In January 2018 Oliver gave us, his parents (Piers & Vyvyen Brendon), a wonderful Golden Wedding present. He took us to Zambia, to witness the valuable work ATD is supporting among disadvantaged children in and around Livingstone.
On our first day we visited remote community schools, in company with Ian and Dave of African Revival, a charity providing water aid for schools in this area. At Simbunji School, our first stop, many parents had turned out to greet us and the women put on an impromptu dance. While Oliver and the charity workers inspected the sanitary improvements and Dave addressed a responsive audience, we were struck by the enthusiasm which the parents showed for the school’s development. The mothers were especially energetic in clearing the ground. Here, as at other schools, Oliver took polaroid photos of the children, who were fascinated to get instant images of themselves.
Next we visited Namabondo Community School. Once again we received a rousing welcome and Vyvyen, a retired teacher, instantly struck up a warm relationship with the two women teachers.
She even gave the pupils a brief English lesson and they proved very quick in the uptake. While Oliver and the others inspected the bore hole, which was giving trouble, Piers handed out some sweeties and was promptly mobbed. The highlight was the children’s singing a gospel hymn (“We do not know the hour”), a moving rendition in close harmony which brought tears to our eyes.
After an immensely long drive over pot-holed dirt roads we finally arrived at Siamwaamva School, which is struggling against fearful odds. A young pupil teacher was in charge and, as Oliver, Ian and Dave investigated the inadequate facilities, we found it hard to communicate with the children. Eventually we hit on the idea of teaching them an English song – “The wheels on the bus go round and round” – which they seemed to enjoy.
The next day we met Evans Muyunda, Chairman of the Livingstone Youth Football Academy, which ATD is sponsoring. In Dambwa village we were introduced to his family and to many of the young footballers, including 17-year-old Patricia, ebullient captain of the girls’ team, who befriended “Granny” Vyvyen.
Evans then took us to Nakawa Community Pre-school, a 20-minute drive from Livingstone. It was set up by Cynthia Lungowe and her husband to give a start to vulnerable children in the district. She is an energetic and inspiring headmistress who speaks perfect English. But she faces enormous challenges: no water, meagre equipment, and a building made of sticks and thatch (which lets in the rain) set on an earth floor open to biting ants. Once again we broke the ice by getting the children to sing “The wheels on the bus”, with Georgie supplying extra verses remembered from his own nursery school days. Encouraged by Cynthia and her excellent young assistant Christine, the children responded brilliantly. This school desperately needs help, which ATD may well be able to provide.
On the third day we attended a party and award ceremony in a nearby hotel for members of the Livingstone Youth Football Academy. There were speeches from local dignitaries, to which some eighty footballers listened patiently before being rewarded with soft drinks and a barbecue lunch – they left nothing on their plates.
Then Oliver gave prizes to the outstanding team members, seniors, juniors and girls. He encouraged everyone to work hard, to play hard and to enjoy the sport. He showed them the new green and yellow kit he had brought from the UK, together with a bag full of footballs. And he explained his future plans for the Academy: buying land, clearing it to make a flat pitch, acquiring a bus, and building a stadium.
When the formalities looked like going on, he told the youngsters that the hotel would allow them to swim in its pool. There was a mad dash to splash and within moments the water was full of glistening, cavorting bodies.
It was, indeed, one of the funniest and happiest scenes we have ever witnessed. Like everything else we saw in Zambia (including hippos, crocodiles, antelope, giraffes, zebras and elephants, to say nothing of having dinner during torrential thunderstorms or being drenched by the spray of the Victoria Falls), it will remain green in our memory.
Written By Piers & Vyvyen Brendon.