So here I am - out in Zambia for a second time - the planning is over and Growing Futures has begun! First things first, what is Growing Futures and who are OVCs? This year, Growing Futures is a project that aims to support orphan and vulnerable children (OVCs) through a series of activity camps in 7 communities in the Southern Province of Zambia. We are now one week into the project and have completed one camp for OVCs between the ages of 13 and 16 in the community of Kafwefwe (pronounced Ka-fway-fway). Each of the 7 communities will get 2 camps, one for 13-16 and one for 9-12 year olds.
Right so now you know what I am out here to do I can tell you a bit about what it is like to spend a week sleeping outside in the middle of the bush on the grass (roots and all) with 35 children, 3 other UK volunteers, 2 SAPEP staff, 2 community mentors, 2 drums and every star in the southern hemisphere for company.
The trip started off with a bang – or rather – a lack of them. The fuel gauge on the car was being temperamental and basically we ran out of fuel about an hour away from the camps on the main road from Lusaka. Waiting for someone to bring us some more fuel we gathered a crowd of local children who live close to the road. Elliot, one of the other 3 UK volunteers took his guitar out of the car and before long the kids were all having a go playing it.
At the side of the road, featuring (right to left) the three UK volunteers Elliot, Laura and Nicola as well as our rag tag band of followers that kept us entertained whilst more fuel was on its way.
Once the fuel had arrived we got on our way, arriving at the camps about an hour after dark. No activities were held this evening; we all just got an early night ready for the next day. The camps have a strict daily routine that starts at 5:30am with a run followed by activities throughout the day which finish at around 10pm. And yes, the 5:30am start was REALLY, REALLY, REALLY early! Leaving your warm sleeping bag in the twilight to go for a run and play a load of games is not my idea of a good way to start the day but you get surprisingly used to it and actually kind of miss it when it stops. Kind of.
So much happened in the 5 days of the camps that it is hard to explain them to you now. The main 3 days of the camps followed three themes: HIV/AIDS, life skills, and Gender Issues. The morning included a re-cap of yesterday's frivolities to reinforce the messages learnt. This was followed by some activities to get everyone energised and then a lesson on the topic of the day. The afternoons were spent tackling the obstacles that the Oliver (SAPEP project officer) had built around the camp. In the evening the kids would have to show off their new-found knowledge, often through role-plays. Once the day's programme had ended the children would gather around the camp fires and drum, sing and dance for an hour or so. I can tell you that lying in a sleeping bag staring up at one of the best night skies you will ever see with the crackle of camps fires and the sound of drums and harmonising voices in your ears is an experience I can highly recommend.
The energy and enthusiasm these children brought to the camps is almost limitless. They are just like I imagine I was like when I would go on school trips to activity centres in the Gower, screaming and shouting, supporting your peers to complete whatever task they were set that day.
And yet, every now and then – sometimes only once a day - I would look at them as they clapped and jumped and laughed and remember that almost every single one of them would have lost at least one parent. Many have lost both and a number are HIV positive. A couple of these teenagers are the height of 10 year-olds because of malnutrition. And it is because of this that they are on these camps. Because they are not like I was at that age, they have not had benefits that life in the western world provide and they have seen more death and pain in their short lives than most of us can imagine, let alone truly understand. But on the camps they showed a determination to better themselves and the society that they belong to. The speed that they picked up new knowledge on HIV was astounding and their attitudes on gender inspiring. These children come from a society where a mother will be chastised by other women in the village for asking her son to collect the water; where wives are often little more than a possession to her husband and yet despite this, these children wanted to live in a world where men and women work together at every possible opportunity. They told me that "it takes a man and a woman to make a child, so it must take a man and a woman to bring them up". I just smiled; it seems obvious when you put it like that.
Above and right: this game was called 'electric wire': as a team you had to find a way of getting everybody over the wire without touching it so teamwork and a lot of energy was essential.
These are the two SAPEP staff that went on the camps. Oliver (left) and Kenneth (right) bring an infectious amount of energy to the camps and their ability to engage with the children on a level that they can understand makes the camps the success that they are.
So that just about sums up the camps, they were full of brilliant activities and truly amazing children that want to take every opportunity you can hand them. Before the camps, I would refer to the kids going on them as "participants" or "OVCs" but by the end – they were just "children".
We urgently need more money to run these camps across all of our 7 targeted communities so please give as much as you can using the Donate Now section on the right hand side of this page. Your donation could change the lives of these children forever. Thank you.