Four Oxfam supporters have just returned from Zambia, after seeing how Oxfam teams are helping people to overcome poverty. Julie, a headteacher from Essex, shared her reflections on the visit.

I remember our first day in Zambia well. We had just been dashing about and grappling with the frenzy of traffic on a wet morning. But when we pulled in to Oxfam HQ in Lusaka, it felt calm and peaceful. To meet the amazing team that are Oxfam in Zambia felt like a huge honour, and the depth of passion and pride in the work they do was clear.

Personally, I wanted to understand the stories of women and children and what life is like for them. Working in education myself – I particularly looked forward to visiting to a community school and seeing the work Oxfam does to support them.

We set off on the long journey to Kitwe. The variety of fruit and vegetables on sale at the many roadside stalls we passed, alongside the vast maize crops were abundant. Watermelons, tomatoes, butternut squash, oranges and big open mushrooms splashed colour along the dusty roadsides.

Children in crisp, smart uniforms walked to and from the many schools we passed. They seemed to be walking a very long way sometimes – I’ve learnt it could be 15-20km each way – along busy roads.

I will always remember that visit to Murundu Community School. It was here I met teacher, Lydia Namsobwe, who is absolutely passionate about teaching children to read. Like many of the teachers there, she volunteers her time to educate up to 100 children in one class. She sells avocado on the roadside from 4.30am every day, before taking the bus to the school. It’s through this hard work that she has sent her four sons to university – and her duty to ensure children are educated shines on in her work as a teacher.

Oxfam supporter Julie Sarti presents a gift (photobook) to teachers at Murundu Community school in Mufurila district, Zambia. The teacher on the left is Lydia Namusokwe.

But I could also relate to the challenges teachers like Lydia face. I know from my own work that children must have some basic needs met in order to learn. Have they had enough food to eat before they arrive at school? Have they had enough sleep? Do they feel valued and supported? It’s here that Oxfam’s work is making a huge impact.

Oxfam’s ‘I Care About Her’ project made a big impression on me. This awareness-raising programme is delivered in schools and communities to change attitudes towards women and girls, and help end gender based violence and discrimination. It was a privilege to hear a performance poem from a group of girls. We saw a wonderful drama which gave me goosebumps – it was so strong and powerful. These young women want to be artists, technicians, engineers and pilots. They aren’t limiting themselves, and I think that’s a result of the work that the team has done.

These young women want to be artists, technicians, engineers and pilots.

The project really pulls together Oxfam’s other work in the country, as we learned on our visit to a banana farming project. The women there absolutely believed in it as a starting point for their development. It enabled them to grow their businesses because they had more support. We saw so many examples of this kind of work, that really opened up huge opportunities for women to earn a living and fulfil their potential.

I’ll never forget a wonderful woman I met called Mercy, who had been given a dairy cow by Oxfam as well as support to start a business. Mercy had worked tirelessly to make life better for her family. And now that she sells milk as well as vegetables, she earns enough to put food on the table and send her children to school. And so, with those basic needs in place, her children are ready to learn every day.

I have always had hope in Oxfam – but this trip has helped me to understand the joined-up strategies that are so effective. Now, I am even more hopeful, because I can see that Oxfam works with people in their communities in partnership. There is a deep respect on both sides – and one that underpins development. We were privileged to meet amazing women, with such entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to improving lives in their communities. They are determined to make the most of the support that Oxfam brings and this literally changes lives; bringing dignity, empowerment and hope for
the future.

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