Eleanor Plews is a Karnival rep from the Medics team. She wrote this blog entry about the incredible experience she had this summer with Mission Zambia.
Becoming a Karni rep has encouraged me to take up many of the charity and fundraising opportunities offered to me, one of which was Mission Zambia. I went the information meeting merely out of interest but saw on the screen something I wanted to be part of.
Fast forward six months and I sat at Heathrow, ready to go through security checks and start my journey to the village of Mwandi in Zambia. I had no idea what to expect; but I was not expecting to have such an eye-opening experience that will stay with me forever. I ventured off the plane and met the founder of the charity Home for AIDs Orphans, Paula. We the loaded up the land rovers and began the two hour drive to Mwandi.
There is one main shopping street in the Mwandi; with different shops lining each side, it had the feel of a sandy wild west. From bars and a takeaway to general stores and hairdressers, Mwandi had quite a lot to offer, despite the limited variety of stock throughout the village (the team could not stop eating these ‘Eet-sum-mor’ short bread biscuits but thankfully they were stocked at nearly every shop in the village!). Whenever the team walked out into the town the local children would run up to us and stop for photos; this would leave the whole group with smiles mirroring those on the faces of the children. So cute!
On Monday morning our first stop was at the small village hospital. The hospital was basic; as a medical student myself, I am used to entering hospitals and hearing the beep of monitors and the whir of machines, however there was nothing of that sort here. What this hospital provided was medical expertise; treatment was dependent on both what resources the hospital had and what resources the patient had or could afford themselves. This led to some very upsetting circumstances: when the hospital did not have the resources but the patient could not afford the cost of travelling to another hospital where they may. It became apparent that even the best doctor is ultimately limited by the resources that are available to them.
The rest of our days in Mwandi were then spent on the project that we had travelled out to Zambia to help with. We were building houses for families who could not afford to rebuild their own grass roofed huts, often as it was elderly grandparents left to look after grandchildren whose parents had been lost to AIDS. During our time in the village, the team of ten Nottingham students that I was part of helped with the building of four different houses. Some of the team dug the skeleton of the house into the ground and I helped to put in the framework of the building, but most of the work we carried out involved ‘mudding’. As bricks are so expensive in this part of the world the most cost effective way to build a house is by using layers of mud to build the walls up. This basically involved the team spending days throwing clumps of mud at the framework of the house! We all found this task surprisingly therapeutic (at first anyway!). The house that we spent the most time working on was going to be the home to a 72 year old woman and her three grandchildren. Although she didn’t speak a word of English she mucked in with the team, carrying buckets of mud that we could only manage between two of us. The team found working the six hour days hard but the moment that really brought it home to me was when we were able to give the women the keys to the house that we had built. The strength and determination of this woman was formidable; the waiting list for having a house built by this project is long and I wondered what her new home would mean to her and her grandchildren.
On my last day, I went to the village pre-school to help the teacher, Aunt Beena, with her classes. When I arrived at the school I was shocked to find that Aunt Beena was teaching her classes from the front part of her own one room house, with only a curtain hiding her bed from view. However, school was taken very seriously, all the children were in varying forms of school uniform and the class of 30 four year olds would sit in silence patiently waiting for Aunt Beena’s next instruction. What struck me was that these children were from the poorest part of the whole village and yet, when it came to break time, they wanted to share everything they had with me and their classmates. This was a stark contrast to how the children I look after in Oxford behave at break time!
The project Mission Zambia has allowed me to experience things that I never thought I would. My outlook was challenged and the things I saw upset me at times. The project took me to a part of Africa that I probably never would have otherwise visited, and being dropped in a place where poverty is so normalised, it made me ask myself what more I can do to help narrow that development gap between countries such as Zambia and the UK. I will never forget my time in Mwandi and the people I met there; I hope their ambition will motivate me, even as I stand collecting money on rainy Saturday for RAG.
Eleanor Plews, Medic Karnival Rep 2015