Ronan Scully of Self Help Africa, who is based in Spancilhill, recalls his recent visit to Zambia with Self Help Africa
Reading the stark facts about Zambia can be depressing – an infant mortality rate of almost 20%, life expectancy of just 50 years, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that kills 50,000 a year and has orphaned 700,000 children.
Malnutrition, caused by endemic poverty, is widespread in a country where many live in grinding poverty.
Sadly the reality today is that poverty levels are extremely high – at 80% in rural areas and 60% in urban areas – and many people don’t have access to basic services such as health, education or safe drinking water.
To many people, this picture of poverty is perhaps typical of so many poor countries. It is only when you begin to work with extremely poor people that you realise however that statistics never tell the full story.
But to witness it, as I did recently, is enough to make you believe in hope and the goodness and generosity of people. None are more generous than the Irish, whose backing for charity Self Help Africa has enabled that organization to transform the lives of communities across Zambia.
I joined Self Help Africa just over a year ago because I have always admired its clear focus on poverty, food production and long-term development work that works. I now understand what this really means.
Self Help Africa are doing a fantastic job in Zambia and in eight other countries, lifting people out of the poverty trap, not by throwing money at the problem but by working side by side with the people and getting Zambians and Africans to do it for themselves.
The model allows people to dream their own dreams and gives them the know-how to build a better life for their families. From what I saw, it’s clear the people want what the organisation is trying to do, which is to give them a leg up rather than a hand out, so that they are dependent on only themselves in the future.
Self Help Africa is implementing programmes right across Zambia. It is working with local organisations and with the Irish Government to transform the future for some of the poorest people on earth.
The focus of this work is on food production and on encouraging alternative ways for rural families to earn a living.
With Irish Aid backing, a major new food and livelihoods programme has been started in the country’s remote Northern Province, while EU support is helping the organisation to develop community-based seed banks that will help up to 100,000 small scale farmers grow more food. Much of Self Help Africa’s work has a focus on women, since an increase in their incomes has a much greater effect on the lives of their families. One woman I met during my time in Zambia was Dina Daka, who is a member of the Tisamale Financial Association in a small town in the eastern part of the country.
Dina set up a poultry business through a Self Help Africa-supported micro-finance initiative and received loans from the financial association. This poultry enterprise has been very successful for her and it helps her to source adequate food for her children. They are all now eating three meals a day.
Before the loans for her business, the children were eating just one meal per day. Through the organisation’s support, Dina is now also able to send her children to school for the first time. From the poultry investment she has also expanded her crop fields and has bought two fridges, which allow her to preserve food throughout the rainy season. She also uses the fridges to make ice-blocks, which her children help to sell and raise more money for the family.
Dina told me that business and her new income had given her hope, which is so important, because to live without hope is the most crushing of burdens.
Some places where I went in Zambia, particularly in its capital city of Lusaka and indeed in some places in the eastern province, I saw some street children with that look on their face which says, “I have no hope for the future.”I was reminded of the words of the American writer James Agree, “In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances… the potentiality of the human race is born again, and in them too, once more and in each of us, is born again our terrific responsibility towards human life.”
This is why it is so important for the international community to row in and help the people and children of Zambia to build a future for themselves. They deserve all the help we can give them.During my time in Zambia, it was heartbreaking to see so many people and children living in poverty. But it was great to see just how much small changes – brought about by the work of Self Help Africa – are making a huge difference to the lives of so many people, giving them a leg up out of the poverty trap and helping them to stand up for themselves and their livelihoods.There is unquestionably a long way to go before we reach the goal of an Africa free from hunger and poverty. In the meantime, it is salutary to remember that most of these people and children in Zambia do manage to survive the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves. They bear witness to the endurance and potential of the human spirit. If society saw these people and children in that light and was prepared to listen to them and to those speaking out on their behalf, then the most important step will have been taken.
People living in poverty or in hunger cannot wait, they have but one life and their needs must be met today not tomorrow. For them, tomorrow is too late. As I left to return to Ireland, I reminisced on my short trip on a Zambia of unparalleled scenic beauty, strong and stable governance, a durable economy came to mind, for Zambia today is a far cry from the coups and economic busts that characterised the country for the last quarter of the twentieth century. With strong economic indicators and a sturdy political system, Zambia looks poised to continue on its current trajectory of rapid development.
But as Zambia moves forward, it does not do so free of problems. As I saw on my visit, it still remains saddled with a high birth rate, a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, and a poverty rate that has remained stagnant despite the economic strides of the last decade. These issues are serious, and will require innovative approaches in the coming years, but they do not overshadow the fact of Zambian development, and the benefits that it has brought to the people. The work of Irish Aid, and its partnership with NGOs like Self Help Africa, has taken countless people out of the poverty trap and given them real sustainable hope for the future.The work Self Help Africa does in Zambia and other great organisations like the Alan Kerins African projects may seem like a drop in the ocean but we will continue to do what we can to help the poor. This work, and that of Self Help Africa workers in nine different countries in Africa, could not continue without the ongoing support of the Irish public. Everyone at Self Help Africa and the people and children we help are truly grateful.
For further details about Self Help Africa, contact Ronan Scully at Ronan.Scully@selfhelpafrica.org, phone 087 6189094 or see www.selfhelpafrica.org.