Paul Darwin's Story

Vanilla Solutions started their involvement with a small charity called Hands Around the World towards the end of 2017. The charity supports 2,500 vulnerable children in 7 different countries with food, clothing and education.  After talking to the charity about how we can help, then mentioned a summer school that they organise in Zambia, and asked if we’d like to send someone along to help out.  When we asked our employees who would like to attend, the response was phenomenal, and so we ended up having a ballot to decide who would attend

Paul Darwin won and travelled to Zambia in August 2018 – his story is below


Prior to going at the start of August 2018, preparations included a range of inoculations and an induction day at the charities HQ in Monmouth with one of my fellow volunteers, Chris from Dorset. The day covered some background to the charity, country and the school along with the purpose of the trip and understanding some of the challenges we might face. We also picked up extra luggage which we were taking out to the school on our journey.

I met the final two volunteers in our group, Myfanwy and David at Gatwick Airport who had flown in from Jersey. After a number of delays it took over 36 hours to travel to Monze from leaving my home in Glossop near Manchester. The first flight was to Kigali in Rwanda via Brussels, we then got onto a connecting flight to Lusaka. On arrival at Lusaka we were greeted by the majority of our bags but unfortunately Myfanwy and David were without their luggage….  After some discussions on how to proceed we got some local currency (Zambian Kwacha) and were met by Killian the project manager for Pizz School. The 115 mile journey to Monze took at least 6 hours on punishing roads with constant traffic and some hair-raising driving. By the time we got to Monze it was dark. We arrived at the ‘Relax’ guesthouse where we met the Siangas,  the directors of the school. Our welcome meal was Nshima (a kind of savoury maize semolina) with chicken. After an exhausting day we retired to our rooms.

The following morning we were picked up by Killian for a tour of the town and the school buildings. The school is spread across three sites which we visited in turn. The school was pretty run down, in need of some basic maintenance with some new buildings under construction. It was nearing the end of the term and the kids we met were fantastic from the start, very happy to see us and clearly delighted to be in school. We had 2 days before the holiday club started and we chose to spend the weekend visiting Victoria falls which was amazing.

On the Monday morning we started at the holiday club which has been set up to support the children through the summer. The club was created primarily to ensure that all children had at least one meal a day. Over the course of the week we played games with the children, sorted the computer room and helped out with the schools incubator project. Games popular with the kids included football, sack racing and hopscotch. Myfanwy turned out to be the star organiser with many ideas, activities and materials to keep the children occupied.

Children play at a school in Monze

We had been also asked by the charity to gather data on height and weight of all of the children which we did over the course of a couple of days. The children had a good laugh when I tried out the weighing scales….

The charity provides support for 450 kids but there were actually 627 at the time we were there with food and resources shared and stretched to match… The teachers are paid a lot less than the government equivalents so retention and staff turnover is an ongoing issue for the school. The school is supported by a network of volunteer caregivers who provide support for the children in their home environments. The children were surprisingly happy and excited to be there and were very inquisitive towards all of us volunteers. They were clearly making the most of their situation, always smiling. Those preparing for exams were diligent and hardworking and appreciative of all of the support they received.

It was a very rewarding experience. It felt like we could make a real difference and we tried to make some time to reflect on each day and plan what we could do the next… We felt safe and welcome in the town and enjoyed wandering through the markets and shops. It was very humbling to hear about the history of the school and what has been achieved so far. There is a clear, genuine desire to help the orphans and children at the school. It seemed that the school was well regarded in the local community whenever we mentioned what we were doing in Monze.  We were continually Impressed with the ingenuity of the local population.

We did experience frustrations. Money was needed wherever you looked. Some of the initiatives, while well intentioned, were not always thought through…. it felt like an uphill battle with a lot that needed to be done wherever you looked. The school would benefit from a more systematic focus on the planning and completion of specific tasks in a logical order but given the scale of the challenges it was not surprising that things operated as they did.

I left the project, all too soon, with mixed feelings. I was looking forward to seeing my own family but it felt like the job was only partly done with a clear need for more support going forward. With the hard work and dedication of the school and the charity I know things will continue to improve and I hope that I have made a positive contribution so far and will continue to do so in the future. It is possible to sponsor a child at the school through the charities ‘Hand in Hand’ scheme and would encourage people to do that. It is easy to get wrapped up in our own busy lives and issues but so much of it seems trivial given the real problems that millions of people around the world face.

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Hands Around the World 2018