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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Back to Chibolya and the Way of the Cross

It had rained. Usually not a bad thing here unless, that is, you are preparing to go into a compound, which we were. Chibolya compound in fact on a return visit, this time to work with a group of 30 young people delivering the five day awareness (drug & alcohol) programme. This time we worked in collaboration with a wonderfully talented and creative organisation called ‘Barefeet’. Barefeet was founded by a young Irish man, Adam McGuigan, with the aim of working with street kids and kids exposed to all sorts of risks and dangers. Adam is a dramatist, who previously worked for the BBC, and is now Artistic Director of Barefeet. They are renowned in Zambia for their levels of creativity and enthusiasm and this accolade is not undeserved. I had met Adam the previous week at their office in relation to another project SHARPZ are launching but this week we are working with the equally mesmerizingly talented Michael and Martha….you can see them in the pictures and some video, which will follow as soon as I can get a connection fast enough to upload it.

For me Chibolya had changed (or was it I that had changed ?) in the weeks since my first visit. Don’t get me wrong it was still difficult territory but, this time, as we were welcomed by smiling friends, happy to see us and we in return most happy to see them, it was nice to be back. The first thing we noticed as we drove in were four lovely new water drums for distribution in the community. These drums each hold in excess of 5,000 litres of fresh water. Joyce, a lady in her fifties and one of the community organisers, told me that typhoid, malaria and cholera are rife in the compound and that she had been to hospital twice in that last 6 weeks. Fresh water will surely help this. The irony, attached to the drums, is that they were donated by Zambian Breweries. So What! To the Irish mind this is no biggy….sure Guinness do good stuff all the time and Dublin wouldn’t be half the city it is today without all the money St Arthur pumped into housing and social projects. I know...I said the same thing. 

However, this is not Dublin and the Breweries here have a very different modus operandi. Africa has a young population and is therefore the biggest growth market for international breweries such as SABMiller, Anhauser Bush and Diageo (the now owners of over very own drop). These companies aggressively market their products, specifically targeting young people in disadvantaged areas with low cost, high alcohol content drinks. Trucks leave the brewery on the outskirts of Chibolya with plastic drums containing thousands of litres of very cheap, very intoxicating ‘beer’ bound for other compounds and villages.  Alcohol, and its misuse, is now credited as the number one cause of HIV cross infection in sub-Saharan Africa. The irony of these four drums being there, as we began work with young people in the compound, was neither lost on us nor, possibly, even coincidental.

I was there for the first day of the programme and it was a great success. As we waited for our lift home we were treated to an impromptu performance from the Chibolya Cultural Theatre Group of traditional African music and dance. The sounds of the drums and whistles called children from all around the neighbourhood. Some stood and watched while others emulated the dance moves. A wonderful end to a fantastic day in the compound….. you know that place is starting to take a piece of me with it every time I visit.

On to more Spiritual things! Lent found its way to Africa on Wednesday as we donned our ashes. It was welcomed in style in the College Chapel as students and locals joined for a rousing celebration which gave the congregation a chance to dust off the Lenten hymns, which are always a joy to hear.

Friday saw the first Stations of the Cross through the grounds of St Bonaventure’s. It had rained (recalling the intensity of it...check out the video on my Facebook page… I feel ‘rained’ is hardly descriptive enough) and the grounds were lush and green as we made our way from Station to Station. Hymns were sung in English, Nyanja and Swahili and one of our college cats even joined in for a while before becoming distracted by a passing lizard and in turn a number of Friars became distracted by the distracted cat! The stations ended in the Chapel just as the sun began to set and the sky flamed red. The spirit of prayer and silence was maintained as we went our separate ways back to our respective friaries. Though I was in the midst of 160 people it was probably, for me anyway, one of the, most fraternal experiences I have shared in.

This week we prepare to return to Mazabuka to deliver the final two stages of the SHARPZ Child Protection Policy Development Programme and then we will have to see what March will bring and how St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Zambia!!

And just to finish..this is the Gloria as sung in our College Chapel by 150 Friars at 7.00 am on a Sunday morning......amazing!! This is the sound of Zambia for me and of Heaven, I hope!


Friday, February 10, 2012

A real place of Hope ...

This morning I paid a visit to our neighbours in City of Hope school, along with some representatives of John Hopkins University who are funding a study and counsellor training on Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT).  City of Hope was founded, as Sr Richarda: a Polish Salesian Sister, tells us ‘under a tree, about 20 years ago!’. Today it plays host to over 750 pupils and 45 resident girls, who have been placed here out of abusive homes. It is a remarkable place. As you enter you are greeted by lines of children, in neatly pressed uniforms and sparkling white shirts, making their way along the dirty road to class. The classroom as traditional circular rooms mirroring many of the builds you see in the local villages.

The school has excellent facilities, is very well maintained and, in keeping with anything run by Sisters, is spotlessly clean. The offer classes up to grade 9 (Junior Cert Level) and hope to extend this to grade 12(Leaving Cert Level) when the new school building is complete.  In additional are skills programmes in catering, tailoring and design. They have a very well appointed computer room and teach basic skills. The accommodation for the girls is simple but clean and in excellent condition.

I see a number of white faces darting around the grounds and the Sisters tell me that the school is very popular with international volunteers. I met two, a young man from Germany who was teaching computers and another European teaching French. There is a very peaceful atmosphere in City of Hope, children played games, two young girls platted the blond locks of a German volunteer and there was a lot of smiles and laughter. This seemed to be one school children where happy going to.

The residential students have been placed in City of Hope by the Ministry of Social Welfare who have removed them from dangerous and violent home situations. These girls have had a very difficult time to now and suffered trauma we, most possibly, can’t imagine. But here is a refuge for them, they are given a chance of forming a good life and one sister tells us of the first City of Hope weddings they had last year.  From humble beginnings, literally in the middle of a field, has grown a vibrant, colourful, hope filled place whose motto is ‘joy, love and hard work’…all three elements are evident in abundance.

SHARPZ (the project I am working with) along with JHU will be introducing a programme of Trauma Focused CBT to City of Hope. Counsellors will assess children and provide CBT to help those whose lives have been affected by trauma of one kind or another. I have attached the link to the City of Hope website which has buckets more information and some great photos.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mercy in Mazabuka

Click Here for Photos of Mazabuka
Photos of Handmade crafts from the Nchete Women's Centre, Mazabuka

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the very beautiful chapel of the Mercy Convent, listening to a baby in a neighbouring house making his desire for breakfast known to the world. As I listened I was lost in thought about the programme we were delivering this week: a child protection programme. Mazabuka, sadly, has the highest incidence of what the locals call ‘child defilement’ in Zambia. Children are used as commodities whether for sexual gratification or through neglect or even as part of a myth believing this defilement will cure HIV. The scope of child protection is wide and I hope that the people we worked with this week (all education people) will use their new knowledge to make Mazabuka, and all of Zambia, a safer place for children.

The town of Mazabuka is situated about 90km south of Lusaka on the road to Livingstone. It quite a bit warmer than Lusaka as it sits in a basin. The main business here is sugar cane production. Enormous plantations stretch to the horizon and this brings a mixed bag of blessings. Money means prosperity for some and an opportunity to slide further into destitution for others. I spoke with a police officer who told me that about 40% of the population are HIV positive and that the average life expectancy is 38, and indeed there are many young faces around and not so many older ones. I was most struck by this statistic whilst in a supermarket and started trying to work out 40% of the people who surrounded me…it’s a strange feeling indeed.

But there is hope and it comes in the form of the St Baghita Projects, founded by an Italian Priest and now overseen by our very own Mercy Sisters. The project provides a number of facilities to young people in the area, offering them a chance. Many of these, it must be noted, are orphans whose parents have died from AIDS, so this project and those associated with it become the only home, and family, they have. Others are there because of abuse in their homes, I met a young man whose face was horrifically scarred due to his mother poring petrol over him and setting him on fire. Stories of abuse of this nature and intensity are not uncommon.

The youth projects area includes a gym (open to local young people), recreation room with pool, table tennis, games and a big screen to watch football matches. When we arrived music was blasting, one young man danced around the fool while other played pool. There is also a well-stocked library but the recreation room seemed much more popular. On the site is a house for orphan boys and is supervised by two ‘mothers’. This house is well fitted out with a spacious common area with a TV. Here they also house volunteers who come to help out in the project from all over the world and  this summer a group are coming from Ireland.

Olympia compound across the road is home to four houses belonging to the Ark project. One of the houses is responsible for rearing some chickens. The boys move into these houses when they leave the safety of the ‘mothers’. Here they are supervised by in-house ‘uncles’. They learn cooking skills and are given tasks to help them take responsibility. Each house is home to seven boys and they leave here when they finish secondary school hopefully well equipped for the world that awaits them.

Whilst in the compound we called to greet Sr Philomena, an Indian nun of indeterminable age. She is a Mother Teresa-esque figure, small in stature but ‘large in love’ as my guide, Morgan, tells me (she refers to him as ‘my son’ as she supported him as he made his way through the project; he is now the project co-ordinator and studying for a degree in social care). Our final stop is to the Bethlehem Bakery, which provides fresh bread to the locality. We get a look behind the scenes and it all seems very professional. Morgan tells me that the ovens were donated by the Bakers Association of Milan. We ate bread form this bakery for breakfast where I stayed and it was excellent. Profits from the sale of the bread are re-invested in the community’s work.

So Mazabuka proved to be yet another source of surprise. It is a place marked deeply by the scars of HIV and sexual exploitation but there is healing available in the form of the great works the Sisters of Mercy and many others do.

Next stop Lusaka…..Jubilant celebrations as Zambia reach the final of the Africa Nations Cup and visits to City of Hope and the Barefeet Childrens Project. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let go of what you think you know....

It’s Thursday evening here in Zambia and today we celebrated the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord, well in fact I celebrated twice, once this morning with Salesian Sisters, in the school they run called ‘City of Hope’, and then again this evening when the entire college came together to celebrate the Feast and to mark our call as Religious: two very different celebrations of the same feast. This morning, we had a small gathering with three Sisters and four young women, who are on a discernment experience, while this evening over 140 friars filled the College Chapel, lifting the roof with vibrant music and song. In this lays the beauty contained in our freedom to celebrate together as we are, where we are, and, really, that is what today’s Feast is all about. It’s about bringing ourselves to the Temple (God), as we are, where we are and, in presenting ourselves, we receive His light to renew and sustain us on our mission, to do His will, thus making present, now, the Kingdom of God, which is ‘Justice, Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit’.

Since coming to Zambia there have been inevitable ups and downs as I try to navigate all the new sights and sounds that are bombarding me. Sometimes I can see them for what they are and, at other times, it’s not so clear cut. Our minds can become fixated on something, especially something we can find difficult or challenging, as we go through the cycle of denial, challenge to acceptance. This happens to us all, in some shape or form, everyday. Through these experiences I am learning to look-through, as best I can, what appears on the surface to what is actually going on underneath.

From a vocational and spiritual perspective, this mission experience has been, and continues to be, a source of deepening. I feel I am coming to know and understand more and more why I have responded to a call to become a Religious and, in particular, a Capuchin Friar. I am also coming to realise my dependence on God, daily, for the strength to do any of this and, probably most profoundly for me, I am realising that none of this (mission experience, vocation etc) is about me, it’s about Christ. It’s about being a vehicle to make Him truly present in the world right now. Everything I am doing here can be an opportunity to do just that and the same applies to us all.

I have noticed that at the times that I have felt most frustrated by something or the times that I have felt most out of place, it is in those times that I have been putting myself at the centre of this experience. When this happens it can take a little wrestling to work through the myriad of feelings to come to a place of balance, realisation, acceptance and prayer. In this place, peacefulness comes with the realisation that this is the Lord being presented not me and anything I do, I do it for Him and not me.

On Friday’s I join a seminar class given by our very own Br Philip on the ‘Anthropology of the Vocational Experience’. A fascinating topic centred on the work of Jesuit and Psychologist, Luigi Rulla. Rulla researched extensively the motivations for entering religious life, what sustains whilst there and if they leave, interestingly enough, he asks ‘what motivated them to join’ in the first place. He says that we are motivated by values and attitudes, centred on an ideal image of self and vocation which, if we enter into it, recognising that there are conflicts and inconsistencies in us and the experience, we can journey towards a state of self-transcendence. Self-transcendence means, for Rulla, going beyond ourselves in order to make Christ present. It also means to recognise Christ in us and our experience so that we strive to emulate Him and, ultimately, to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Why am I saying this? Well, it’s through this very process, of recognising a conflict in me or an inconsistency running in the back of my mind, that has acted as a catalyst and allowed me to enter into dialogue at a new, fresh and deeper level with this experience and ultimately with my own vocation experience.

So these are just some thoughts that have been crossing my mind with regard to the experience of experiencing oneself outside of ones ‘normal’ existence and how this experience, though challenging at times, can prove to be a source of light, illuminating past, present and future.

Happy Feast Day to All Religious and People of Good will and to all those seeking self-transcendence in order to make real the Kingdom of God.