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.