charcoal which they carried by bicycle to Lubumbashi to sell.

Once the land was cleared it was to be turned into a maize field. This process is eating up forests throughout the DRC, Zambia and east Africa. (In West Africa it was mainly firewood being cut rather than charcoal burning, but the result is the same) As I returned on the flight to Lusaka I had a thought – What if these people could be educated about the virtues of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration? (FMNR is the technique which was featured in Niger which is reversing the desertification process by using a simple pruning technique – see Hippopotamus for Christmas blog).

Zdenek and I really enjoyed our two day excursion to the Kinsevere mine site and thank Ausenco for supporting the tour. The visit has given another insight into how foreign companies can have a positive impact in the region they are working – a two-way relationship.

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Riding On

by Kate on May 22, 2010

Title: Livingstone to Lusaka (Zambia), World Bicycle Relief

Dates: 30th April to 4th May GPS:

Distance: 506km Total Distance: 14,266km

Roads: Good tarmac, high plains but hilly near Lusaka

Weather: Perfect - cool evenings, warm days - except for a nagging headwind

The journey from Livingstone to Lusaka was a pretty straight forward three and a half day ride up the main road. The Chinese have just about completed an upgrade of all the way to Monze (180km from Lusaka)…except for the first 50km out of Livingstone where we the route was a combination of rough diversions and old potholed tar. The quality of their work was much better in Zambia than in Angola. They were adding a much thicker layer of tar and taking care to protect it as the road was being built. At one point, I was given permission to cycle down the side of the new tarmac. It seemed dry enough for a start, but then my tyres started sticking to the road. Sticky black tar and gravel stones flicked up and caked the tyre tread totally. Being the end of the rainy season, the bush appeared fresh and alive with new growth and tall wispy veldt grasses. I really enjoyed cycling through this countryside, which my team thought appeared uninspiring from the vehicle.

The objective of the first day out of Livingstone was to reach MacRon’s, a well-known truck stop recommended to us by Tienie Kril, the South African truck driver whom we met in Angola. We were unsure exactly how far it was as he had just made a mark on our map, so when MacRon’s sign appeared about 12km north of Kalomo, 145km from Livingstone, I was very pleased. It was well worth the effort. Mac is a great character and his bar/restaurant is also brimming with atmosphere. If you like huge meals of steak, chicken or mixed grills with fried eggs and chips – then MacRon’s is for you. We were spoilt with the hugest meals which barely fitted on the enormous plates, balanced with a small token pot of coleslaw each. We watched a Super 14s rugby encounter with Mac and his other clients; Mac providing the meal and extra rounds of drinks on the house.

Every school has its advertising sign complete with school motto beside the road. I had noticed these ever since arriving in Zambia. The mottos were very good, many I found uplifting as I pushed into the breeze. One motto, for example was: ‘Education and hard work leads to survival and self-reliance’. Most were in a similar vein.

Zambia has a real cycling culture and many cyclists, especially boys and teenagers like to try to race me. Normally they amble along and so I pass them just going my usual pace. They respond with a burst of speed – not sustainable – and leave me in their wake. Once they have beaten me, the incentive is gone and their effort soon fizzles out. Their bikes are usually held together with whatever they can find, have pedals missing, buckled wheels, broken seats…and they are often carrying huge loads. On the final morning in to Lusaka, another young man zoomed passed me as I cycled through Kafue. As we hit the hill out of town, he struggled on his single geared machine and I caught him. We rode together for about 20km and had a great conversation while others followed for short distances and then peeled off. His name was Steve. I thought he looked about 15, but he said he was 12, although in year 9 at school. He seemed a very bright kid and said he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. Steve’s father died in 2006, I think from AIDS. His mother is a farmer and has to care for her ten children. She grows maize and sugar cane to sell to a local cooperative, but struggles to make ends meet. Steve said he was cycling to visit a friend just outside Lusaka but I thought he should have been at school, so I asked why. He explained that he hasn’t been able to go to school for the last month because his mother can’t afford the school fees. When the LandRover caught us I gave him something to eat and water. We made a few small improvements to the bike, Dan repositioning a piece of wood to stop the mudguards rubbing through the tyre.

I had been warned about Zambian traffic, but up until Lusaka, it wasn’t too bad. Cycling into the city was predicably busy, but the traffic didn’t move very fast and in fact I would class Lusaka as one of the easiest cities to enter by bicycle so far. We made our way to my contacts at African Energy Resources, who kindly offered to put us up for a couple of nights. We are making a big pit stop in Lusaka with project visits and team changes.

First on the agenda was to meet Kristin and Dave from World Bicycle Relief, one of our expedition partners. Over a lovely dinner, they gave us a great introduction to WBR, its mission and projects. WBR’s mission is to provide access to independence and livelihood through “The Power of Bicycles”. Bicycles are providing simple, sustainable transportation as an essential element in disaster assistance and poverty relief. Bikes fulfil basic needs by providing access to healthcare, education and economic development, empowering individuals, their families and communities. WBR, founded by SRAM (BTC sponsor) and Trek Bicycles, began in response to the Boxing Day Tsunami, providing 24,400 bicycles over two years to a program in Sri Lanka. In 2006 WBR turned their attention to Zambia and since then they have established three different programs, with more projects being developed in other east African countries. Project Zambia began with WBR partnering the organisation RAPIDS (Reaching HIV/AIDS Affected People with Integrated Development and Support) to provide 23,000 bicycles to HIV/AIDS caregivers. With this program complete, they commenced the Bicycle Education and Empowerment Program (BEEP), the project is now in full swing, providing 50,000 bikes school students, targeting those who need it most; 70% to girls. Now WBR are partnering with the World Vision micro-finance organisation, Harmos, encouraging the use of bicycles as a means of developing economic/business opportunities.

The WBR bicycles are not donors’ throwaways; they are custom-built to withstand the challenging conditions in Africa and to meet the needs of the users. While many organisations believe they are helping developing communities by donating ‘normal Western’ bicycles, which have been perhaps gathering dust in the back shed, this is just a short term fix. Such bikes are not made for the conditions, finding replacement parts in Africa is impossible and they can cause animosity in communities because people receive different standards of bicycle. Most bikes in Africa, such as the one Steve was using, are a poor copy of the old Raleighs made in the 70s, nowadays usually made in China with nowhere near the quality and strength of the originals. The WBR bikes are basically work-horses; the design modified after feedback from the end users and continually reviewed. They weigh 21kg; the rack can carry 100kg. Everything about them is built to last. The bicycle components are chiefly sourced from TATA, an Indian bicycle company and arrive in Zambia as ‘complete knockdowns’ for assemblers to put together in Africa. 470 mechanics have so far been trained to ensure that if there is a breakdown, the bike can be fixed with existing supplies of parts shipped in from TATA. During their training course, mechanics are given a toolkit, uniform also trained in business principles and life skills and are located in villages where there are programs.

Kristin kindly arranged a special tour for Zdenek and I to see an example of each of these three projects and so the next day we were up early and off to the Chongwe District about 40km east of Lusaka. In Chongwe we collected Munangandu (Muna) who came along to help out and interpret. Firstly we set off on a track south of Chongwe to visit Chitentabunga Primary School which serves a zone of the same name containing eight villages. It was school holidays still, but the head and deputy head teachers, who normally work through the holidays made time to meet and welcome us. Here we met Evelyn and Fabby who are in years 8 and 9 respectively. They had cycled in from home to show us their new WBR bicycles as part of the BEEP Program. Fabby leant me her bike and I took it for a quick spin – so different from what I am used to with back pedal brakes and very upright cycling position that I felt like a beginner! It’s definitely a coaster…with an extremely comfortable seat.

I cycled about 4km with the two girls back to Evelyn’s village to meet her family. We were also joined by Joyce, the religious education teacher. Once I could get some momentum, the bike seemed to handle even the sandy patches with ease. Evelyn’s mother has five children and is alone. Her husband died a few years ago (we suspect of AIDS, but not 100% sure) and so she did everything; grew maize, sugar cane, pumpkins and onions, she baked bread and sold her produce at the local market, brought up the family and is a care worker. In fact she qualified for a bicycle through the RAPIDS program a couple of years ago.

The 50,000 bicycles are being distributed in 500 schools to those in most need. Bicycles allow people to travel four times as far and carry five times the load compared to walking. Girls are a priority because they are usually required to work hard before school starts, and if they have to then walk 20km to and from school (as in some cases), either they miss class or are in trouble because they are late. Girls are the most vulnerable from harassment and sexual abuse during their long journey. Reducing the travel time limits the problem and encourages them to go to school. In Zambia, only 17% of girls complete their secondary education. WBR have partnered with the Zambian Ministry of Education, community-based organisations and a number of NGOs to ensure the bikes are directed to the right people, their use is monitored and feedback acted upon. As long as the WBR bikes are used for the intended purpose, they may be used also as a means of transport by the family.

Evelyn appeared so proud that she had been chosen to show us how she used her new bicycle. As we were leaving her mother tried to give me a sack of sweet potatoes she had grown – as if she didn’t give enough already! I felt very humble and insisted she keep them for her own use or to sell as “I did not have anywhere to cook them”. Instead she gave them to Joyce, the teacher. At least she would make better use of them.

Next on the schedule was a visit to meet a health care worker who qualified to receive her bike during the RAPIDS initiative. Muna and Irene, project coordinators, took us to see Jennifer. Like Evelyn’s mother, Jennifer already leads a full life let alone volunteering to care for 28 people on a regular basis. She received her training back in 2006, which included a basic medical kit and counselling instruction. Carers like Jennifer are their community’s first port of call if someone needs help. If someone needs more serious medical attention, she can refer and encourage them to get to a hospital. Using her bicycle, Jennifer is able to attend more patients more often and give more quality time than if she was on foot. The bicycle has increased her productivity immensely. She has also improved her own economic circumstances. One of Jennifer’s patients lived next door, (many are much further away) so she took us to meet Emma. Irene explained that Emma nearly died of AIDS. Unable to eat because of the sores on her throat, she had almost gone when they took her to be diagnosed and receive treatment. Now she can have a productive life again, even starting to work in the fields thanks to the right ARV medication. Jennifer still cares for her as a home help. Emma was joking and upbeat and it was wonderful to see how she was able to contribute to her family and community again.

The third initiative which supports economic development through micro-finance loans for bicycles seems to be the way WBR is heading – creating sustainable businesses. The WBR bikes cost around $US150 each, beyond the means for the average villager. When a person, or often a small group of people decide they have a need for a bike, they can make an appointment with the staff at Harmos, a micro-lending bank. Typically they need to contribute a third of the amount, and with a guarantee from the village headman can secure a $100 loan. The loans must be repaid within 3-6 months and currently about 89% are honoured within the time frame. I had a chat with James Phiri at the loans office, who then took us to meet Joe – to showcase the initiative. Joe seems unstoppable. He used his first bike to carry charcoal to Lusaka to sell. He said this is all he did for six months – put his head down and worked. With the money he saved, he was able to buy another bike. Within two years he now has six businesses. His incentives are to plan ahead so that when he is too old to push the pedals, he has an income and his family a decent inheritance. The notion of such forward planning is rare in Joe’s culture. Joe showed how he attached the special goat cage to the carrier so he can transport his goats to market. He has bought more land on which he and his family grow vegetables to eat and sell. He rents the properties he has bought and on the day we visited he had just bought another sewing machine. He plans to employ six tailors to produce clothes. We all sat under a shady tree where initially Joe explained how with the loan giving him a leg up, he has created so much. However, when Joe learned what I was doing, roles were reversed. He asked many very thoughtful and appropriate questions. Joe is a great advertisement for the program as he tells everyone with such enthusiasm how to do what he has done. I think we inspired each other!

We returned to Lusaka and met everyone in the WBR office before Kristin dropped us back home. I thank Kristin Tweardy, Dave Neiswander and the team at WBR for such wonderful hospitality and taking the time to educate me about their programs and vision.

The following day, 5th May, Zdenek and I took a flight to Lubumbashi in the south east corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo for a two day visit to the Kinsevere mine site where Ausenco, a gold sponsor are building a copper mine for Anvil Mining.

I’ve also included in this entry a short video which Zdenek has made of our little tour of Waza National Park in northern Cameroon. We didn’t get to see that much but you still get a good idea of what the team has been getting up to on our days off.

The main collection of photos accompanying this blog will be uploaded in the next day or so.

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