‘Muli Shani!’ These were the warm, welcoming words with which we were greeted when we arrived at Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. We were immediately struck by a wave of intense heat as we stepped onto the orange African soil. The twenty-two of us had not anticipated the cramped seven hour bus journey taking us to Kitwe, the nearest town to the village of Kawama, yet, despite this, we were buzzing with excitement.

After settling into the ‘Town House Lodge’ on Saturday evening, we were up early on Sunday for a two-hour service in the new church building next to Kawama School. When we arrived in Kawama, the children ran alongside the bus, chasing these `alien invaders’ entering their community. The service itself consisted of singing, enthusiastic outbursts of prayer and a rousing sermon by Jodie, the director of Beyond Ourselves. We were put to shame when we attempted to match the standard of the numerous church choirs, one of which sang the same song as we had prepared. They enjoyed the enthusiasm in our bold attempt at singing nonetheless. The energy which emanated from each individual was incredibly moving as their faith seemed to keep them smiling through deprivation and hardship.

Throughout the week we had four aims. Firstly, to interview all the pupils at Kawama School, meaning that the sponsorship programme could continue to progress. Each family had a different story. Coming across children who were orphans suffering from HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases, but maintained high aspirations to be doctors, journalists, lawyers and more, proved to be an extremely harrowing and eye-opening experience for us all, and gave us a new perspective on the opportunities that we are offered every day.

The second aim was to get a taste of some of the authentic Zambian culture and try to appreciate the contrasting standards of living in comparison to our seemingly beyond-luxurious lifestyles in England. This meant cooking food for 500 children (the nshima was not to everyone’s taste!) and home visits, which involved helping with cleaning and other domestic chores. Another target of ours was to dig the foundations for the perimeter fence around the school, which aims to provide a safe and secure environment in which the children can learn and play. The heat and physical exertion proved to be very tough, many of us taking breaks to plaster up our many blisters. We were once again put to shame by the locals who seemed to power through the work much more efficiently than us collectively as a group.
The final and probably the most important contribution to our stay was helping out with the teaching. We were astonished by the passion to learn which radiated from the children. It emphasised to us the value and importance of education and how it is totally underappreciated in the UK. This aim specifically helped us to create long-lasting friendships with the teachers and children, especially when monitoring small reading groups.

We were lucky enough to participate in the Zambian Independence Day celebrations mid-week. This was an event that marked the 48th anniversary of their freedom from British rule. It was a time of rejoicing and camaraderie which they expressed through dance, poems and, of course, song. Every child was dressed in the colours of the bold Zambian flag. We were further shown up when we were asked to perform a dance. The ‘Macarena’ seemed appropriate, as it was the only universally known dance within the group! Saying that, the kids seemed to love it, and they replicated our moves every break time. Some of us also got involved with the local dancing: Jonny Paddle and Will Jay’s fishing-rod manoeuvre was quite something!

Looking back, saying goodbye to the Kawama community had to be the most difficult part of the week for all of us. Every teacher, every child, everyone involved seemed so grateful for our time, but we felt we should have been thanking them. They have inspired each and every one of us, and some of the experiences we have had will stay with us forever.

Matilda Martin (LVI, West), Alex Foster (UVI, Cubitt), Cathy Hobbs (LVI, West) and Julian Browning (UVI, North