By Eileen Ogintz
LIVINGSTONE, Zambia — Esther Kawewe used to spend her days helping her mom sell vegetables in the dusty outdoor market at the small (just 3,000 people) Nakatindi Village.
Now, she earns $120 a month—a good salary here–assembling and selling bikes that have arrived in a big container, taken apart after having been donated from America, Europe and Australia, thanks to a project started by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy. She, along with four other women, have been trained both to put the bikes together and then in running the business. Besides earning money themselves, she explains, they have donated over $30,000 to the new maternity hospital here.
This project, one of several here run by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, is designed not only to bring money into the village—the bikes sell from $25 to $120, with people coming from Livingstone to purchase them—but to empower women, explained Mabvuto Phiri, who is showing us around the village.
We are close to the famous Victoria Falls, the widest waterfalls in the world (1700 meters wide and actually a series of five waterfalls called Mosi-oa-Tunya which means “the smoke that thunders.” When the water is high, you can see the mist for miles around.
Tourists come not only to see the falls but also to bungee jump from the Victoria Bridge—the middle of the bridge is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe—white water raft, zip line and kayak.
Abercrombie & Kenthas arranged our visit here and stay at the Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma on the Zambezi River within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park about 20 minutes from the Falls and closer to the village.
We are staying in luxuriously appointed thatched-roof tree houses with a deck overlooking the river. There are two houses for families that can sleep five or six and come with their own butler, housekeeper, chef, waiter and guide—a far cry from the village. We are glad to hear that five percent of each guest’s stay supports the village projects.
Most activities here—canoeing, a sunset cruise, the visit to the falls and the village—are included and we are guided by Edward Kanjilu, who is able to translate from the local Nyanja language. Kanjilu explains this is just one of 72 languages in Zimbabwe.
In the village, a gaggle of kids—out of school for their summer holiday just before Christmas—surround us and ham it up as we take photos.
A bit of history—this area is where British journalist Henry Morton Stanley famously found explorer David Livingston in 1855, the only white among all of the black people, and famously greeted him with the line: “Dr. Livingston, I presume.”
Stanley was sent by the New York Herald to search for Livingston who hadn’t been heard from in a while. Livingston had come to Africa as both a Christian missionary and to help end the slave trade. He was also a medical doctor and was the first European to see the falls, re-naming them for Queen Victoria, on the British throne at the time.
When he died of malaria some years later, his heart was kept here, while his body was sent back to England to be buried in Westminster Abbey. “That’s why we say Livingston’s heart remains in Africa,” explained Kanjilu.
He freed his two slaves named Sussi and Chuma who are now recognized by the name of the Sanctuary Retreat here, one of many Sanctuary camps across Africa, each one unique. We had stayed at another, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa.
These lodges, of course, are a world away from the local villages where families live in one-room cinder block houses with a tin roof, drawing water from communal taps, bathing in water that has been warmed by the sun. Most don’t have electricity, thus no refrigerators or stoves. They cook outside over charcoal or wood and rely on many dried foods. The school has fewer than two dozen teachers teaching more than 800 children, many who come to school hungry. As many as six children must share books, said Head Teacher Kingfrey Kahlila. There is just one toilet for boys and one for girls and just eight computers for the entire school and only some of the classrooms have electricity. Only 20 per cent go on to high school. “We have many, many needs,” said Kahila.
Improving their lot is where Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropies has come in—five percent of the bookings here at the lodge go directly to the village, including a kitchen to feed the school children, and the company has spearheaded not only the bicycle project but a project that is teaching women to make beads from recycled bottles, two classrooms for the village school serving grades eight and nine and, perhaps most important, the clinic and a new maternity wing at the clinic that also serves children under five.
“This makes me proud to work for the company,” said Kristy Berry, who works for Abercrombie & Kent in Australia and was visiting here while we were.
Berry explained she serves on the company’s philanthropy committee and helped oversee the project that has sent bikes to Africa. She most recently collected some 570 donated bikes to be shipped to Tanzania. “Kids brought their bikes and wrote notes with their pictures,” she said. “We were inundated.”
Berry added that Abercrombie & Kent has such philanthropy projects all over Africa and all over the world. Here in this small village, the impact can be seen one healthy baby at a time and one mother at a time.
Forty-two babies have been born here healthy since the maternity wing was opened last march, proudly says the head nurse, Douglas Mumkombwe, the head nurse. The morning we visit, moms and babies are patiently waiting for the babies and young children to get their vaccinations. There is family planning, preventive health, services for those with HIV, prenatal and postnatal care. Before the maternity wing opened, Mumkombwe said, women would deliver at home without hot water or even indoor bathrooms.
Nearby, women are busy making beads from recycled bottles that has been ground to a fine powder. They painstakingly put the prepared glass into molds by hand, then put the molds into a wood-fired kiln. Abercrombie & Kent sent experts to show the women how to prepare the kiln and make the beads, which become necklaces and bracelets soon to be sold in shops. Already, the first group has graduated and a new group of 10 are being trained, said Charles Mathe who is overseeing the project. He adds another plus has been to provide work for those with disabilities.
It is common here, our guides explain, for men to claim that women cannot work. The bicycle and bead projects are proving them wrong. Bridget Mayumdoelo, 43 and the mother of five, like most women didn’t have a paying job before she was trained at the bicycle shop. “Now I can make money to feed my family,” she said.
“This is much better than selling vegetables,” agreed Esther Kawewe, the mother of a four month old. “And this helps girls here see what they can do.”
With a little help.