Next in our series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, Zambia Country Director Rakesh Katal shares some experiences of Concern's work in Zambia.
Our organization works in the remotest areas of Zambia where the terrain can be rough and reaching program participants means crossing rivers, wetlands and vast swathes of sandy territory. In some cases, apart from the lower level government structures, Concern is the only development organization addressing the needs of the community.
Doing this is both a challenge and a delight. A challenge because the needs of the people, arising from the high levels of poverty, obviously overwhelm our human and financial capacity; but a delight because we are glad to be at the service of the people who desperately need development to change their way of life.
It brings us joy when a farmer tells of how his household food security and income has improved; how a person living with HIV has been empowered with information and a means of livelihood and is now able to live a healthy and productive life; how a community has been capacitated to deal with disasters, and generally how people now see themselves as participants in development, rather than passive onlookers of it – all because of Concern’s interventions.
We may not provide everything to a community, but just the fact that we have helped set the people on a path of development is a wise first step which we think is a long-lasting effort. We work with the people and for the people.
Our partnership with local organizations gives us a grassroots reach critical to understanding the priority needs of the people. Empowering communities to identify challenges and propose solutions has taught us that people have the innate ability to take stock of their situation and chart their destiny, if provided with only a little boost. Concern may not be in one community forever, but the seeds of hope we are planting will in future bear the testimony of our efforts.
We may not have the money to undertake all the programs we could envisage, but I have read and heard that a good name is better than riches. I can proudly say our good name has earned us respect and recognition in the communities where we work, among our peer agencies and the government.
Our communities respect us because we tell them that we will not provide them with an illusory comfort by pouring money into their communities (which we don’t have, anyway), but we will assist them in leaping to their own development by offering them a springboard – and that springboard is working together with them to address the challenges we identify together.
We endeavour to do more for our people, but we are alive to the fact that our resources are never enough to enable us to reach all in need. We are also aware that we operate in a crowded space where competition for resources is huge and this means continuous improvement of the quality of our work to attract those with the means to help us.
All the challenges notwithstanding, we have continued to empower the communities and we are glad that the little we are doing is helping the thousands of our people, who are our concern as Concern.
Confronting HIV&AIDS, creating advocates of change
HIV and AIDS is one of the biggest challenges Zambia faces. With 14.3% of the country’s estimated 12 million living with HIV, the problem has created far-reaching social and economic consequences. Western Province, where Concern operates, is hard-hit and nowhere would the intervention have been more relevant than this area where the prevalence rate has recently risen from 13% to 15.2% in the past year, high above the national average. Concern’s program involves supporting people living with HIV and spreading prevention messages.
Charles Ngandu, 49, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. As part of the program activities, Concern and its partner, Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), conducted training on positive living in one of the areas of Mongu, the provincial capital. Now equipped with new skills in a variety of subjects such as the basic facts on HIV and TB, the importance of good nutrition, treatment and adherence, care and support, and hygiene, Ngandu went back to his community to spread the word.
His passion and skills have also been recognized by the local health centre in his area where he is invited to deliver HIV lessons to mothers that attend antenatal sessions.
“I am passionate to teach so that we do not lose lives. I am happy that I was trained in positive living,” says Ngandu.
Speaking publicly in his community about his HIV status and the benefits of knowing one’s HIV status, Ngandu is an advocate of change, thanks to the support from Concern.
It is such stories that give us the impetus to work one more day every day to reach those we can and help shape their destiny.