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Reflections on my first week back in Zambia

written by Vineet Bhatnagar

After a crazy final few days in London tying up loose ends, I finally arrived back in Zambia last Monday after 8 months away.  While sitting on the plane I really didn’t know what to expect… the last time I returned to Zambia after a long period away, the standards at our school had dropped.  This time I was expecting something similar, although Siân had been working with the teachers from London to ensure that didn’t happen.

When I turned up at the school on Monday, apart from being filled with excitement at the sight of the school I’d built, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the teachers were still working to a good standard.  It was a great feeling to be back and to see the teachers again.  It was like coming home.  The only thing missing was the children, who were on their holidays.

One of the first things I did was to inspect the school building and list all the maintenance jobs that need to be done, which included touching up the paintwork, fixing holes and cracks in the cement, putting glass in the library windows and, crucially, getting bookshelves and furniture in the library.  I ‘mind mapped’ all the things that I need to do over the next 6 months for Shine and realised I should’ve used an A3 sheet instead of A4!

There was one disappointment.  Our water pump (which pumps water from underground into the school’s water tank) is broken, so we’re suffering a water shortage.  This is affecting all aspects of the school, including our vegetable garden which is looking really dry.  The pump has been broken for a couple of months and the guys at school hadn’t managed to sort it out.  I called an expert who inspected the pump, identified the issue and will come back and fix it in a few days.

Probably the biggest project I have for the next 6 months is to turn the empty hall I built last year into a fully-functioning library.  I’ll call it the Shine Learning Centre and want to open it up to the public as well as our own children at the school.

To that end, I met with a guy who runs a local organisation here in Zambia that is tackling child labour and providing recreational facilities for kids.  They’ve got some funding from the International Labour Organisation and I managed to agree with them that they’d invest some of those funds in our Reading Academy!  This is a major boost, since they’ve agreed to buy bookshelves, loads of tables and chairs for the library, paint for the outside of the library, a load of footballs and also ten swings which we’ll put on our school grounds!!  Brilliant!

I’m so happy to be back in “Zed” (as they affectionately call Zambia here), although all the old annoyances remain… dust seemingly filling my lungs and every pore in my skin while walking to school; no kind of customer service in shops; people working to ‘Zambian time’ (I’ve already had several people either not show up at all for meetings or turn up very late!)

Not a bad first week, but loads of work ahead.

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