THE local communities in the far-flung areas of Lumwana in Solwezi District of North-Western Province have been blessed with positive programmes that have been outlined by the global mining giant - Barrick Gold Corporation, through the Lumwana Mining Company.
The many social programmes have worked well for the people of Lumwana who have appreciated the different contributions the mining company has been making to the communities.
The deliberate engagement programmes in the vast Lumwana area are paying dividends because of the purposeful activities which fall under the mining company's highly structured corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.
Apart from empowering the local residents with interweaving entrepreneurial doings, Barrick Lumwana Mining Company has arisen to the occasion to supplement Government efforts in many social aspects which include health, education, farming and support of traditional ceremonies, among others.
To illustrate the mining company's commitment to the communities in which it operates, the loyalty to the locals came to the fore on the eve of this year's World AIDS Day (WAD) when the commemoration of the global event, as all the stakeholders, including the three chiefs - Senior Chief Mukumbi, Chief Mumena and Chief Matebo were brought on board to be part of the activities. This was a wonderful gesture.
Despite the core-business being mining, Barrick Lumwana Mining Company has continued to prioritise other social aspects of life and welfare of the people in the surrounding communities through its good CSR programme.
Management at the mining company resolved to commemorate the day in grand style, on the eve of the activities, in order to devote maximum attention to all the activities as participants were drawn from vast areas of the community.
This is as it should be especially that the fight against HIV/AIDS requires the input of all stakeholders including Government and the private sector.
The fact that officials from the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Council (NAC) were in attendance during the commemoration of the WAD at Lumwana Pleasure Resort, the message was loud enough that LMC has been working closely with organisations that are making a difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Whatever Barrick does in all the operations is in line with its belief and philosophy as contained in the stakeholder engagement charter as thus:
"Comprehensive stakeholder engagement throughout the life of our mines is the cornerstone to establishing and maintaining long term community support for the company's operations. We believe that ongoing dialogue with our community stakeholders remains one of the most effective tools we have to address these aspects of our business.
Public meetings and citizen committees provide valuable opportunities for sharing and learning, for both local residents and for Barrick.
Thorough stakeholder identification and analysis, along with transparent, inclusive and ongoing interactions and appropriate community feedback mechanisms, help to build trust among our stakeholders."
And in commemorating the World Aids Day whose theme was 'Getting to zero: I am a youth making a change for an HIV-free Zambia', Lumwana brought on board the youth and ordinary members of the community and collectively.
The commemoration was full of action as activities included schools being pitted in debates on whether the youths should use condoms and have sex or they should abstain until they reach a level when they would make their decisions regarding sex.
There were two high schools and two basic schools who were pitted against each other to explore the topic on either side of the debate.
The debate centered on the 'distribution and provision of condoms to youths and people in marriage reduces new HIV infections' lived to its expectations as rival groups, both proposing and opposing the motion put up strong and well-researched arguments supporting their grounds.
To make sure that everyone including those not conversant with the queen's language were catered for, the debates were also highlighted in local languages of Kikaonde and Lunda on the same theme and pitted ordinary members from two different communities.
This idea was well-thought out as the message was able to reach as many people as possible, who could not understand English but were drawn as part of the WAD commemoration.
The participating schools included Mbulungu Basic School, which did battle with Lumwana Basic School with the former emerging winner, while in the high school category, Solwezi Technical, which tussled against their Meheba counterparts, picked up the top prize.
And for the debate involving community members, Mutanda defied all odds to claim victory over the host community, Manyama.
The debate was worth it not only for members of the auditorium, but the debaters themselves who left the event with remarkable prizes that included a laptop worth more than K3 million to each of the members from the winning high school courtesy of Quattro company with the losing counterparts each getting a mathematical kit worth K1 million
Members from the winning side in the basic school contest were rewarded with bursaries of K600,000 per pupil, while their counterparts went home with a package of text books worth K400,000 each for their effort.
And also for their effort in the out-of-school debate contest, Mutanda pocketed K3 million as a group with their Manyama counterparts earning K1.5 million.
This was far from being the highlight of the World AIDS Day commemoration as Barrick Lumwana made a donation of K100 million towards the rehabilitation of Meheba Rural Health centre laboratory and purchase of equipment that supports CD4 count machine at the institution.
Barrick Lumwana acting managing director Guy Cordingley presented the donation of the K100 million on the eve of the World Aids Day as part of the company's commemoration of the event.
Mr Cordingley who also donated a further US$2,782 towards the purchase of a mobile CD4 count machine for Lumwana East clinic, from their partners Puma, said the company was out to reaffirm its policy plan going forward towards the vision to contribute to getting zero new infections beyond their employee population.
"Today we as Barrick will not only reflect on the challenges caused by tuberculosis and HIV infection, but as was in the past few years, we are here to reaffirm our policy plan going forward," Mr Cordingley said.
He said year to year, the company had intensified its effort in engaging local community neighbours to the mine, the workers and the regional and district AIDS task forces seeking sustainable strategies to control the spread of not only AIDS but also TB.
Besides running a year-long anti-AIDS campaign, Barrick had assigned the World AIDS and national voluntary counselling and Testing (VCT) Day events to employee wellness, screening and HIV/AIDS testing opportunities.
For this year's World AIDS Day commemoration, Mr Cordingley said, the firm took it upon itself to provide an opportunity for Lumwana youths to share knowledge on HIV/AIDS through debate, which characterised the commemoration.
"This year's theme 'Getting to Zero: I am a youth making a change for an HIV-free Zambia', targeting young people, cannot be more opportune for Barrick as the larger population of our Lumwana and business partner employees constitutes those in mid 20s to 30s," Mr Cordingley said.
He said in organising this year's commemoration, Barrick had aimed to provide an opportunity for Lumwana youths to share knowledge on HIV/AIDS through debate as well as to encourage them to rise to the challenge to emphasise prevention practices as part of their livelihood.
Other aims were to generate visibility for Lumwana AIDS Taskforce, community-based organisations and individuals who were devoted to HIV prevention as well as to empower participants to speak out against stigma and discrimination in communities, and to encourage positive living.
"Specific activities for this year's commemoration include; promotion of business partner involvement resulting in Puma's donation of a CD4 count machine to the Lumwana East Rural Health Centre, Quatro donation of K5 million to the Lumwana Community AIDS Taskforce," Mr Cordingley said.
Barrick Lumwana's gesture stands to positively impact lives of the expanding community in the area of the company's operation as observed by NAC chairperson Joshua Banda.
He termed this as a 'highly commendable exhibition of corporate social responsibility by the mining giant.'
Bishop Banda who was guest of honour expressed concern at the influx of migrant workers into North-Western Province triggered by the resuscitation of mining activities and the attendant economic spin-offs.
He said as a result of this, there was a real threat that the low provincial HIV prevalence could sharply rise if no measures such as the ones taken by Lumwana Mining Company were taken by other actors.
"It is, therefore, pleasing that Lumwana has decided to go outside of the confines of its workplace by donating K100 million towards the rehabilitation of Meheba Health Centre Laboratory and purchase of CD4 count machine support equipment like blood analyser, solar power and air conditioner units to operationalise the CD4 count machine," Bishop Banda said.
He said the donation would go a long way in helping in the assessment, management, treatment and general wellness of the community around the mining area which owns the largest reservoir of the company's workforce.
The bishop said the rehabilitation and equipping of the laboratory was bound to make a positive contribution towards the scaling up of treatment and monitoring services of people living with HIV thereby contributing significantly to a reduction in the escalation of new infections.
"This donation is, therefore, an investment into the economic sustenance not only of Lumwana itself, but the entire community and the country at large," Bishop Banda said.
Bishop Banda's appreciation for Barrick Lumwana was echoed by several other members of the community who included Senior Chief Mukumbi who was among the two traditional leaders alongside his counterpart Chief Mumena and the representative of Chief Matebo who attended the event.
Senior Chief Mukumbi was categorical in his statement by praising Lumwana for organising the World AIDS commemoration and said AIDS was not a disease that could be addressed in one day and by one part as it called for concerted efforts and commitment among all stakeholders involved.
"I want to urge Barrick Lumwana to continue with the good works such as this one because HIV/AIDS is not only affecting a particular group but is affecting all of us," he said.
And Bess Chikanda, a resident of Shilenda community within Lumwana thanked Barrick Lumwana for particularly donating K100 million towards the rehabilitation of Meheba Rural Health Centre laboratory and purchase of equipment that supports the CD4 count machine.
"This is pleasing to us members of this community because we are now assured of access to health facilities that border on HIV/AIDS service delivery," Ms Chikanda said.
Margaret Lyuni Mbambiko, a psychosocial counsellor, was equally happy that the donation of K100 million would now enable the Meheba Health Centre to offer CD4 count machine services that the institution had not been offering all along.
It was full smiles for Mutale Bwalya, a Grade 12 pupil of Solwezi Technical School after he and his colleagues seized the opportunity to win a lap-top during the event organised by Barrick Lumwana.
"This is highly unbelievable because I never imagined owning a gadget such as a lap-top. This is now going to make my research work very easy," he said.
And Inambaza Mikumbi, a local headman in Senior Chief Mukumbi's chiefdom said the coming of Barrick Lumwana to the area had brought with it good things for the community in the surrounding areas.