Working for an NGO, Livingstone, Zambia

In December last year I worked for a NGO in Livingstone, Zambia. My intention was to get an impression how the time of a volunteer would be and so I decided to add a whole week working for a community after a three week trip starting in Cape Town, then to Namibia, Botswana and finally to Zambia.

The Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone was the first European who explored the Zambezi river and the Victoria Falls in the year 1855. After 1900, as a nearby settlement grew into a town, it was named 'Livingstone' in honour of the explorer. Livingstone is also known by a second, but more informal name, 'Maramba'. Actually Maramba is the name of the river flowing on the eastern outskirts of Livingstone, and a large township next to it. But the name is also used for a number of places in Livingstone and has even been proposed as a new official name for the city as a whole.


My job as a volunteer took place mainly in the township Maramba. I worked in community schools as well as on small community farms. Whenever our small white bus with the volunteer team entered the township, the kids followed the bus singing and shouting 'Mozungo, Mozungo'. 'Mozungo' means 'white man' in the language Nyanja, which is spoken of the tribes in the south of Zambia.

Livingstone has two faces: a small and wealthier part with paved roads, clean and big shopping malls and well situated people. This area is mainly located alongside the main road which connects the small airport in the north of the city with the tourism area in the south not far away from the Vic falls. But as soon as you leave the main road you discover the real Livingstone, the poor Livingstone, an area which a tourist even at daylight would avoid. But this is at the same time the area where the street kids are singing 'Mozungo, Mozungo' when white people are approaching. And the advantage being a volunteer is to get in touch with the daily life of more or less poor but also very happy urban people beyond the beaten track.

The kids are happy to see a 'Mozungo' because they know they get help. The NGO has fixed times for their projects in the township, there are projects in hospitals, schools, farms, sometimes on public places and even in the prison. Twice per day the small white busses reach their destination and trying to help wherever it is possible. It could be an Aids information campaign, a medical help program or simply an afternoon playing with street kids as a kind of family support.

One morning I worked as a teacher in a small community school. My assignment was to teach human biology and mathematics. My class was a mix of second and third grade students in a community school. Community schools host students of families who cannot afford public schools and have no money for books. There are also a lot of orphans in community schools, for instance kids who lost their parents because of Aids. Only teacher have books, and it is a real challenge to teach the kids under these circumstances. Many teachers are volunteers or young women who have no job and work for almost no salary in community schools. In the human biology lesson I made a drawing of the human skeleton at the blackboard and students had to learn and repeat the main parts of the human body. Then they started to draw a copy of the skeleton in their notebooks.

One boy was extremely shy and he refused to draw the skeleton in his notebook. I tried to help but it was impossible until I figured out what the problem was. The students had lead pencils, but nobody had a sharpener. So they tried to sharpen their pencils with old used razor blades. The pencil of the boy was broken, but he was too shy to ask for help and he rather refused to draw the skeleton then to ask somebody to help to sharpen his pencil. Obviously he was embarrassed of being so poor that he not even has a workable pencil or something to sharpen it. I'm not sure if the presence of the 'white teacher' was the reason for the embarrassment, but I learned something: If I had a simple 20 cent worth sharpener with me I could have made this boy very happy.

Another incident drew my attention during this week of my volunteer work. I was busy playing with kids as part of the family support project in the afternoon. Everything was fine, some kids where playing soccer with a real soccer ball, other kids where playing with toys they would never have seen in their life without the help of the NGO. But suddenly there was a loud shouting and screaming in the streets and all my kids disappeared. The reason for that: a thief was haunted through the streets. Apparently haunting a thief is a public happening, and all kids wanted to participate. I learned that the haunting was going on until a police man could arrest the thief. Due to the fact that police men in a township are usually extremely rarely seen, the haunting took a little longer and the haunting crowd was getting bigger and bigger, but the good thing was: the thief had no chance and was arrested eventually. That afternoon I didn't see my kids again, because a huge thunderstorm with heavy rain started. Unfortunately I visited Livingstone in raining season.