Cause for Applause: Voices Raised in Harmony
These students’ songs nourished body and soul
Working at a school for the visually impaired in Zambia left this volunteer with a song in her heart.
Ispent years following my husband Roger as he worked on several mineral exploration contracts around the world. A spirit of adventure and the wish to avoid harsh Canadian winters led us to Africa, Central and South America and Australia. Being an ex-pat in faraway lands pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I created another.
One way I found that helped me transition and learn about each country’s culture was to volunteer. I have been lucky enough to help out with children’s organizations in the many places we’ve called home.
Of all the volunteer jobs I’ve had, none has struck a chord with me as much as the Ndola Lions School for the Visually Impaired in Zambia. It is a residential school for 120 students ages 6 to 22 with varying degrees of visual impairment. Many are there due to albinism, measles, cataracts and glaucoma, consequences of their birthplace.
After spending time at the school, I focused less on their lack of sight, because it was clear they had adapted to a darkened world.
The headmaster, George Chisala, is also blind and had been at the school for 20 years leading a dedicated faculty, including several visually impaired teachers. After assuming the headmaster role in 2004, Mr. Chisala strived to make the school more self-sufficient and less dependent on sporadic government support.
When not in class, the students tend pigs and chickens, which produce enough eggs to allow them to have two per week. They also work in the vegetable garden or the field where maize is some-
times grown. Unfortunately, though, scarce food provisions are as much of a concern as the lack of Braille and school supplies.
In October 2012, most students had to be sent home to various villages throughout Zambia because there wasn’t enough food.
I teamed up with Yvonne Currin, a passionate, staunch school supporter and fundraiser, and together we helped produce the school choir’s first CD.
I smile when I look back on the day in September 2012 when I went to the tiny music studio to videotape the recording, dreaming that once I posted it on Youtube, it would turn into another We Are the World phenomenon and the children would never go hungry again. Before they even sang a note, I had to give the equivalent of $20 Canadian to the studio’s owner just to have the electricity turned on!
The CD, called Empowerment, has a rhythm as vibrant as an African sunset. You feel good listening to the students sing songs of life in Zambia, including wanting to be treated like everyone else, as well as how AIDS has devastated their nation.
The choir’s talent helped feed the whole school because CD profits were used to purchase food; the profit from one CD provided enough vegetables to feed more than 100 students for one day. People from far and wide rallied to support the school and more than 200 CDS were bought.
There have been many changes since Roger and I left Zambia in 2013; Mr. Chisala retired two years ago and, after our last overseas project in Australia, Roger and I returned to Canada and settled in Parksville, B.C.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by the injustices and problems I witnessed when we first went to Africa, but as Roger said to me, “We can’t change the world, but we can help change our part in it.” That philosophy kept us motivated and gave us countless experiences that we are now so grateful to be able to look back on. ■
From left: The school choir; Heather and George Chisala, then the headmaster of the school; it’s not unusual to see students linked arm and arm as they walk the uneven paths around the school—as much for safety as camaraderie.