XVP report from Zambia - 16 October 2006

 So the day had finally arrived. I said my goodbyes to Fr Dave and John who had come to see us off at Heathrow and after finishing my last pint on English soil for a long time, Dermot and I passed through to the gates, Dermot about to head off to Tanzania and me to Zambia. All the fund raising and planning of the past months was going to be put into action and yet I still couldn't quite believe what was about to happen and now here I am a month in to my project writing my first report and I still have to pinch myself from time to time. Sat here writing my first report it has also hit me just how quickly the next few months are likely to pass.

After a long and uneventful flight I landed and passed through immigration and thankfully Fr. Andrew was waiting to meet me - so far so good! We set off on the 250km drive south to Chikuni, stopping at various places along the way to pick up and deliver various pieces of equipment, then at about 4.30 we arrived at my new home for the next 6 months. I was shown to my room which looked surprisingly comfortable and had all the essentials. Without even realising it I found myself in a situation completely alien to me on a new continent with people I didn't know and I had no idea what to expect from the next few weeks. I was in Africa, alone, and if someone would have told me a year ago that this was where I would be in a year's time I wouldn't have believed them.

Having completed a BSc in Biomedical Science it was decided prior to my departure that I could contribute most to Home Based Care (HBC). HBC is responsible for the care and support of over 550 patients throughout Chikuni Parish who live in nearby villages within an area of roughly 10'000 Km2.
The first month has been very much a learning experience. I spent most of the first couple of weeks observing the various outreach programmes that they have in place here. I've been working with the local villagers, with the drama groups and the video show team that show educational videos in the villages.

Over the rest of the month I settled into more of a structured working routine. Three times a week I go out with Helen (the home based care nurse) who has shown me the ropes about what the work involves when they go out to the villages. She has already demonstrated what a caring women she is and the work she puts in for the people under her care on a daily basis is nothing short of remarkable. The work mainly involves raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, educating the clients at each clinic about healthy and positive living, distributing medication and taking blood samples and offering counselling to the people that come for Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT). The work has been challenging so far and going to some of the home visits when the patients are too sick or weak to walk to the clinics makes you realise how much the people in this parish and numerous others in Africa need programmes like HBC in Chikuni. I've found it a real test at times seeing the conditions of some of the places here but it has served as motivation to make the most of the time I have here and try and make as big a difference as I can.

The reception I have received from everyone both at the HBC centre and the villages I have visited so far has been incredible. Smiles have greeted me and I have been welcomed to the villages by a traditional dance and a song from the people we have visited. It has certainly made settling in so much easier than I was expecting it to be! Zambia is a truly beautiful country. Every time I go out with the team I'm treated to the most spectacular scenery on the drive out to the villages. It is so different to what I have been used to seeing. Some of the places are so stricken with poverty. Yet due to their location and possibly the reception I received they can still take your breath away.

All the villages have some shared qualities. Basic buildings with thatched roofs; goats, chickens and pigs moving around foraging or taking shelter in the shade from the blistering heat, and some villages have the odd bricked building which have either been the "clinics" that HBC use, or churches.
The roads here are something else! It can take over an hour to get to a village no more than 25Km away which I hope gives you some sort of indication about the condition of the "roads". As I'm going out with the HBC team at least three times a week I cannot imagine what the days were like with the old truck which, I have reliably heard, was far from health and safety conscious! I am, I hardly need to say, very grateful that I arrived here after the donation of a new Land Cruiser, which was made by my former school Mount St. Mary's. It is in very safe hands with Patrick the driver, who is responsible for getting the HBC team to the people who need them the most.

With Fr Tadeusz running things at HBC and Fr. Andrew in charge at Chikuni radio which works closely with HBC they have a very well established set-up. I must admit I was surprised to see how well the projects are working here and I feel very privileged to be contributing to the work that they are doing. Everyone in the community shares a knowledge about the goal of the work being done here (self sufficiency) and they all have the drive to make it a reality. I cannot wait to see what the next five months have in store!

Rob, a former pupil of Mount St Mary's College (SJ) is an XVP volunteer serving in Chikuni Mission and parish in Monze, Zambia. For more information or to contact him, or to make a donation to the work of Chikuni, see www.xvp.org.uk or e- mail volunteers@xvp.org.uk.

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