Cause for Ap­plause: Voices Raised in Har­mony

These stu­dents’ songs nour­ished body and soul

More of Our Canada - - Contents - by Heather Kin­ley, Parksville, B. C.

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.

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