by Kate Neely (International Program Director, RoundTrip Foundation)


In this series of blogs focusing on life at our projects, we are following the progress of Kate Neely, Program Director at RoundTrip Foundation. Kate has been in Africa and Sri Lanka visiting our projects and also investigating a potential new project in Tanzania. In this third instalment, Kate spent a couple of weeks at Tikondane in Zambia where RoundTrip supports 13 local interns. Click for more informations about our intern project in Zambia. And checkout the first and second instalments of Kate’s adventures.


Matilda (pictured above), one of the women volunteering their time at Tikondane, takes me to her village today It is about a ten-minute walk from Tiko, along the road to Katete and then down a dirt track. Each home in the village has a plot of land near the house to grow vegetables and most people also have a larger plot outside the village where they grow crops such as maize and groundnuts (peanuts).

The programs at Tiko encourage people to grow different crops as well and to increase the types of vegetables that they plant. The staple food here, nsima, is basically mashed maize. It is okay for energy but not great at providing all the nutrients that people need, and especially the nutrients that little kids need to grow. There are so many malnourished children around here. So, adding fresh vegetables and moringa (known as the miracle food for all of the minerals and amino acids it provides) to peoples’ diets can help.


A village walk

As I walk through the village with Matilda we stop alongside her grandchildren who are watching two men slicing a tree trunk into planks using an old fashioned longsaw. Matilda shows me her garden, which seems to be thriving, and explains about the new fences (the purchasing of fences to stop animals from eating crops was paid for by RoundTrip, with support from the staff at Lonely Planet). The fences at the moment are just the frames (which will keep out the cows) but later when the long grass dries out, they will collect the grass and add it to the fence as a barrier to the chickens.

Grace and Prisca with ‘African strawberries’ from their mulberry tree. Delicious!

Matilda allows me to investigate the inside of her house, it is about 12 metres long and 6 metres wide and has three rooms; a bedroom either end and a sitting/dining room in the centre. The beds are mattresses on the floor and clean clothes are hung in the open. Cooking is done outside on a fuel-efficient fire, so that there is little smoke inside the house. Matilda has a well that sometimes runs dry, when it does run dry she then collects water from a borehole about ten minutes away. In order to drink the water Matilda has to filter it and add some chlorine.

As we are leaving, Grace and Prisca come past, they are Matilda’s neighbours. They show me their garden as well, and the compound where they live has a couple of houses for different family members. I discover the mulberry trees (Matilda tells me they are African strawberries!). They are ripe and totally delicious! As we leave the village it is noticeable that there are a lot of differences in housing, from the traditional round house made of mud with a grass thatched roof, to Matilda’s brick house, to some brightly painted concrete rendered houses. One house has tobacco drying in the sun, and another house that we pass has two heart-shaped gardens, just waiting for flowers to bloom.


Traditional weaving

Traditional mat weaving, Tikondane, Zambia

Kate learning to make traditional palm-woven mats with Mrs Mwazeima

Back at Tikondane I say hello to Mrs Mwazeima who took me to the Anglican service on Sunday. She invites me to her house to see her mat-making skills. Okay, I really invited myself! But she was very gracious in agreeing to show me. Mrs Mwazeima learned to weave palm fronds into mats as a young child in Mozambique, but moved to Katete when she married her husband who had a job at the local hospital. I am impressed with the skills and dexterity of this 83-year-old who is the only person in this area who still makes these traditional palm woven mats. She is making it look so easy that I think I should try it. I can’t knit, I can’t sew, and it turns out that I am pretty bad at mat making as well! I was pretty much tangled up before I managed to get anything done so Mrs Mwazeima gently took her mat off me and let me go back to Tiko with at least some of my pride still intact…


Water and electricity in rural Zambia

Have you ever drunk a cold glass of water on a hot day and wondered at how lucky you are? Spending time at Tiko has certainly reminded me of how lucky I am.

I was talking to Jason, Tikondane’s handyman about the water supply, which thankfully is safe to drink from the tap, although some taps have a bit of rust. Tiko supplies its own water from several boreholes. Efficient electric pumps are used to filter and pump the water up to tanks that then feed back down to the pipes, there’s no government help here. Many of Tiko’s neighbours have shallow wells where water is pulled up by hand in buckets and then disinfected using chlorine solution. This means that watering gardens, having a shower, or cooking for a family, all involve having to carry buckets of water.

Power is another matter. Tiko is on a main road with power going past and fortunately can afford the rates that are charged by the electricity companies. Blackouts are unpredictable (there were four in the week I was at Tiko), so solar torches and candles are available across the community here. For most of the villages though there is no power and only a few individuals have the resources to buy or rent a solar system that will power a few lights at night.

It is well known that access to reliable, cheap power and water in developing communities are crucial to improved livelihoods and a better life. Hopefully both will be available soon to the many villages in this part of Zambia.

As I wander around Tiko, I ask a fairly typical ‘western’ question “What do you like doing when you aren’t at work?”. Often this question is met by confusion, when the staff at Tikondane aren’t ‘at work’ they are generally working on their own land, cooking or caring for children or older parents. Few consider life in terms of what they enjoy and it seems clear that ‘entertainment’ is not something that the Tiko crew seek out. Time at home ‘relaxing’ is rare, and without power even the most mundane forms of entertainment (watching tv) are not possible. Having said that, the Tiko crew love to dance, sing and join in any kind of celebration – they are happy to make their own entertainment!


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