Aidan Donaldson on Project Zambia Immersion Journey: Mapepe and Dubai

zambialeadersToday Dr Aidan Donaldson, who has recently returned from a Project Zambia immersion journey, shares some of his reflections on the experience. His thoughts on the contrast between Mapepe in Zambia, and Dubai — where he stopped on his trip home — should give all of us pause for thought.

Donaldson is Assistant Head of Religious Education and Chaplain at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School in Belfast and author of Encountering God in the Margins: Reflections of a Justice Volunteer (Veritas, 2010), which I have reviewed on this blog. 

Project Zambia Immersion Journey: Mapepe and Dubai

I am returning home from a very successful and moving journey into the margins and trying to reflect on where the past number of weeks have brought the people who went to become immersed in Zambia and the host communities themselves.  I could list a host of concrete projects in which considerable progress has been made with buildings and bore holes and so on.  Yet it would be doing the journey we undertook over the past 6 or 7 weeks.  It seems an age ago indeed since the first group from St Mary’s and St Dominic’s left Belfast on June 22nd.  Now the second group of Project Zambia volunteers has just arrived in Dubai from Lusaka and will spend a day there before returning to their homes tomorrow.  And much has happened between those from Ireland and their brothers and sisters in Zambia.

It was a meeting between the community leaders of the impoverished village of Mapepe and our own representatives on Wednesday that brought it home to me just how much a difference has been made in all of us.  Dealing with ‘village mentality’ is very difficult and delicate and completely different to dealing with the mentality of the slums in Lusaka.  In Misisi township, for example, there is a desire and drive to move forward.  In Mapepe there is (was) almost a fear of change.  Much of this I would put down to a deep-seated belief that life could never change in the village.  Let downs in the past (either by false promises of authorities or those who previously visited and left never to be seen again) had produced a sense of hopelessness or quiet desperation.  Why dare to dream if your dreams will only be shattered?

Yet at the meeting I was struck by two things:

First of all there is now a very palpable desire for change and to ‘walk on their own feet’.  The leaders reiterated time and time again that the mentality of the community is changing now that Mapepe has received official recognition from the authorities. Electricity begins to arrive and block-making is due to commence in the coming weeks.  People will start to wish to rebuild their mud brick homes with concrete structures.  Mapepe will be a transformed community next year when we return.

The second (and more striking) point that has become obvious is that Project Zambia is not seen as some ‘visiting donors’.  At meetings now we are able to propose and contribute to community debate as equals.  We are seen very much as partners – even part of the community of Mapepe. Mr Tembo (Mapepe community headman) stated that ‘you are not bazungu [‘white people’] – not even kind bazungu.  You are part of this community and share our hopes and dreams.  You are muntu [a term which literally means ‘essence of human being’ and used by African to refer to each other]. You are of Mapepe’.  The distinction between you and me – us and them – is abolished.  We are one.

Are we rich because they are poor?  Are they poor because we are rich?

Spending the day in Dubai after some time in Misisi and Mapepe makes me recall this question which challenges all of us – especially we who have the good fortune to have been born in the affluent world.  A seven hour flight separates Mapepe and Dubai.  Yet they are two entirely different worlds.  The Emirates flight takes us from the poverty of the villages and slums to the opulence and fabulous – even obscene – wealth of Dubai.  Here money has transformed everything. Dubai, in the middle of the desert, has the biggest shopping malls in the world, the highest building, biggest indoor ski slope, and largest aquarium. Air conditioning makes every building and structure seem very pleasant as the temperature hits the mid to high 40s.  Even the bus shelters on the street are air conditioned. Dubai has golf courses and artificial lakes resplendent with flamencos and other exotic wildlife.  It looks like – and is – a celebration of the power of money, the ever-presence of wealth and the appearance of triumph of global capitalism over humanity and the human spirit and need as everything, it seems, is turned into its opposite.

Yet greed can never be transformed into love, individualism into community or ‘me’ into ‘we’.  The wealth of Dubai is powerful indeed but it never will match the wealth of spirit of those in the margins who care for those even more in need than themselves.

The care of grandparents for their orphaned grandchildren or for the peasants of Kabweza for the blind people abandoned in the bush stands in marked contrast to and outside of the understanding of the values of the affluent world.  It is only in places like Mapepe, Misisi and the countless millions of other communities in the margins that you can become muntu.

Perhaps affluent society has indeed gained the whole world at the price of its soul.  Perhaps the salvation of the affluent world lies in embracing and being embraced by those in the margins – like those in Mapepe.

(Image of community meeting in Mapepe from Aidan Donaldson)

4 Responses to Aidan Donaldson on Project Zambia Immersion Journey: Mapepe and Dubai

  1. Rosemary McCloskey August 12, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Congratulations on what you all have achieved in Mapepe and also on who you have now become as a result of your experiences in another culture. You will be changed forever now,and I know from my own life that you will never again hold the same values. I believe that it would be wonderful for many to go and see what you and I have seen and lived in Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is difficult to describe life there in a meaningful way to those who have always lived in their own comfort zone.When I returned from my last visit Ito Zimbabwe I was struck by the fact that we all have far too much and that we waste so much and take so much for granted in this country, thus lessening our appreciation of what we have been blessed with. Education is free to us as are the health services and we have water on tap, electricity, gas, machines to help with our chores, reliable transport, food in our shops, decent fully equipped schools and the list could go on. These are part of our lives but not so in the lives of the majority in sub Saharan Africa.Our people in Belfast are very generous to us when we ask for financial and prayer assistance for our work out there and I thank God for them all. Project Zambia does so much together with the local folks and that is where you score so well.
    My families in Zimbabwe are getting a chance of education and of becoming self sufficient thanks to the generosity and kindness of those who have helped me in the past.I know how much this help is appreciated. However my aim is that they become sustainable without our help in the long term, by giving them a means of providing for themselves and their families independently. Their immediate needs are a borehole and decent mode of transport, as well as the school fees for the coming year.Cash flow is very precarious there. Chickens are taken to the abattoir and the money supposed to be paid, so that more chicks and feed can be bought and reared for market but unfortunately the abattoir does not pay on time and then there is no money for feed and more chicks, and so gaps occur in production. With no bore hole water is a problem, as the rains are unreliable and therefore crops and chickens die for the want of this gift of water.
    I have booked to go again in November for a month and hope that I will get the assistance needed for them once again. The school year begins in January Places at secondary level are needed for a couple of the kids as is a place in further education for the eldest guy whi is finishing secondary school in December.
    In the light of what we throw away their needs are small, but believe me every penny counts in making a difference to their lives.I believe passionately in education> I believe in giving people a leg up in order to stand on their own two feet and I believe that is what the Lord asks of us all when He gave us His two great commandments– to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
    I am hoping that some generous folk will help me with fund raising again or even run a few functions for this worthy cause, so that I will go with enough to keep this project going for the foreseeable future. Believe me it is well worthwhile to see the joy and relief on the faces of those people who have so much to concern them in struggling for life.
    May God bless all who have helped in the past and may He also inspire those who will help in the future.

  2. Hendrix August 12, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    First of all thanks Aiden and your Group for what you are doing here in Zambia for the recent years,you have shown us that we are really one despite the colour may our Lord Jesus be with you people in everything you do becouse you have shown us how live and love one another.that’s we say one Zambia one Nation and remember Zambia is a Christain Nation. Thanks once more and hope to see you Next year take care and Love you all.

  3. Aidan Donaldson August 12, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Rosemary and Hendrix – thank you so much for your wonderful words. And you are right Hendrix. We are really one. God bless both of you.

  4. namatai August 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Hello Aidan and Rosemary.
    I thank our God Almighty to get to know that there are people thinking of the sub-Saharan African countries today and the challenges they face everyday. I was touched by the fact that what people in the west throw away is far too much than the little that make a difference in people’s lives. The little people receive goes a long way to meet major mile stones in their lives for example health, education, energy and so forth.
    One thing that also touched me was the appreciation that those poor, rather the marginalised have towards what is considered little by other parts of the world. I then ask myself more often than not why there is such disparity, why such poverty, why such people appreciate that much, why they show that love and realise today that there is not difference between the two skin colours why God why…??? It saddens me to realise that its those people’s dream to want to have a change and be part of it, in order to see a better life for themselves and their future generations.
    Honestly, what is taken for granted elsewhere is greatly appreciated by those that at one time were supposed to own the resources but today they are barely making it through the future days they face. I believe a lot of work is needed to at least get the people off the ground. How can this message be broadcasted and how can these experiences be brought to the younger generations for them to realise that a little can be appreciated and make a vast change in one’s life. Simple life but yet very full of satisfaction and gratitude visa vi much at bay yet no appreciation and above it all more demands. Would the curriculum help at all. Exchange programmes or what?? After such visits one get the realisation that life is not about the gadgets that we do or don’t have, but among other things its about the Ubuntu… the oneness… the quality and importance of humanity. I want to believe much exposure would assist a lot from some of the unfounded mental stresses that we promote even through the medical models at Government levels.
    Again I just marvel at those that manage to make these visits and experience the way other people live and above it all contribute one way or the other top the betterment of other people’s lives. I cant wait to hear more about the work you people are doing for the people of Zimbabwe.
    May God Bless you abundantly beyond your own understanding. What you are doing is meeting God’s mandate at its best…you are assisting while relating and creating friendships. I salute you.

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