Zambia: Peace Corps Out to Rescue Siavonga Villagers

Had it not been for the only rocky path, a resemblance of a gravel road that meanders through hills and thickets of acacia trees, this area could have been totally neglected.

Unlike Chief Chipepo's subjects who were displaced and resettled during the construction of Lake Kariba dam in the 1950s, the people of Simaamba were displaced and not given alternative land.

The community there has for a long time been deprived of basic needs like education, health, water, sanitation and food.

There is no land to grow any crops except keep goats and a few cattle, which hardly survive due to lack of water.

HIV/AIDS has not spared the people of Simaamba. Everyone in the village is either affected or infected.

The number of orphans is swelling by the day and there has not been enough resources to support families looking after orphans.

It was for this reason that Harvest Help, an indigenous community project and non-governmental organisation registered in Zambia moved in to help alleviate the suffering of the villagers.

Harvest Help, funded and supported by various organisations, looks at issues of primary health care, agriculture, HIV/AIDS, civic education, environment, management and capacity building.

At the moment, the organisation is operating in three groups; Sikalileke (HIV/AIDS), Bulimi (agriculture) and Mpindauli (clubs or income generating businesses), working with 11 villages.

Harvest Help also operates in Gwembe district covering a total area of 74 km though its base is in Munyama.

Peace Corps has joined hands with Harvest Hope in helping strengthen the organisations capacity and to give professional input.

"Peace Corps has come in with water engineers to help us with the water harvesting project. The volunteers are also helping in the designing of a programme in reaching out to the community," said Alexander Kasenzi, director of Harvest Help Zambia.

Kasenzi said it was important for the community to come up with their own ways of improving their lives such as income generation.

With the Harvest Help AIDS programme, being an orphan is no longer a problem.

Kristin Tulkki, a Crisis Corps Volunteer with HIV/AIDS, is working with the communities to help remove the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, which she says still exists.

"There is still that stigma. Confidentiality in rural areas is still a problem," Kristin told a group of journalists from Lusaka who visited Siavonga recently.

AIDS in Siavonga is a major problem arising mainly from the town being a rural border area and a fish trading zone.

She said people in transit are the main cause of the fast spreading disease.

Kristin is training the community in counselling, home-based care, peer education, nutrition, hygiene and others. She also refers some cases to the hospital for testing.

Senior headman Mwangala said people in the area were dying from AIDS.

"As a community, we are finding it very hard as there is no known cure for the disease. People are now using condoms distributed by Help Harvest to protect themselves and are taught how to use them. We realise now that AIDS is hurting us.

"Polygamy has reduced as people are scared due to the impact of HIV/AIDS. It is affecting our way of life, but it is better to have one wife in order to contain the disease," said the headman.

He said Harvest Help was now teaching them against some cleansing practices such as through a sexual act.

"Now we practice 'Kuchuta' which entails sitting on the woman's lap (with both parties half naked) and just 'slide-off each other's private parts," said headman Mwanangala.

He said his area had many other problems such as lack of schools and clinics.

The hospital is far away and people die on their way before reaching the medical institution. Sixteen villages have no schools and the furthest school is more than seven km.

The organisation has introduced a component in which it gives a goat to an orphan or the family supporting them.

As it reproduces, the money raised from the sales is used to support the orphans in schools as well as take care of medical bills.

"This has helped remove the stigma of being an AIDS orphan," Kasenzi said.

Kristin said the job of care-givers (who were few at the moment) was a great one as they cycled for long distances to look after patients and helped with work in the homes.

Kasenzi said the communities were using Boer goats from GAT in Batoka.

He said the goats were crossbred with the local ones which produced mostly twins and could survive harsh conditions.

"People need a lot of assistance financially and materially. In this area people have special needs such as roads, schools and clinics. The areas are isolated and they mostly use boats," Kristin said.

Stephanie Sultzman is also a Crisis Corps volunteer, a business management trainer and capacity builder working with the Munyama community.

She said she discusses with the community problems related to business management, promotion, investment, what goes wrong or right, how they can use their money and market their products.

Stephanie noted that there was a problem as everyone was involved in fish farming.

"Everyone is involved in catching fish. There is no market, no transport and loans are difficult to get.

People do not want little money but enough to enable them to continue with their businesses.

"The other problem is that during the rainy season, the women are busy in the fields, so business is slow," said Stephanie.

"The business skills we are getting have helped us in so many ways. We used to have difficulties with capital before so we asked to be helped. Now through selling goats we are able to buy other requirements for the home and send our children to school," said Agnes Hampiinda, one of the beneficiaries.

Rose Kasenzi, also working with the clubs and income generation group, said Siavonga district had many orphans.

"Previously orphans were given tokens, food and so on, but it was realised that this was not getting them anywhere as the number of orphans was expanding, and so the goat project came in.

"The orphans and guardians are managing the goats. Now we have committees managing the goats and raising money to buy a goat for each orphan as they come in," said Rose.

She said in the past two years, there has been no fish in the lake and as a result business has gone down hence the shift to goat and cattle rearing.

Rose said the goat project had helped a lot in alleviating HIV/AIDS in that it is assisting to remove the HIV/AIDS stigma.

Before the goat project, Rose revealed, young women were not prepared to breastfeed even their own sisters' baby whose mother had died of AIDS for fear of contracting HIV/AIDS. So the orphans were attached to elderly women.

"When the goat project started, the young women felt supported and are now helping look after the orphans.

Initially they were given loans though most were not doing well as they lacked management skills. Goats are easy to manage," she said.

Orphan Goat Project committee chairman, Pearson Hampinda said the committee was keeping goats which they sold when they reproduced to help look after the orphans.

The agriculture group in which Mike O'shea and Frank Lynn, both Crisis Corps volunteers and water sanitation and agriculture experts, are is also working on the soil erosion control project and harvesting of rain water to use during the dry season.

The team of journalists visited the proposed site for the construction of the weir to irrigate winter and summer crops as well as provide water for livestock.

Due to water problems because of the distance from the lake, there has been widespread cattle rustling in the area as animals move for long distances in search of water.

Mike O'shea said Munyama received a lot of rainfall, but the ground was very hard. This resulted in a lot of run-off water which went into the lake.

"What we want to do is to trap the water by putting borders of rock to slow down the water flow and encourage seepage. We would also want to store the extra water, sink boreholes and use treadle pumps," Mike said.

It is hoped that this will reduce on thefts of cattle and free children from cattle herding and enable them to spend time in school.

Once the borders are put up, water will eventually seep through the ground and there will be even soil instead of it being washed away by the rains.

Wiseman Mulenga, agriculture advisor and deputy director of Harvest Help Zambia, said stone borders helped resist the down wash of soils.

Mulenga said they would also plant vertiva grass alongside the borders which would grow and slow the water current.

Frank Lynn said that he observed that the immediate problem of drinking water and body waste can be solved by building wells and pit latrines with the help of villagers.

Harvest Help also runs fishing and other competitions for school children while encouraging them to go to school and discourage parents from marrying off their daughters early.

The idea, said Kasenzi, is to make school exciting and interesting for the children.

Sports, culture, taking care of the environment and production units are also promoted.

Harvest Help works with both trained and untrained teachers in counselling and lobbying through the girl child committee and understanding why problems relating to that happen, as well as using role models to educate others.

With the help of Peace Corps, Harvest Help is working hard to bring the suffering of the Siavonga and Gwembe people to an end.

They need all the support they can get from everywhere.

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