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Visiting Nakatindi - The challenges of a village in Zambia
Nakatindi is a small village in Zambia which was founded by a white landowner. He wanted locals to raise cattle on his property, and so the village was created for them. Unfortunately, over time, the land became unsuitable for the cattle, who eventually had to be sent to graze on the other side of the Zambezi River. Now, this village is struggling to make ends meet -- a sociological recipe all too common in Africa.
I visited this village on my Abercrombie & Kent tour of Zambia, as A&K is currently providing funding for the local community school. Also present in the village are volunteers from African Impact and Princeton in Africa fellow Mary Reid Munford, who is working as a project manager for the volunteers. The volunteers stay nearby in Livingstone.
Abercrombie & Kent used to support another local village, but unfortunately, their donations kept mysteriously disappearing, pocketed by some party along the way. Even donations of food would fail to reach the villagers. After too many second chances, the unfortunate situation led to their selecting another village to support. This is just one of the reasons the cycle of poverty here is so difficult to break.
In Nakatindi, there is no virtually work available. Every so often, someone will come by and ask for workers -- but there are far too many men who would love the job. The result of this is that they knock their price down and down to beat out their neighbors. They end up working for as little as a dollar for a full day, and due to this, the standard of living stays painfully low.
Education is of course one of the few antidotes to poverty, and the local community school for grades 1-7 (above) is doing their best to give Nakatindi's kids a fighting chance. The children are learning English and volunteers from African Impact conduct physical education classes, giving them extra exposure to a language that could change their lives. It's actually somewhat difficult to get children to come to school in a village like this, so the school has constructed a kitchen (see gallery). The addition of a kitchen means that kids who show up get a meal. That gets the job done as far as promoting education.
However, after 7th grade, the children need to get to the local high school, which is a good walk away. With the help of A&K's donations, the school is saving for a bus. They are also planning to purchase a maize grinder. They would save money by grinding the maize for the children's meals on site, and could even earn money by selling ground maize. They could pay someone to do the grinding with that money, as well, so the donation creates a job -- it's sustainable donations like these that can truly improve this village's standard of living.
Though they are not working directly with Abercrombie & Kent, Mary Reid Munford says African Impact's goals are similar in terms of sustainable help. "We are pretty strict with our volunteers not just handing things out as it creates a sense of dependency. Our whole philosophy is about empowerment and sustainability." African Impact is currently building a health and education center in Nakatindi (below), with the help of volunteers both from abroad and from within the community. The community Club, which is somewhat like a city council, will be able to use the building as an office, and there will be a large space they can rent out for events like weddings and other parties.
Our tour of the town was pretty short, and though our guide spoke English, he was a little hard to understand sometimes. The tour was notably uncomfortable. My companions remarked on the unease we all felt, trekking through their village in our nice outfits and shoes, and with our fancy cameras. Though most of the villagers understand that tourists coming through is part of what generates money for the community, some were a little less than welcoming. From what I could pick up from body language, one woman shouted at our guide and said something to the effect of "if they want to take pictures of my house, they have to pay me." I kept my camera pretty quiet after that.
It would have been stranger to be welcomed with open arms.
And yet, "welcomed with open arms" is exactly how we felt whenever we encountered kids in the town. They mobbed us, wanting us to take pictures of them and then show them their digital image. They wanted to play with my companion's blonde hair, and for some reason, they all wanted to take turns holding my hand. I was a little concerned about one thing: although I understand these kids are learning English, I didn't hear one word from them. In other parts of Zambia, when we encountered kids, they all wanted to say "HELLO HOW ARE YOU" and other phrases they knew to us. Furthermore, I heard one of the African Impact volunteers say that she was pretty sure the kids were just repeating her English phrases back to her in physical education class, and not necessarily picking up the meanings. I hope the quality of their teachers -- not just in English, but in all their classes -- isn't lacking, or if it is, that it can be improved.
One thing is pretty clear: the kids are a lot of fun. They're energetic and funny and love the camera. Check out this video of them hamming it up for me by the well:
So, would I recommend a visit to a local village when on safari in Africa? Definitely. The visit was more than a reality check (after staying in luxury camps with nothing to do but take pictures of zebras and eat), it was emotional and felt respectful. Maybe some of them didn't want us there, but wouldn't it be worse if tourists came through the country all the time and never even so much as poked their head into a real village to see how the people live? It's an uncomfortable question, but for me, the answer is that making an effort to learn about people, if the intentions are good, is always okay.
My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.