Working for change to sustain people and earth
A window on life in Zambia
Sr. Josephine Murphy was part of the Manchester community when she joined the English Province Mission in Zambia in January 1984. This Province had two houses in Zambia’s Western Province—Kaoma and Mongu. Mongu Cheshire Home had recently opened and there were only six girls resident there at first. Josephine taught in Holy Cross Secondary school across the road from the Cheshire Home. She remained in Zambia until 2010 and returned again recently this year to monitor some of the Misean Cara Projects there. This is part of her experience of then and now.
About Zambia then
In 1984 Zambia was still a one party state following independence, but in 1989 President Kaunda allowed other parties to come into being and he handed over peacefully when defeated in the elections. The population of Zambia was relatively small and life was simple with most people living in rural areas, but the move to urban areas was beginning. The country was still dependent on donor funding to build up its health and education services and Irish and Indian sisters were still needed as teachers in secondary schools.
The reality of HIV and AIDS
HIV and AIDS came in the 1980s and devastated the population. Every family was affected by sickness and death of relatives, leading to poverty and great strain on the extended family which would normally look after the orphan children. Sr. Vianney who had nursed for many years in Kaoma hospital started a community orphanage to help relieve the situation. The sisters were also involved in education to raise awareness of HIV infection and programmes like Adventure Unlimited and Behaviour Change had a big influence for good.
Presentation Life and Ministry
In 1989 the Presentation Sisters in the six houses in Zambia (who belonged to the English, Northern and Indian Provinces) and who had been meeting regularly, formed the Zambian Presentation Vice Province. Josephine spent two years in the Sichili Mission where the sisters ran the hospital and out-clinics on behalf of the Diocese and she taught in the community secondary school. Communication was provided by the Capuchin Fathers’ radio twice a day or by the hospital radio, which was linked to the Presentation house in Livingstone. Sr. Zinha oversaw the Leprosy Welfare Centre and Sr. Prema ran the Homecraft Centre. A formation programme for Zambian women who wanted to become Presentation Sisters started in the 1990s. Before Josephine left in 2010 the Zambian sisters were trained teachers and nurses and in full-time ministries.
Josephine spent her last ten years in Zambia in Livingstone, helping in the novitiate and doing pastoral care of the sick before she got involved in a Diocesan project to set up a skills training centre for older orphans. This Youth Community Training Centre still caters for vulnerable youth from all denominations and offers them a way to find employment to support their families.
The present day
In 2013, the Zambia and Zimbabwe Presentation groups had come together to form the Africa Unit. Now in 2019, the sisters in the Africa Unit team are Judith Bingura and Sandra Ndingwa from Zimbabwe and Judith Haabasune and Numba Mukeya from Zambia. Many of the Irish and Indian Sisters who were in Zambia with Josephine have returned to Ireland, England and India, while Sr. Sue McGregor from New Zealand is still in Lusaka working in a drugs/alcohol rehabilitation programme.
HIV is still a problem in Zambia with many new infections but Anti Retroviral Drugs slow down the progression of the disease and parents live to see their children grow up. The education system in the country has expanded but children still learn in overcrowded classrooms and there is high youth unemployment. The country’s infrastructure is improving with better roads and bridges. If there is better rainfall this season it is hoped to overcome the problems caused by this year’s severe drought. Josephine adds however, that the population has now almost trebled since her arrival in 1984.
A return visit in 2019
Lusaka has developed and is on the surface more like a South African city. But there is poverty and unemployment in the compounds. One of our projects run by Sr. Mary Brennan (the community school in Chipata Compound) was celebrating its 25 years, when she was there. As she recounts:
The road west to Kaoma is now much busier as people move to villages near the main road. In Kaoma, Sr. Mbololwa works in the Government hospital and Ireen and Peggy in the school. In 2014, Presentation Sisters took over the community school, providing for many students who could not find secondary school places, and helped to add on six senior secondary classes. It is the first Presentation School in Zambia. A Grant Aided school whereby the government pays the teachers but the infrastructure is the responsibility of the Presentation Sisters.
The Secondary School Project
The Project for the extension of the secondary school section is funded by Misean Cara and Presentation Sisters. New classrooms have been built, as up to now they were sharing primary school buildings which caused great overcrowding. An administration block, hall and Computer room are also in place and Science and Home Economics rooms are underway.
Both teachers and students have had training in Child Safeguarding and on the SDGs over the years. Classes take responsibility for growing fruit and vegetables in the Production Unit, which along with the chickens and the cassava they harvest in Kalukundwe, the Presentation farm, are sold to provide income for school expenses. Some of the primary school buildings were originally part of Sr. Vianney’s orphanage which has now been phased out. Other orphanage buildings are on rent to provide income for the further education of the orphans and to provide accommodation for those students who have no extended families and one of the buildings is now a guesthouse run by the Friends of Nano to raise income for their charities.
Nano Farm, a demonstration farm in Kaoma was started by Srs. Inez and Virginia and shows people methods of organic farming and fish farming. Sr. Bella and Sr. Lucy Sebastian live on the farm.
The Cheshire Home Mongu
Sr. Numba teaches in the Training College and lives in Cheshire Home (Mongu) as well as being on the Leadership Team. Srs. Cathy and Stella run the Cheshire Home which had 62 children in July, some of whom were recovering from corrective surgery and all of them had regular physiotherapy. The government has seconded four teachers and the children are in classes according to their ability. There is a great spirit in the Home between children and staff, and children help each other to move about, with various activities including football and group table games in the evening. Local people support the Home also with visits and gifts.
The Income Generating Activities for Mongu Cheshire Home are Liseli Lodge, which has a restaurant, take away and various types of accommodation and is a commercial success, and Rhino Block products which is at an early stage, as it is having problems with constant power cuts.
I was happy also to spend a few days in Pemba in Southern Province where Sr. Mary Lucey has helped local people with building up three villages with each household having a good portion of land. Judith is teaching in the local school as well as being on the Unit Leadership Team. I also spent a few days in Livingstone and I went back to the Youth Community Training Centre which is now run by Baptistine sisters on behalf of the Diocese, giving skills training to young people.
The impact of Climate
It is clear that climate still has a huge impact on the quality of life of the people. Since the rainy season last year was very poor, I saw everywhere the effects of drought in the Western and Southern Provinces. There was no grass for the animals and the price of the staple food, mealie meal was increasing daily, so hunger in the rural areas especially is a big problem. People were depending more on cassava which is a drought resistant crop but less nutritious than maize.
Relief efforts were starting on a small scale from churches and government just as I was leaving.
Sr. Josephine Murphy
Some useful links:
For more information: on Misean Cara: https://www.miseancara.ie/
For information on the drought situaton: Food situation in Zambia on the verge of crisis
Living with those ‘kept poor’
Sr. Helen Lenehan shares some of her experiences
Sr. Helen Lenehan returned to Ireland (to the North East Province) in 2018 after twenty-seven years of life on mission in the Philippines. Helen hails originally from Co. Kilkenny. “When I arrived in the Philippines, in September 1991, there were six Irish Sisters there along with seven Filipina Sisters. Having studied the language, I got my first assignment in June 1992″.
Indeed, my first venture into adult literacy was met with opposition. I had gone out to a barrio (a local area) with a young Filipina student and was warmly welcomed. However, when I arrived, as arranged, on the following Saturday to set up the classes only a handful turned up, and the students with me learned that the military had been informed that I had been in the area. The fear of the military was still strong and these poorly educated people had been told that I was a communist, and they were not to attend the sessions. The college, administered by the Sisters in the town of Binalbagan, was well known for its effort at education for systemic change, and the Sisters had even been called communist from the altar.
Those ‘kept poor’
Helen went on to share the day to day reality of living there with the people, naming, addressing and challenging where possible those systems and structures that maintained a poverty of life and livelihood for families and individuals within the communities she got to know well.
She gave a very practical example of the disconnect that often existed between appearance and reality, where in the Haciendas (large plantations) owned by exceedingly wealthy (and often remote) landlords, their employees did not receive a fair wage for their labour. But yet these same landowners were at the forefront funding and sponsoring large and important international meetings and projects that raised their profile on the world stage. It is not just the absentee landlords but also business magnates with extensive wealth (e.g. some with an estimated wealth of $9 billion) and also of those politicians who while in receipt of congressional funding for development in their local areas, were thought by the locals to be providing scholarships ‘out of their own pockets’. She cites figures from 2013 where 75% of lawmakers in the Philippines were drawn from political dynasties; 42% of lawmakers in Thailand and correspondingly 22% in Ireland.
No social welfare system exists so this means in real terms that if a family member gets sick, the cost of paying for treatment and medication can decimate families, as it takes all their limited funds or even the ability or capacity of the bread-winner to continue to work.
Helen also gave an example of the experience of workers on the sugar cane plantations which produce the main food crop of the Philippines. There is a six month growing season and a six month harvest period. During this growing season (called ’The Dead Season’ due to massive unemployment) labour is reduced and people are not paid. The school attendance period also happens to coincide with this growing season, so promissory notes are a big thing – seeking permission to pay later when employment starts again.
The book of the same title: ‘The Dead Season’ published in 1986 by US Journalist, Alan Berlow accurately describes the plantation lifestyle of the hacienderos and the oppression that goes with it, as well as the collusion of the military with the landed gentry. “It offers a gripping investigation into a savage murder on the Philippine island of Negros. Alan, in his investigation of the murder discovers that the ultimate cause is imbedded in the history and culture of a society locked into cyclones of violent conflict, behind a façade of democratic government”.
The cost of empowerment
Working conditions in the factories are all geared towards maximum production. Again, Helen shared the example of a doll factory that produced really high class expensive dolls for export. The factory makes the elaborate and beautiful clothes for these dolls. On the factory floor, the backs of the chairs of the seamstresses have been removed so they cannot sit back with ease and potentially produce less. One woman Helen knew who worked there, was forced to purchase from her already small wages the clothes she had produced, as she had pricked her finger on a needle which had bled onto the material so the item could not be sold. This woman was supported to recognise the injustice of this and to say it to her employer – but as a result lost her job.
Helen has shared in the lived experience of the people in their communities, and she cites a comment made to her by a South American man, to highlight the problems and the challenges of empowering the poor, such as peasant farmers to assert their lives, he said: “Religious are lucky and privileged, since if their lives are in danger, they can be taken out of the country by their Order, but the poor have no redress”. They (the peasant farmers) are the people who are being killed by the hired killers of the landlords.
What does justice look like for those ‘kept poor’ by systems and structures that could be interpreted as a measure of success on the global stage?
Sr. Helen Lenehan, pbvm