Welcome to Zambia

My name is Br Martin. I am a Capuchin Franciscan Student from Ireland and have just embarked on a four month mission experience in our Vice Province of Zambia. I will be keeping log of my progress and experiences on this blog over the next four months...you are most welcome to keep me company along the way

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SHARPZ: At the cutting edge of drug & alcohol treatment

                                                    Click here for the Photos !!

The SHARPZ office is already a hive of activity as we arrive at 7.30am as the team get themselves ready for the day ahead. Sr Roda is off on another 5 Day Programme, Philip has clients for therapy all day, there is admin to be taken care of by Beth (a VSO Volunteer from Ireland) and new courses to be planned and designed.

SHARPZ is a harm reduction programme for people struggling with drug or alcohol addictions. The centre also offers family therapy and one to one counselling. It is unique in Zambia and it is indeed a forerunner and ground breaker. For ten years, Philip Baxter OFM Cap and his team have been helping the people of Zambia deal with addiction. Make no mistake, addiction is rife, especially alcohol addiction, and can be directly attributed to  the rise and spread of communicable diseased like HIV, Hepatitis and STI's.

SHARPZ has a number of irons in the fire at this stage: it campaigns for sensible use of alcohol and raises awareness of the dangers associated with misuse; it runs community harm reduction and motivational interviewing programme (over 75 have been run all over Zambia, with an average of 25 community workers on each course), they provide counselling and detox services; research trends and drug use as well as keep an eye on what the Government is up to and they have been know to apply a little pressure when needed. They were recently mentioned in a speech by the Minister of Health as 'pioneers in the field'. The energy and passion that Philip and his team put into their work should be harnessed and piped into the nation grid...it is truly enlightening.

Currently the team, of which I am very proud to be a short term member, are designing programmes which will train and facilitate the empower groups called Community Alcohol Teams through-out Zambia or CATZ. SHARPZ is also rolling out Trauma Focused Cognitive Based Therapy Training (TF-CBT) Programmes in association with John Hopkins University in America.

As with all projects funding is hard to come by and currently SHARPZ are looking to raise funds to purchase 5 acres of land to build a residential detox centre, a badly needed addition to the web of support they provide...... so if you know anybody who would like to help, I am sure they would love to hear.

Check out and 'like' the SHARPZ Facebook page and a website is on the way very soon.... https://www.facebook.com/pages/Serenity-Harm-Reduction-Programme-Zambia-SHARPZ/237167263024020

Saturday, January 21, 2012

St Bonaventure's College, Lusaka


                                                   Some Photos attached: Click Here!!

St Bonaventure's College is a joint venture between the OFM, Conventual and Capuchin Friars and is supported by the FMDM sisters who live and work here also, so there is truly a Franciscan feel to the place.The college is advertised as a Franciscan Formation Centre and specialises in Philosophical Studies. From here, the brothers, go on to Theological or vocation training elsewhere in Africa. The are over 130 students (including some external students) at present and the smooth running of the place is down to Br Mark (OFM Cap) who is the College Rector.

Our Capuchin community is based at La Verna Friary and numbers in excess of 30 friars, including the Guardian and Formators and is spread over two main buildings. Life here is quite regulated and reminds me very much of my days in Novitiate. The day begins with morning prayer and meditation at 6am, this is followed by Mass. Prayer and Mass are mostly celebrated in the Friary Chapel except for a couple of occasions during the week and at weekends when the whole college comes together in the main College Chapel.

Breakfast follows the morning prayer: it is a quick and simple affair (tea / coffee, bread and marmalade) then off to prepare for class which begins at 8am. The afternoons are taken up, for the students, with various activities: study, manual work in the maize field or coffee plantation, cleaning or sports twice a week. The Friars gather again at 18.15 for meditation, evening prayer and the supper. Evenings are very quite, often spent reading, revising or working on course assignments. Although, some brothers have a certain penchant for an African soap, similar, in various ways, to our own Fair City!!

There are 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students studying a mix of Philosophy, English as well as introduction classes to Theology, Psychology, Sociology and Franciscan Studies. The college has a well structured and equipped Library, with over 30,000 volumes and a very impressive electronic catalogue, all over seen by Sr Eileen, who has done, by all accounts, fantastic work getting it into shop and keeping it that way.

The meals are usually, in typical Capuchin fashion, noisy affairs, as brothers catch up on the day and talk shop! The food is to an African palate: Maize, rice, relish (soup like sauce for the maize / rice) and some meat, fish or beans. We have pasta on a Thursday evening....I need say no more (my calendar is circled!).

I have been welcomed and well received by the brothers here and am slowly trying to remember all the names. Coming from a small community ,in comparison, the numbers do take some getting used to but it does lend itself to some rousing singing, even at 6am!!

So this will be my home until I leave for Ireland at the end of April and I hope you enjoy the attached pictures of it.

From Zambia, until next time, Good night and God bless!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Compounding Experience

The day began as usual with my artificial cockerel crowing me awake at 5.15am. As I orientate myself within the cosmos, the need for coffee arises and is, following Philips welcome invitation of, ‘fancy a quick cuppa before we head’, swiftly satisfied. The roads are quiet as we head to the FMDM sisters across town, where Philip says Mass each morning. Their house is cool and welcoming. Six of us gather in a small oratory to begin the day in celebration and communion with Christ and one another (as the IEC2012 tells us). Mass is followed by some breakfast and nice conversation, all watched over by the convent cat, who has obviously seen it all before.
But today is going to be different. Today I head to Chibolya compound. A compound, in Zambian terms, is a name for an area of dense population, often with poor sanitation and facilities (could be described as a Slum but not on the scale of Kibera in Kenya or Calcutta but similar in many ways). Chibolya is no exception to this rule and, at first glance, may even be a standard setter within Lusaka. We (Sr’s Roda & Immaculata, Br Conelius and myself) enter the compound past, what appears to be, an industrial estate of sorts. It has rained recently and the enormous potholes have filled with brown, foul smelling water, like a nightmarish version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. We encounter a traffic jam at the entrance to the compound and with it two men who are charging vehicles 1,000Kwacha (about 17cent) to assist their passage through a series of water hazards. Just as my psyche was beginning to equate, on one hand, the audacity of this with, on the other, its sheer entrepreneurism, a man passes our vehicle dragging, what at first glance appeared to be, a dead pig. But as I am slowly realising nothing is ever what it seems to be here and with a squeal the pig springs to life only to be reprimanded in a most disturbing way by his custodian. My eyes traced their charted course and I could see that the pig’s fate was sealed and he would soon meet his executioner. The vehicle slammed to a halt. In front of us a barrow of recently deceased and dissected pigs had turned over, spilling, quite literally on to the road in front of us. As we slowly negotiated our course around this macabre scene, men pushed the barrow in an attempt to right it again but, in doing so, where covered in pig entrails; I smiled as I saw some small justice in this for the pigs: they had the final laugh on this occasion.
Feeling a moment of connectedness between pig and person, as two expressions of the same Creator, and an intense un-comfortableness in the way latter treated the former, I declared in no uncertain terms: ‘That’s the last time I’m eating meat!’, much, I might add, to the amusement of my African counterparts. Now don’t get me wrong, I would be hypocritical to go on a crusade about meat eating BUT this was different. For me what I saw was undignified and unethical: the animal was cruelly treated and brutally slaughtered. It was a mere commodity, to be used in whatever way the user saw fit and therefore, it became for me a metaphor for the ‘user-culture’ that exists in this place and many other places, not alone here but right around the world. My cry to abstain from meat was a cry of solidarity with all in this place, who have been used, treated cruelly or slaughtered at the hands of those you see life as a mere commodity. My crusade continues….
We met Pastor Joshua outside the Coptic Church. As we waited the vehicle was flanked by children interested to see who was coming into their area, cries of ‘Musungu’ (white-man) came from toddlers, to whom I obviously appeared far more interesting than I usually do. There is no hiding a white face here and again entering this experience helps me connect, in some small way, with all those who come to our shores looking, in hope, for a new life. I am very much an outsider here and I feel it. People stare and sometimes pass comments….just like we do. Geographical distance is obviously not a measure of distance between mindsets, we are more alike than we credit. The Pastor brought us to our venue for the week, the local civic centre, which doubles as a distribution centre for ‘Clorin’, a chemical added to water in an effort to increase its drinkability. Though one lady, Josephine, tells us that it’s a delicate balance, if the Clorin is too enthusiastically added, then it causes gastric problems. It comes in a stage little blue bottle with a yellow lid, which reminds me of the bottles of bubbles was got as kids….strange what passes through your mind!
We are delivering a five day drug and alcohol awareness programme to thirty community activists and workers. The group is diverse: housewives, a pastor, young men, old women and a police officer. They are an engaging and jovial group and inside these walls it’s easy to forget the reality of life outside, as the air fills with jokes, smiles, conversation and laughter. The course ran as any training course would anywhere: ice-breakers, tea-breaks and break-out sessions. The participants spoke openly about life in the compound and, despite the difficulties, of how proud they are of Chibolya. At lunch I spoke with three women who began to tell me of Chibolya’s success stories. Of young people who had graduated  from the local school and gone on to hold positions in the Civil Service, Air Force, Law and Medicine. They beamed as they weaved connections between themselves and these success stories, wanting to be associated with this good news….and why not, it is good news after all and should be celebrated by the whole community. In fact, by telling you about it, I too am associating myself with it and, as you tell others, so will you and suddenly 8,000km disappears as we celebrate this good news together.
They tell me that Chibolya is in a process of rejuvenation and renewal. The streets are, slowly, becoming safer. The Pastor says that a few years ago, they would never have dreamed of running a course like this because of the associated danger. This course, as I see it, is doing two things: firstly, it’s up-skilling the community on the dangers and risks of alcohol and drug abuse for the individual, the community and society as a whole. Secondly, and probably most significantly, it is beginning a conversation within the community. They are beginning to network with each other, support each other and listen to each other’s stories. They want Chibolya to continue to improve for the sake of their children, and based on their drive, energy and pride, it has no choice but to.
The journey home was to turn into an Indiana Jones style escapade. The rains had flooded the already saturated gravel roads of the compound so we had organised a taxi to bring us down-town. When it arrived, I could tell by the drivers face that we were in for something special. He had driven into the compound from the city, gotten stuck in a mud hole, had to pay some local entrepreneurs 35,000 K to get out and water had leaked into the interior of his car….all before he picked us up! His mantra for the remainder of the journey was ‘My first and last time to Chibolya! My first and last time to Chibolya!’. We went back, as the Gospel tells us ‘by another way’ as, I presume, the driver didn’t fancy another charge from the locals. The next 30 minutes was sheer insanity, as our poor chariot, a Japanese import version of a Toyota Corolla, struggled through enormous pot holes filled with muddy water, which came up over the bonnet in some cases. Bemused children played in the rain wondering what level of egit was driving past them. As we drove, our poor driver became more anxious and his mantra became more intense until we reached some semblance of a road and freedom….or so I thought. Our driver had had enough. He parked off the road and decanted us into what appeared to be a passing car; the Sister’s seemed to think this was ok, so I followed close behind. Our driver told the Sisters (in Nyanja: the local language) that his ‘heart was broken’ and that was the first person in his family to own a car and he feared it was ruined (considering it cut out three times in the middle of giant puddles, he may not have been far wrong. Fingers crossed for him that Japanese reliability holds firm this time). Our new driver, a young man, was pleasant and quiet and greeted me with the customary ‘Hello Boss!’.
We inched our way through Soweto Market, a cramped and disorientating series of shack styled stalls selling anything you could imagine. Between the traffic, rain soaked people weave their way home: business people, school kids, drunks and traders with overladen wheelbarrows . They bounce off the car as much as they rain giving an amoeba type effect, as we were swallowed whole into this place and time and there was nothing we could do, just sit, wait and be grateful that we were on this side of the car door. To distract my overactive imagination, I struck up conversation with our silent driver but this provided little solace as he seemed only interested in pointing out the worst (or best, depending on your outlook) spots for carjacking and snatching in the market and, it seemed that we were passing, painfully slowly, through all of them. But he assured us he knew all the thieves VERY well, which I think was supposed to put us at ease!
At last Downtown appeared on the horizon. As we waited to turn into our rendezvous point, I saw a local bus pass by. These ‘busses’ (converted HiAce vans) all have slogans on the front and back windscreen such as ‘Born to be Wild’ or ‘God Only Knows’ but this one said ‘Heaven, I need a hug’ and I said Amen! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Myukwayukwa, Mushwala and More!!

Photos: Follow this link  Photos attached Here!!

The roads in Zambia are long and usually quite straight but it’s the gravel tracks that I found most exciting. Red gravel (dirt) tracks cut through the countryside linking towns and villages. There is a story of one of the early Irish Capuchins out here who cut one of the first of these roads through the bush from Mangango to Mongu (over 150Km). It took him and his team 29 days to go out and 3 days to come back on the new road. The dirt roads call for some expert driving skills and in Trensio and James we had two of the best. They  broke at the last second, in just the right places, to avoid, sometimes, grand canyon styled potholes. Trensio said you know if a Zambian is drunk if he drives in a straight line, a sober driver always swerves!!

Myukwayukwa is an UNHCR refugee camp housing Angolan refugees displaced following the civil war there back in the 1960’s. At its peak the camp (there are in fact 35 individual camps) housed over 30,000 refugees, today that number is down to about 7,000, most of which were born in Zambia (although one young lady reminds me: ‘we are Angolan’, when I asked if they were registered as Zambian’s…that cleared that up for me!). For many years the Friars provided outreach to these camps. The first camp we arrive at is Camp 1. On the way in we pass UNHCR tents and cross a well-constructed bridge, built by the Zambian Army. Children wave to us as we pass and the atmosphere seems as light and colourful as any other town we have passed through.

We arrive at the Church of the Assumption in the centre of camp one, with Br James, who is the Priest to the camp. The church was built in 1965 and is very beautiful in his simplicity. It is kept in excellent condition and decorated with colourful toilet paper draped from the rafters for Christmas! The back of the church is full of musical instruments none of which I have seen before – drums, homemade guitars, a double-bass type instrument and of course shakers – seed shakers are a backbone of Zambian music. James celebrated mass here on New Year’s Eve and said that the roof nearly lifted off when the band and choir were in full flight and, by the look of their equipment, I can well believe  it.Our hosts, a group of young people and an old man who only spoke Portuguese,  took us down to the Hydro- Dam, where people washed their clothes, fished and walked across the dam on the most precarious of ledges, some even carrying bundles of sticks on their heads!! The dam means electricity for the camp and also, quite obviously, it is a place of social importance too, somewhere to meet and connect. We left the camp enriched by the welcome and kindness of the young people who showed us around.

We drove through the bush passing herds of cattle and small clusters of mud and thatch dwellings. People went about their usual daily business. We made a number of short stops along the way as James reconnected with James reconnected with villages and villagers he had seen since before Christmas. We stop at one of the most colourful scenes I have ever come across.  A group of  up to 100 women and children are gathered outside a remote clinic, they are dressed in vibrant reds, yellows, greens, blues and purples. The scene resembles and ad for some washing power. The medic on duty tells us a familiar story. There is an outbreak of measles and malaria in the area. We ask if malnutrition is a problem, he laughs and says ‘look at them, what do you think?’…we did and chubby little faces looked back! Question answered.

On our way back to the Friary we picked up two sets of passengers: a woman returning home (15 km on foot) with her child who has malaria. He was very quiet and looked miserable. Our next passengers were three young women who were off to visit a woman from their village that had just given birth in another village. The distances people have to travel on foot for the most rudimentary of activities is astounding. Our final stop was to George and his wife Agnes. George is a retired school teacher who would have worked closely with our friars over the years. This couple, married for 57 years, have lost three of their adult children to AIDS.  Out here, and even in wider Zambian society, very few families have escaped opening the door of their home to this devastating visitor. But today George and Agnes smile and are surrounded by their grandchildren, who eagerly stick out their hands to shake ours. Life can be cruel but new hope is always emerging, eager to put its hand out to us…… we just need to take it.

Next Stop Lusaka to begin the process of settling into life at St Bonaventure's College.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Road to Mangango - Part 2

 Mangango Hospital

Mangango is a place of intense beauty but in the midst of this beauty lays the reality of a gripping and unforgiving poverty. This type of poverty is not like any I have encountered in Ireland. As a first world country we have, in Ireland, an abundance of facilities and services for those in need. I know we complain about them and wish they were better, but it is only when you experience a situation where these basic facilities are either absent or miles away from the people who need them, that you can appreciate how fortunate we are.

As we walked around the village we met a woman, Gloria, with three children, one grown up and three young children: one just a baby. Gloria is dying. She has to walk 40km to reach the clinic at Mangango and is in constant pain. She is just skin and bone and can barely walk.The pain of every step can be clearly seen on her face and in the worried eyes of her children. She and her children have NOTHING. When she visits the clinic she stays overnight in a very basic shelter in which they are open to mosquitos and in turn malaria. Gloria is by no means unique. The next day, she told us, she was to leave for Lusaka for treatment….I have a feeling she will never return to Mangango. Then what of the children…they cycle of poverty continues.

The hospital out-patients department is heaving with patients waiting to be assessed. Most are young women with babies. The medic tells me there is a severe outbreak of malaria and measles. Babies have their temperatures taken and are weighed. They then pass to the next room, where a technician takes a pin-prick blood sample to test for Malaria, if positive they are passed to the nurse and then to the Pharmacy for anti-malarial treatments.

We went to greet the director of the Hospital, a religious sister belonging to a Zambian congregation called the Daughters of the Redeemer. She is bursting with life and enthusiasm for her work and is very proud of the Hospital and all involved with it. This hospital was founded by our Capuchin Brothers and for many years run by a Franciscan Medical Missionary Order of Sisters (FMDM). The hospital caters for patients from Mangango and the surrounding villages. Like Gloria, patients often have to walk very long distances to be seen. The outpatients open at 9am but people are often seen queuing from 6am. Everybody has a copy book and in this is recorded their medical records. They bring this along with them making the waiting room seem more like a classroom at times.

The hospital has a children’s ward, male and female adult wards, a chest clinic, a Hansen’s disease clinic as well as a HIV clinic. It looks after both medical and surgical cases. More serious cases are referred to Mongu or Lusaka for treatment. It operates a number of ambulances and outreach programmes to villages. As we leave the hospital, we pass through outpatients and the rows of faces waiting to be seen as the room becomes more and more congested, the heat rises and I wonder how anybody could have a normal temperature reading when it comes their turn to have it taken.

Reflecting on my visit to the hospital, I realised that millions of people are in the same poverty stricken situation as those we encountered in Mangango and have no reprieve from it. It is a constant presence. There are no days off, no holidays, no plans…just today and the task of finding enough food to keep them going until tomorrow, when they get to do it all over again. But through all of this, they smile and welcome you as you have never been welcomed before. A genuine welcome that comes from their heart and for a moment our two worlds intertwine into a place of common humanity.

PS I am working with a very slow connection so apologies for no photos, will do my best to include them during the week ;-)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Road to Mangango....Part 1

Two days ago, I left Lusaka with Brother's Adrian and Trensio for Mangango. Mangango is one of the oldest Capuchin Missions in Zambia dating back to 1938 and is now a bustling village situated in the Western Province of Zambia. The area is a farming one and the village is surrounded by maize fields..the staple food here. The Capuchin Friars built the friary, schools (primary and secondary), hospital and Lepersarium and a strong community has ground around the Friars over the years.

We eventually got going after a 2 hour breakdown and a car change and when we arrived (after 6  hours of driving) we were warmly welcomed by our brothers, James Connolly (from Cavan) and Zambians, Matthew and Ackim. We may be 8,000 km from Ireland but our time in Mangango began with the kettle going on!! James took us on a tour of the village beginning with the water and electricity supplies. Water comes from an underground spring and its provision is a credited to friar Bruno McKnight, who sourced it over 30 years ago. Today it still supplies the fresh drinking water to the entire village. Next we were shown how water was used in a different way, to generate electricity. The friars commissioned the building of a hydro-electric generator over twenty years ago and today it supplies electricity, not alone to the Friary, but to the Parish Church, Halls, Community of Sisters who run the Hospital, the Hospital itself as well as many other local families who have the facility to receive it.

Walking from the 'hydro', as it is know locally, we met a number of locals who welcomed us warmly. Zambians hold themselves with great confidence and style ... standing straight, they look right at you and then comes the famous smile. Locals here clap hands when the meet you and for anything else that they are pleased with...they have a very humble and gentle way about them. Greeting is very important in Zambian culture, especially out in the bush villages, so we continued on our way greeting all we met.

Our next stop was to the Hansen's Village (or Leper Village as it was once known). There we met a group of the most wonderful and warm people all Hansen's sufferers, and resident in this village for many years. They exchanged stories of friars they had known over the years Br's Owen, Ronan, Edwin and Bruno to name but a few. They also took time out to give Br James Connolly some slagging about being an 'old man' as he brought a walking stick with him. After some photographs and some prayers with them we headed off.

On the way back to the friary we met three young men who had killed a black Mamba snake. Black Mamba's are highly venomous and kill many people each year. A young boy we were told was bitten by a snake in the fields last week and ended up in a coma. This kind of danger is a reality for people living here.

The day ended with a fraternal meal, and for me, a very early night.... the 5am start had caught up with me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

And so it begins....

We arrived in Lusaka after 18 hours of travelling, from Dublin, via London. It was 6.30am local time and already 28 degrees!! We joined what was to be one of many, queues... a very common sight in Africa, almost a national passtime. Once through border control, bags reclaimed, we met Br Philip Baxter who had kindly come to collect us and take us to St Pio's Friary, home to the Vice Provincial Noel Brennan.

On the way from the airport, I was immediately struck by the sheer number of people doing stuff by the road sides...walking, selling, sitting, standing, chatting. After a bite of lunch we moved from St Pio's to St Bonaventure's College..my home for the next four months. It's a big set up behind high ways and security guards...both of which are a common sight here. It houses friaries of the OFM's, Conventuals and Capuchins. They share a central Church for Sunday and Feast day services as well as lecture and library facilities. After some quick introductions, evening prayer and food...it was time for bed. We had a 4.45 am start to drive 7 hours to Livingstone the next morning.....day one.

The alarm went at 4.30am but I was already awake. The heat and humidity at night was crazy....no fan yet but it is now top of my priority list! We had Mass in the Friary Chapel at 4.45am and after a quick coffee we climbed into the jeep for our journey south to Livingstone.

Named after David Livingstone, the town is considered the tourist capital of Zambia due to his connections and the Victoria Falls. The Falls are over 1.7 km wide and spill 900,000 litres of water per second!! The spray can be seen from the ground up to 30km away, hence the local nae for the Falls 'Mosi-ao-Tunya' : The Smoke that Thunders.....and it does. After a decent soaking from the spray, the Good Lord was kind enough to send us some Zambian rain.

to be continued.......