Settling in, Village Stays and Buffalo Bicycles

November 22, 2016.Janelle de Vries.7 Likes.2 Comments

My first three weeks here have been packed with completing my “settling in” to-do list (getting a Zambian SIM card, organizing my Temporary Employment Permit, finding my way to the grocery store and back), establishing my work plan with Rent to Own and participating in a village stay. By far the latter has pushed me the furthest outside of my comfort zone since I arrived, and has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

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A village stay is an important, and mandatory, part of the EWB overseas volunteer experience that puts you directly in a context that allows for a deep understanding of culture and rural livelihoods as well as providing a great opportunity for exchange.  Rent to Own organized a five day stay for me with one of their clients who lives in Mpima Village, about 15 kilometers from the city of Kabwe in Zambia’s Central province. The Chiinda family, who were kind enough to pick me up in their car from Kabwe, are dairy, maize (corn) and groundnut (peanut) farmers. Mr. Chiinda married Mrs. Chiinda shortly after they finished school and from there they grew their family to include two sons, Philemon and Amos, and one daughter, Tinta. The Chiindas are very active community members, participating in organizations including but not limited to church, cooperatives and group savings initiatives.

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“Collectively their yield is large enough to appeal to these buyers and provides them with power on the selling market.”

Mr. Chiinda leads bible studies and preaches sermons at the nearby church. He is also a member of the Mpima Dairy Producers Cooperative Society, which has an active partnership with Parmalat. The cooperative operates seven days a week. Farmers from the region bring their milk to the cooperative each morning before ten o’clock. The milk is tested for freshness, measured and the amount brought by each farmer is recorded. All the milk is then combined into stainless steel milk cans and kept in a chiller until a Parmalat representative comes to collect it. Farmers are paid, based on their production, by Parmalat on a monthly basis. This type of cooperative provides small and emerging farmers with access to large buyers they would normally not have, given the size of their individual milk yields. Collectively their yield is large enough to appeal to these buyers and provides them with power on the selling market.  Mr. Chiinda took me on a visit to the cooperative one morning, where I was able to see the gathering process taking place and tour the premises – very cool.

Mrs. Chiinda, on top of taking care of the household, runs the family shop in the village – which sells an array of goods from tomatoes to perfume. She is also the chairperson for the Social Fund of the Mpima chapter of the OSAWA Group Savings initiative.  The Mpima chapter has 10 to 15 members and meets on a monthly basis. I was lucky enough to be there for their October meeting! The initiative provides a savings alternative for Zambians who do not have access to financial services. It revolves around two funds, a social fund, which can be used by members if they are in a circumstance where they require emergency funding (i.e. a family member has fallen sick), and a savings fund, which consists of personal savings shares for each member. There is also a loan component, where the interest rate is decided as a group and any profit made off of the interest is then split equally amongst the group. This type of loaning, due in so small part to group accountability, has a default rate of less than one percent.

“The smile I had on my face that day was the largest I had in Zambia since my arrival.”

The highlight of my stay was the day I took a Buffalo bicycle – specifically made for big loads on tough roads in Africa – and travelled around the village visiting various Rent to Own clients. As I am sure you know by now, I love cycling. The smile I had on my face that day was the largest I had in Zambia since my arrival. Mr. Chiinda and I biked from farm to farm to witness Rent to Own’s products in use. We saw everything from generator sets, to deep freezes to the super innovative and highly popular Sun King home solar kits. With respect to the solar kits, clients were thankful that they could use these in their home as a replacement to kerosene which can be quite dangerous. They also appreciated the fact that they no longer had to budget on a daily basis for candles and that the kits could be acquired though a flexible payment plan.

The remainder of my time in the village was filled with a lot of questions, stories and time to reflect. I was grateful for the space and opportunity to learn about Zambian traditions, including handshakes, food preparation and meal time rituals, so early on in my journey. I was even more grateful to have been able to spend time in a community so warm and welcoming. The morning Mr. Chiinda took me back to Kabwe was definitely an emotional one.

Next up is our EWB retreat in Malawi. I am looking forward to seeing three of the eleven amazing fellows from my pre-departure training group and cannot wait to learn even more!

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Comments (2)

  • Will Hu . November 28, 2016 . Reply

    Great writeup and pics Janelle! You shouldve got them to film you riding the buffalo bike…

  • Joanne McLaughlin . December 1, 2016 . Reply

    Got so engrossed in your blog – very interesting! 🙂 Keep up the great work!

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