Shona Jennings, ChildFund’s Programmes Director, visits the Luangwa district of Zambia and sees just how much Kiwis are helping to improve lives for children and families.Shona meets some of the children from Luangwa
Red dust flies out behind us as our vehicle judders down the rutted road through Luangwa District, an isolated wedge of land bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe in mid-east Zambia. My eyes scan the bush that flanks the roadside – I’m hoping to spot an elephant. This is the path the elusive giants use to get to their drinking spots on the Luangwa and Zambezi Rivers, just over the hill to my left. My efforts go unrewarded – I see no elephants, only children making their way home from school. If they meet an elephant en-route, they hide till it moves on rather than risk disturbing it. The elephants in this area are not docile – the district has had eight elephant-related deaths in the past ten years.Children are at risk from elephants while walking home in Luangwa
The bush along the roadside clears and we begin to pass villages. The red-earth yards dotted with picturesque thatched rondavels are swept clean. Women sit on mats, hand-sewing clothes for their children from chitenges (the colourful cloth wraps the women tie around their waists); there are children pounding maize, young women stirring porridge, a man fixing the thatch on his roof. A conical woven hut made from cane and thatch, raised two metres off the ground, is a feature of most yards. These are small pens that house the goats and chickens, raised high to protect the animals from predators that prowl the night.
A few years ago, these animal huts would not have been needed as people had few livestock. Thanks to a ChildFund New Zealand goat project that benefited hundreds of women in this district, families have a means of income and children have regular access to meat and meat. The project decreased the incidence of underweight children from 19 percent to just one percent, and raised household incomes by 65 percent.Goats given by Kiwis have improved the health of children in Luangwa
Our Toyota draws to a stop outside the palace of Chief Mphuka. It is a simple, plastered two-room cottage. The Chief greets my colleagues and I warmly and invites us inside. Development of the scale and nature proposed for the people of Luangwa would not happen without the support of the two chiefs presiding over the area, who provide land and leadership.
“New Zealand is far away,” Chief Mphuka shakes his head, acknowledging the distance we’ve come to visit. “And yet you are my neighbour,” he says. “With so much of the development that happens here in Luangwa, New Zealand is assisting. I don’t know how to thank you.”
Conversation quickly turns to the proposed Integrated Agriculture Project that the New Zealand Government and ChildFund are supporting in the area. Working with local government departments in Luangwa, the plan is to introduce irrigation, gardens and fish ponds, as well as provide more chickens and goats for families. The concept is supported by an intensive training programme. Two of the three garden areas have created a particular buzz in the area – buzz being the operative word. Solar-powered electric fences will protect the fields from elephants, porcupine, antelope, baboons and bush pigs that devastate people’s crops. New Zealand’s own Gallagher electric fence company has been working with ChildFund to ensure the fence is effective, strong and can be easily maintained by local people.A new fence will protect crops from being destroyed by wild animals
Each fenced area will measure approximately a kilometer square, and will be divided in to plots for around 300 families. It is estimated that in some fields, 70 to 80 percent of crops are lost to wild animals – and that’s despite whole families de-camping to the fields to chase animals away. They can live there in make-shift shelters for up to four months, from planting through to harvest. Chief Mphuka tells us he intends to have a garden himself within the fenced off area, to act as a role model to his subjects.
We take our leave from the chief and venture up a dirt road flanked by stunning scenery. As we reach the site for one of the garden plots, four women – one with a baby strapped to her back – are spotted walking down the long, dusty road towards us.The women tell us that they are anxious about the fence – when will it be built, because work needs to start soon for it to be finished before the planting season?Women in Luangwa are looking forward to having protected crops
The local ChildFund team and I explain about the need for environmental impact assessments and assessing elephant corridors to ensure we’re not blocking the path elephants have historically used to reach water. We, too, are anxious to start work soon, but it’s important processes are followed.
They lead us into the area where they plant their crops. Some flimsy raised shelters are dotted around about. “This is where we stay when we have to chase away the animals that come to raid our crops at night,” they tell us. A pile of elephant dung outside one of the shelters illustrates that sometimes they must come eye-to-eye with the beasts. “What do you do then?” I ask. One women takes off at a sprint, creating peels of laughter from her friends. “We run!” they hoot, before becoming serious. “It is very frightening, and we have our children with us. If banging pots and clapping doesn’t work to chase the animals away and only makes them angry, we have no choice but to run. Sometimes people get hurt and killed.”Farmers protect their crops from animals by sleeping in flimsy shelters
I can see how essential this project is for them and how eagerly they are awaiting it. A protected, irrigated garden means the ability to grow enough food for their families with excess to sell. It means whole families not having to stay up all night to chase away animal intruders – exhausting when hard work in the gardens is required by day.
I promise that ChildFund is doing all it can to get this project up-and-running soon, and that New Zealanders – our Government and every-day Kiwis who have responded to ChildFund’s continuing fundraising appeal – are there supporting them too. Soon, their hunger and fear will be over.