Volunteering in Zambia was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had to date.
This time last year I was preparing to work with a group of 50 volunteers on a three-month sustainable development project in Zambia.
I was living off the grid in a mud hut for three months – with no running water and limited electricity.
Days into the project, I lost all contact with the western world when I plugged my iPhone into a portable solar charger and the fuse blew.
Needless to say, I was living like a local in every sense of the phrase. But while it took me a few days to adapt, by the end of the project Zambia had become my home.
As the project drew to a close, I knew I would experience a reverse culture shock back in the UK.
But it hit me hard and the first week was difficult to readjust. I felt dazed, like a visitor at home.
The strangest moment was when I first walked up to the kitchen sink, turned the tap and out poured water. Beautiful, clean running water.
It felt so unnatural for days which is strange given this is something we usually do mindlessly.
The Kafalulu village community comprises of large family settlements, a market square selling local produce and a joint primary and secondary school spread throughout thick, luscious bush.
The villagers are full of smiles and the teachers are awe inspiring – passionate for what they do and attentive to pupils’ needs.
Their lives are hard. Many of them have never come across a sink in their lifetime.
Instead, they brush their teeth standing in the yard with a plastic cup in hand to spit in. Clothes and plates are washed in plastic buckets and the dirty water is poured onto the ground at the end of each day.
When you spend a prolonged period of time living in basic conditions, you are able to identify more clearly the things we have come to consider essential in our daily lives. When they are not readily available, you realise just how heavily we depend upon them – and take them for granted.
Every morning I would wake up with the sun and the cockerel at 5.45am.
The family I lived with would already be sweeping the yard.
I was lucky. The Chandas were considered one of the wealthiest households in Kafalulu since they’d had solar electricity installed a few months before I arrived.
The television set was broken but we got to charge our phones in the house and there was a radio that played everything from afro beats to country and western to Westlife. They loved Westlife.
Mornings were hard work because there was no running water in most of the district and I quickly realised how many things we needed it for.
Regardless of where we come from, we all rely on clean water to undertake a similar series of morning tasks – Imagine having to fetch water every day before you could have your morning coffee or brush your teeth…
In Kafalulu, our nearest water supply came from a well at the schoolyard which was a fifteen-minute walk from the house.
I would start each day by going to fetch the water with Barry – my host mum’s ten-year-old grandson.
We would ride our bicycles to the pump and draw as many litres as we could tie to the back of them before starting our day.
It felt so unfair when I returned home how drastically easier my morning routine became because I had unlimited access to the stuff through no personal merit of my own. I can jump in the shower as soon as I get out of bed without having to fetch 30 litres of water first.
I’ve always been careful not to waste water – I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth, I drink what I pour – but the time I spent in Zambia has given me an overwhelming new feeling of appreciation for it that is yet to wear off.
I hope this post helps spread an awareness of the strength and optimism of the Zambian people despite the challenges they face, and how our lifestyles compare in the West.