April 2011: UNICEF Denmark volunteer photo journalist visits Mongu and Lusaka
By Asger Aaen Nedergaard
My name is Asger, I am 15 years old, and I live in Denmark. My mother, who works for UNICEF in Denmark came to me one day and asked if I would join her on a trip to Zambia, on the term that I would act as a volunteer photographer. Of course I told her that I would love to go, and so we did. Before we went, I did know that some people in Africa are very poor, but when I saw it myself, it became a personal revolution for me.
The main goal of the trip was to visit the Malabo Basic School on the plains in the Western province of Zambia. I did know that the rainy season was just over, and therefore some of the plains would be flooded, but when we got there, I realized that this was on a completely different scale than what I had imagined. Most of us on the trip thought we had to walk to the school, but we found a boat waiting for us, and with good reason. 99% or so of the plains were under at least a meter of water! Only a few bumps here and there with villages on top of them were not submerged. People literally lived in the middle of the water, the exact same place where they usually lived on the dry ground.
It was really pleasant on the water, with the sun and a slight breeze, but imagining how hard it was for the people living here kept my attention. When we got to the village where the school was, my amazement certainly didn’t drop. The village was split in several smaller pieces by water. The headmaster’s house was completely separated from the village, and their joint restroom was submerged. With that under water, the local community had no other choice than to just use the water surrounding them, the exact same water that they wash themselves and their stuff in, and furthermore drink. They had no other opportunity.
Their school was a story by itself. Where once there was a roof, there was barely a frame; where there had been a wall, there was just a hole; and where the floor had been, there was water. The headmaster’s office was a wreck of different sticks from the roof, mud and scrap metal. And yet, at the end of the rainy season the children still came to the school, by canoes! Their parents believe that education is the only way to a better future for their children, than the lives they have led themselves. It was incredible to see how passionate these people were about the school, and about their children’s education. Still, almost every year the children miss out on several weeks or months of school due to the flooding when the school is simply too destroyed.
So far the school has been destroyed and rebuilt every single year, for many many years. But fortunately, UNICEF has now decided to build a long-lasting floating school for the village!
This will give the children at least two more months a year to go to school. After seeing how trashed the school had been by the rain I can’t wait for these people to get a proper school.
And it seems that the Provincial chief of Education thinks so too, because he has agreed that if this school project works, the local school authorities will build more schools elsewhere based on the same concept.
The people in the village were really excited, too. Try to imagine what difference a total of more than two extra years of school would do for the children’s education. That’s how much they would gain from something as simple as a school that doesn’t break every single year.
This trip has really been an eye-opener for me. It made me realize what the reality is for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. It made me appreciate how lucky I am to have been born in a country like Denmark. Before we went, I had seen pictures and heard stories, but when we got there, I finally captured the very special feeling, too.
The feeling that the children’s future is something very fragile that really has to be taken good care of. But most of all, it has spawned a burning hope in me that these children get something better than a pile of sticks and mud. That they get a real future.