18 October 2018

Witnessing incredible growth in Kenya and Zambia

Our CEO, Paul Brown, shares from his recent trip to Africa

It has been five years since I last visited our dedicated projects in Emali (Kenya) and Luangwa (Zambia) – and these projects have progressed far more than I expected.  Both countries exude a far greater sense of confidence – people are upbeat and energetic, and the pace of life has quickened: there’s a brand new train from Nairobi to Emali (meaning no more long journeys stuck behind a queue of container trucks on the horrible Nairobi-Mombassa Road); and the road from Lusaka to Luangwa is now fully sealed.  The new railway and roading has been paid for by Chinese aid, and the presence of Chinese business is clearly felt across Africa. 

The new roads and railway mean these previously isolated communities are now connected to markets, and this is illustrated in how entrepreneurial people are in Emali and Luangwa – their reference points are now well beyond their local hamlets.

I have been fortunate to visit these projects several times over the past 14 years and, this trip in particular, it has struck me how hard people work.  Life is tough in these communities – working the land requires tenacity against the heat and dry conditions, and people lack resources.  Against these challenges I was amazed by how committed the local ChildFund teams are, and how well the families work together.  There is a genuine sense of ‘we are all in this together’ that perhaps we have lost in our overly-frenetic lives.

The purpose of my trip was to assess the progress of our roadmaps (the plan the community has developed to guide them to independence and sustainability), and to scope two upcoming agribusiness projects.  It was reassuring to observe that the Emali and Luangwa communities are primed for this approach – where funding will be loaned to them (by investors) in addition to the great philanthropic support we get from New Zealanders.

I was also humbled to meet Kukulai, the 12-year-old Masaai boy I sponsor, who lives in Emali.  As part of my travels I have witnessed many other sponsors meet their sponsored children, and each meeting is one of life’s magic moments.  Meeting Kukulai was no different!  Our relationship, that had previously been shared over seven years of swapping letters, immediately became real and our connection seemed as old as Africa itself.

The warmth and hospitality of Kukulai’s family was overwhelming – his father David (the same age as me) described how they had killed their second to last goat to serve as a meal for me – it is amazing how these families who have so little, give up so much to host their visitors.

David and I laughed about the love and challenges we face raising boys (my two sons are aged six months either side of Kukulai). We spoke in the common language of football and smiled over Kukulai’s dream to play for Chelsea one day.  Judging by his skills with the soccer ball I gave him, I think he will make it!   

Like many of the children supported by our programmes, Kukulai was incredibly polite and initially shy, but then inquisitive – asking about life in New Zealand, showing me his school, and asking about school and what children do in New Zealand.  Kukulai epitomizes the future of Africa: although he is lean, he’s healthy, oozing potential and has an eagerness to connect with the world. 

It’s clear there is still much we can do to help the families in Emali and Luangwa – but this trip also reinforced to me that the ‘threads’ of our programme of work (education, health, water and sanitation, child protection, and job training) are knitting together.  Over the years, I’ve witnessed a firm foundation for growth in both Luangwa and Emali, and now we look to working with these families to further help children and youth to thrive.

If you would like to know more about the impact of our work in Emali and Luangwa, please email me at paul@childfund.org.nz

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