A happy 2009 to you. My year has gotten off to the the greatest of starts, because the orphanage visit to Zambia has been an unmitigated, thundering success.
I flew out to Zambia from Heathrow last Monday with fellow Supporter’s Club members Terry and Tommy together with Eunice, a Kenyan friend of Terry’s, now living in Ireland. We arrived early next morning in the capital Lusaka and met up with the rest of our party, Dave, Robbie and Millah, a friend of Tommy’s also from Kenya. The Fairview Hotel where we stayed is in the middle of Lusaka and doubles as a school for hotel management trainees who also work there. Consequently the staff were of Japanese standard politeness and helpfulness. The rooms themselves were very basic, but spotlessly clean with working air conditioning. A huge plus in daily temperatures of 35c.
That evening, our pre-arranged minibus arrived and we piled on the (literally) tonnes of goods we brought for the orphanage and made our way there. WONS Ministeries International is in the Chunga township to the north west of Lusaka. The journey there entails a trek through cratered roads and rickety neighbourhoods where the streets have no, erm, streets. But these were lively vibrant townships full of shack shops that provide sometimes unlikely combinations of services like grocery store and hair salon (My favourite: Fido Investments & Sausage Centre). We arrived at the orphanage to be greeted by two dozen smiling cheering orphans who gave us the most genuine and warmest of welcomes. We said our hellos and handed out clothes (including the many Ireland shirts donated by other club members) and toys, together with medical supplies and big items like digital cameras and camcorders. Everything we handed out to the children lead to an unseemly scramble of outstretched hands and cries of “Me! Me! Me!”. Imagine a kid’s delight at opening presents on Christmas morning and multiply that by a thousand, that’s what we saw and experienced.
In addition to this, each child got a toiletries bag full of stuff and a personal card from an Irish schoolchild (well done,Terry). But what stole the show was the hugely generous of a Sony PlayStation 2 (thanks again,Kevin). I set it up, put in FIFA World Cup 2006 (which I sought especially, because I knew Zambia was one of the teams on it), started it and the kids were ABSOLUTELY transfixed with open-jawed astonishment. They had never seen anything like it in their lives and took to playing it with unquenchable enthusiasm. The downside is that they’re in danger of becoming addicted to it, like western kids. Even the Orphanage staff could not put it down. Days later they were still playing Zambia in the World Cup at the expense of anything else, I feel we may have corrupted the children. Although Mrs Bwalya, the orphanage owner, assures me their PlayStation access will be seriously rationed when school starts next week.
Back in Lusaka, after spending New Year’s Eve in Livingstone, planning for the kid’s day out could now proceed apace. With the aid of a helpful cab driver, we went up to the Kalimba Reptile Park to sort out entrance and catering for our party. Along the way, we also took in a detour to the Independence Stadium. Not only did the Zambian national team play here, but it was also where Zambia declared its independence on the 24th of October 1964. It’s now disused and the unsafe main stand torn down. It’s sad that somewhere of great national historical significance should fall into such a state of disrepair.
Nearby, there is a monument to the Zambian national team who were all killed in a plane crash on 27 April 1993 (you might recall the Ireland v Denmark, World Cup qualifier at Lansdowne Road the next day being preceded by a minute’s silence). Normally it’s closed to the public, but we were kindly allowed in especially to look around. The graves of the team members together with the officials and plane crew are also here. It is a sobering and poignant memorial to a team cut down just as they were about to reach their full potential.
Back at the orphanage in the evening, the children were ecstatic when we announced we were taking them for a day out tomorrow. However, the shock was on us, because the kids staged a surprise concert in our honour. They performed plays, recited poems, sang and danced for us. It was a truly unexpected and touching bonus. Make no mistake, these are really talented children, especially their singing, loud and proud and in multi-part harmonies.
We got to hear more of this as the minibus pulled up to the orphanage on Sunday morning to take them to Kalimba Reptile Park. They sang all the way there and the kids and staff, many of them clad in the Ireland shirts we brought them were really looking forward to the day. They were given a tour of all the crocodile, reptile and snake areas. The children even had an opportunity to touch them, which some did with great trepidation. They then went off to play on the swings, trampolines and climbing frames and after lunch, play football or dive into the water slides and swimming pools. Not even an early afternoon thunderstorm could detract from what was clearly the time of their lives.
So there you have it. The grand day out was the whole purpose of the trip and, though now a discredited phrase, I would have to say that it was mission accomplished. Seven months of planning and arranging the logistics, costs and practicalities of a 41 person day trip culminated in this day of days for the kids that they will never forget. Today will be spent doing last minute shopping for the orphanage as well as making arrangements for the building of a roof on the new dormitory. This is where the vast majority of your big-hearted monetary donations will go. A chance meeting with a Zambian building contractor on New Years Eve told us how much it should cost and we will be within budget with the €4,000 or so, we have raised. Not only have we given them a few unforgetable days, we will be able to make a permanent difference too. It will be a long time before the warm glow and the immense pride from what we have achieved, fades.
WONS Orphanage is a charity that was supported by RISSC London