A naturalist in Central Africa
Bryan migrated from the United Kingdom to Zambia with his parents in 1948 and then spent three decades working in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Early on, Bryan found a passion for agriculture and horticulture and became an active member of the ‘Naturalist Society of Central Africa’.
Bryan emigrated to Australia in 1980, where he met and married his wife Anja in 1996. German-born Anja explains that she “felt the desire to help others” at a young age. She became a qualified medical assistant after working for the German Red Cross and has since worked for various medical institutions, including general practices, laboratories and radiology clinics.
When Anja moved to Australia in 1987, volunteering became a big part of her life. It is now something she and her husband have dedicated their lives to. Their home in Gidgegannup, Western Australia, is the Bakers’ base from which they operate and organize the projects they intend to undertake in Zambia in the coming months.
Less than a dollar a day
Zambia has about 12 million inhabitants and since independence in 1964, 73 tribes live together peacefully under the motto ‘One Zambia – One Nation’.
Many people, especially young men, move from the countryside to the big cities to find work. Due to lack of work and low wages, most of them earn less than US$1 per day. The unemployment rate stands at 60 percent.
The women are left to raise the children (traditional families have between six and twelve children), work the fields and earn a living. Little money is made by the men and little or nothing is sent home for the family. Adulthood comes at a young age, especially for girls, who are considered adults at age 15. At this tender age, they are ready to get married and live with all the responsibilities of marriage and work. Usually they leave school after four or five years.
Overcrowded schools and hospitals
Although the government has a policy of free primary education and health care, parents still have to pay for educational materials and school uniforms. Most schools, especially in rural areas, are overcrowded. Some schools have between seven and 15 teachers for up to 1,000 students. The only way to deal with this is to teach classes in three-hour shifts.
Health facilities are often inadequate, especially in Mungwi. To serve a population of 100,000 people, there are seven doctors and 130 nurses. Basic nursing materials, medical and surgical supplies, equipment and medicines are often unavailable or outdated. There are reports of patients receiving only one meal a day. The lack of hospitals and clinics in rural Zambia means that patients have to walk many miles, sometimes days, before they can be treated.
Project OSCAR (Organic Solutions & Conservation for Agricultural Results) is a unique grassroots project. A school will be established with a curriculum that includes agriculture, aquaculture and environmental protection of the native land.
The Bakers plan to reintroduce native food plants and fuel alternatives. Reforestation will be an essential part of the project. Once the school is open and operational, there is the opportunity to expand to process and store food, which can then be sold, providing a regular income for the school. This income can be used to cover school materials and running costs.
The intention of project OSCAR is to introduce a wider variety of foods, including plants, vegetables and fruits, all of which have a higher nutritional value.
The government helps
The Zambian government has already allocated 20 hectares of land to Project OSCAR and promised to improve the roads leading to the community. The ultimate goal of this specific project is to create a functional village, including a school, teachers’ residences, facility buildings and a school garden. Another five hectares have been made available for the cultivation of vegetables, fruit and oilseeds. This land is the springboard for the Mungwi community to become self-reliant.
“Many NGOs work in Africa and are doing great work, but there is so much more to do at grassroots level. Working together in partnership and sharing resources is one of the most important issues,” says Bryan.
The SRFZ already has two shipping containers full of agricultural, educational and medical materials donated by Western Australians ready to be sent to Zambia’s Northern Province. What is needed now is the means to transport the two containers and the bakers, who will travel to Zambia, ready for the planting season and the rains, which begin in September.
“The vision for project OSCAR is to create a model that can be duplicated so that local people can replicate the learning process from village to village and pass on their knowledge and skills,” says Nigel. “Self-reliance is needed to empower the community so that they are not dependent on aid and donations.”
Need help badly
Nigel and Byron took on the challenge of raising money to ship the containers to Zambia. For this to happen, A$30,000 was needed. While the target was not fully met, the volunteers left with one container at the end of August and the remaining container will be shipped once the funds are raised. A fundraising project has been set up on SRFZ’s website (www.selfrelianceforZambia.org) where people who want to help with shipping costs can buy ‘miles’ and receive a password-protected photo-video website in return. The sum of A$2.50 buys one kilometer of the journey.
The goal is self-reliance
The Bakers plan to live in Mungwi District to devote their skills to educating and improving the lives of the community. For the Mungwi district to become self-sufficient, the cycle of poverty must be broken, and this can only happen through the implementation of better health and education initiatives. Currently, poor harvests and food security lead to malnutrition and make a large part of the population susceptible to disease.
The lack of infrastructure isolates communities from much-needed facilities, including hospitals and clinics. The natural water supply that is readily available is in poor condition and needs to be treated. Self-reliance for Zambia expects to develop the community in such a way that self-reliance and self-reliance are achieved.
The costs are high
The challenges to achieve this are mainly related to the high cost of such a large-scale project, the difficulty of transporting materials and the general lack of tools.
Successful implementation will help the whole community – especially those more disadvantaged by the lack of services, such as orphans, widows and the disabled.
SRFZ is about empowering individuals and families to help themselves, their families and ultimately their communities. All profits go directly into the project for running costs and educational materials.