Looking back to the morning of Wednesday 14th June I don’t think any of us realised how our lives would change through the experience in Zambia. The journey was long but our spirits were high as we were excited to see what Africa had to offer us and what we had to offer Africa. When we arrived in Lusaka we were greeted by Pat, the man who helped make the whole trip possible for us but to our dismay he was wearing a Waterford jersey! When the group got on the bus we had the privilege to meet Moses and Mr Chanda the two coolest bus drivers you will ever meet! So began our journey to Kabwe, where we would find ourselves immersed in an environment like no other that led to a life changing experience.

We arrived at our accommodation on a Thursday evening, it was basic and modest but it was nothing we hadn’t prepared ourselves for, in the end however it was much better than we had anticipated. The only objection we had was to the showers because we used a “call up” system (e.g. I’m first in the shower and so forth!) so if you had weak verbal reflexes you were an unlucky Mazungo! The food in the hostel was delicious and we were all greedy when it came to putting food on our plates. One day Pat came by and reminded us where we were and that people are starving there and from that day onwards we never left a scrap on our plates and went by the ‘only take what you can manage’ approach. On the Friday the children in Sables had prepared a welcoming ceremony for us. They should all be proud of their talents as we were proud of them for the cultural display they put on for us that morning. They were enthusiastic and confident in their performances and it was an amazing sight to see. I think they would have a good shot at winning ‘CBS has talent’ as they would put us all to shame. As the children went back to school Pat explained to us what Zamda was all about and he gave us the back story as to how poor the children were. Some of the stories were tough to listen to and all we could think of is why there was such an uneven spread of wealth in the world? That conversation gave us all insight to our lives and appreciate how lucky we all are. Suddenly the school bell rang and nothing could have prepared us for what happened next. The children swarmed around us and greeted us with hellos and hugs. They held our hands, invited us to sit down and talk with them. We laughed and played until their break was over. They are the nicest most mannerly children I have ever met. That was our first experience with the children as a group and it was a heart-warming one to say the least. I can safely say that that morning will stay fond in my memory for years to come. When we were in Sables we all grew close to some children. They were very pleasant and it was great craic spending time with them. Some of the highlights included playing volleyball matches, which we learned are actually very competitive.

In Ireland children don’t seem to appreciate going to school, they nearly see it as a form of punishment and a tedious task. We look for excuses not to attend and complain about being dropped to school too early so comparing that to school life in Sables put a lot in perspective. In Sables the children cherish their education and they take pride and value in it. They all have high aspirations in life which is unbelievable to see and joining them on the school walk was a big eye-opening experience for us all. We got to step into their shoes and experience it alongside them rising at 6am to begin the hour long walk to school, something they did daily with no complaints. Between that and the home visits we all did, I believe that when we left Kabwe, we were all humbled and became more reflective on our lives. The home visits I think were a necessity for the trip to truly get a sense for life for the children of Kabwe but were tough to handle. Big families living in houses that could fall down at any moment was heart-breaking to see as it meant that during tough rain seasons they could potentially become homeless? It made us wish we could help every one of them but unfortunately we were only a drop in the ocean to the poverty we witnessed. We gave them gifts of food and the families thanked us just for visiting. These events changed our lives for the better and I firmly believe these moments are something everyone should experience in life at some point. On the first Sunday we got the opportunity to attend mass. It was quite different to mass back home, in fact it was far more entertaining and enjoyable. Although it was close to 3 hours long we loved every minute of it. There was dancing and singing and terrific speeches given. On top of all that the people were so pleasant and welcoming to us. It was a lovely morning and again it gave us great insight into their culture.

Let’s not forget another reason why we came on this journey, which was to volunteer and aid in the ongoing building work in Kangombe and the gardening in Sables. It’s safe to say there were no ‘sissy’s’ raised in Wexford as blood sweat and tears was put into the work efforts! We were split into 2 groups and one would go to Kangombe and the other to Sables. The builders in Kangombe were sound men and we were happy to do anything they needed. Working in the heat was tough so we realised hydration was key. By the end of our working week where each day started at 8am we had dug trenches, carried bricks and mixed concrete in Kangombe and dug out tree trunks and made plots of soil for planting of cabbage and corn in Sables, and you never know there may be some juicy Wexford strawberries! We were proud at what we accomplished but we still wished we could have achieved more.

Some sports activities that were fun yet tense was the rugby game against the Zambian team and not to mention the soccer game against Sables. We got to witness the sheer speed and agility of the rugby players yet in the end we emerged victorious. The soccer game now was another story. They were good but so were we and it was a close game but unfortunately we were defeated 7-6. Well done Sables.

Saying goodbye to the kids was by far the toughest part of our trip. We threw them a BBQ, cooked by our ‘Professional Chefs’ and served it to the shelter boys. It was tough saying goodbye and I’m not afraid to say a few tears might have been shed. We wrote in the visitor’s book and said a final farewell to Sables. Our life-changing experience in Kabwe had come to an end.
We travelled to Livingstone to round of the trip of a lifetime to experience Africa from a visitor’s viewpoint marvelling at the wonder of nature by witnessing the spectacular that was Victoria Falls and camping overnight in Cheeobe safari park seeing animals in their natural habitat that we had only ever seen in a zoo. I can now see the importance that volunteer work does for communities less fortunate whether at home or abroad, and that in Sables without this some of the kid’s opportunities wouldn’t be as bright as they are today. I hope that someday I might revisit Sables and continue to contribute to the volunteer efforts and leave more drops to what is a vast ocean of poverty.