Beyond the Bike 2015/16 - Bamboo with a View.
Beyond Ourselves in the Zambian Copperbelt
Spending time with Beyond Ourselves really brought home to me why we are doing this crazy cyling adventure, it is not just for fun and is something I will think about next time I get fed up when we have to cycle up another hill in 35 degree heat!
Our 10 day hiatus with Beyond Ourselves started with a night's camping in Nsobe Park with the Cranleigh School Group. Sadly I had a rather dodgy tummy and so did not take advantage of being in the park. The next day I was determined to do the ride despite all the food I ate going straight through me and so we set off at 6.15am along a dirt track with the Cranleigh School pupils and staff. The ride was a fantastic day with pupils and staff taking it in turns to ride a tough dirt and sand track for 70km battling with the Zambian heat and some very dodgy bikes. (5 of the 12 hired bikes broke within the first 20km). The pupils and staff showed impressive resilience and seemed to enjoy their day with us! Most people had a chance to ride on the back of Thandie and some even had a go on Bambi. We had wonderful support from Mike and Jan as well as from Sam, Head of Security from Copper Belt Energy and long term supporter and driver for Beyond Ourselves and Beyond the Bike. We finished at Janna School in Ndola where Stuart was reunited with old friends Festus and Blackson (see here for the story of Stuart taking Blackson to his home village in 2011).
Stu reunited with Blackson (he is wearing the t-shirt Stuart gave him in 2011!).
Stuart and I enjoyed the next week cycling between Ndola and Kitwe, spending time in particular at Kawama School and community with the Cranleigh and Beyond Ourselves teams. In Ndola, we were very lucky to stay with Melissa and Dan at the Mechanics for Africa compound - another amazing initiative, training orphaned street children to becomes mechanics. As their new principle, Jason commented: ‘What’s not to like about that!’. We agree! In Kitwe, we put up our tent in the garden of the guest house where Cranleigh were staying much to the amusement of staff and students. At Kawama, Stuart was reunited with more old friends like Cephas (School Director), Mary (head teacher) and Soldier (head tailor of the social enterprise Kawama Krafts). It was such a pleasure for me to meet these wonderful people and see the school which Stuart and Cranleigh helped build into what is now a well functioning school for 300+ students today. Standing in the school site, it is difficult to imagine what it was 5 years ago - a dilapidated church hall serving 200 students that fell down in 2012 during a storm! It was especially lovely to meet two of the three Kawama pupils (John graduated last summer) who spoke so well in our promotional video. Wendy is 10 and loves English and sport especially Netball; she has high aspirations and wants to be a doctor when she is older. She lives in a home with 7 others. Joseph is 14 and wants to be a pilot, he also loves learning English. He lives with 3 adults and 5 other children. Lets hope they can achieve their dreams…
Helping in the Kawama school classroom and Joseph 'starring' in our video
We had a very entertaining Sunday in church with the Cranleigh pupils made the standard but no less true comment, that ‘if chapel were like that, no one would mind going’, a reference not just to the ‘entertainment' but also the greater spirituality obvious in the congregation. The church was rapidly transformed into a market place after lunch (don’t worry, we weren’t selling Doves or changing money (John 2:16) with the annual clothes sale - clothes brought over the the UK, sold to the local community at knock down prices with all the money going back to the community. Last year’s sale went a long way to building the bore hole to give the school clean water. As last year, there were almost punch-ups over the most desired items such football kit. Woking at the sale was exhausting but a great way to get to know some of the local community. Then, during the week we helped with interviewing all the pupils, in lessons and various other school activities. The stay cumulated in a brilliant football match between Cranleigh and Kawama, Cranleigh did win but the boys had to work so hard and it must be pointed out the the Cranleigh boys averaged 17 years old and the Kawama boys about 11!
Helping in th school ktchen and a very pleased buyer at the clothes sale
It was great to have Becs Gibson with us who has just finished her Masters in International Development & Education, writing her thesis on absenteeism at Kawama. Most of these pupils are desperate to be educated and even with all the amazing work Beyond Ourselves do it is still an uphill struggle for many of them to attend school on a regular basis. Reasons cited include having to help out at home or with their parents’ work; problems travelling to school (particularly difficult in rainy season) and of course illness - Malaria and HIV related illnesses being prevalent (although interestingly Malaria is the name given to any flu-like symptoms). Finally, adolescent girls find it even harder to attend when they start menstruating, especially as the local doctor is a man whom they refuse to see. The very impressive Jodie Collins and Beyond Ourselves team are working so hard with the pupils, teachers and families to try to ensure these pupils stay in school. They are making great progress because they work in the whole community rather than just building a school and moving on.
As I have already said this time in the Copper Belt really brought home to me the importance of the fundraising that Beyond the Bike is doing. The Kawama community is incredibly poor and in our interviews with the pupils it became clear that many students are orphaned, many have unemployed parents, very few sleep under mosquito nets, even fewer have beds, most do no have running water or electricity - the sort of things we we take for granted. The problems with unemployment and poverty are getting worse as Zambia heads towards financial crisis with the massive devaluing of the Kwacha, huge issues with power shortages and the global price of raw materials such as copper remaining low - at the big mine just outside Kitwe we are told that 80-90% of the workers are being made redundant. Stuart talks more about this crisis in his Economic cycle blog.
The money raised from our London to Amsterdam ride alone will enable 10 children to continue their education at secondary school giving pupils like Wendy and Joseph the opportunity to become doctors or pilots. Of course, there is still loads more to be done - the money raised from the whole Beyond the Bike project will go towards supporting these schools - the pupils and teachers and families. We feel very strongly that working with smaller charities that we know well means that we are confident about where our fundraising is going and that it is being spent in sensible ways. It will be a similar story when we get to Cambodia in March and experience the work of United World Schools first hand, look at for that blog in 2016!