Landing with a bump
I am not a lover of spontaneity. Or taking risks. Or being outside of my comfort zone. You can therefore imagine the anguish I felt while jumping on a plane to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, having never been to Africa before, no idea what the person I’d be staying with would be like and having learnt that fried caterpillars are a popular delicacy with Zambians (cheers for that one, Google).
My role in Zambia was to help the Barefeet team put together a comprehensive production plan for their Annual Youth Arts Festival.
A dose of reality
During my first week I was asked to accompany some of the Barefeet team on one of their outreach programmes, where they visit and check-in with groups of children living on the streets.
The smell hit me before I even spotted the children; it was truly horrific. In the distance were around ten children sitting on the railway track. They looked weary, beaten and exhausted. In addition to the storm the night before (which was big enough to flood many of the backstreets around town) these kids had been subject to a police raid. The police ‘solution’ to dealing with these kids is to lock them up in a cell overnight. Whilst to you and I this may sound like a better solution to sleeping on the street, there are no juvenile police cells in Zambia, so the kids are locked up with adult prisoners who often beat the children or subject them to other forms of unthinkable abuse.
The police had dealt these kids a further blow by setting fire to all of their food and blankets, leaving them with just the clothes on their backs. I couldn’t understand what they were telling us (as they were speaking in their local dialect), but their anger and frustration was palpable. Over time I watched more and more of them appear but most were too scared to show their faces in case the police returned. Some had black eyes, others had clearly managed to get their hands on some form of drugs or alcohol and just sat looking dazed and confused.
Seeing these young children, whose only possessions were the clothes on their backs, really put it into perspective for me. I’ll never forget every one of their weary, little faces. It reminded me how important Barefeet’s work is and how even the smallest contribution can help these kids get off the streets. If even just for one night.
A moment of reflection
I kicked things off with a brainstorming session for this year’s event.
For one of the activities I asked the group to think of words that reminded them of Barefeet, and of the children they work with. I was expecting words that described the struggle and hardship the kids face. But instead, I was inundated with sentiments of love, strength and positivity.
The children are heroes to the Barefeet team. Their resilience and bravery inspires them. I finally understood how important this festival is to everyone and I felt more connected with the team than ever.
Making a difference
For 30 days, I worked to deliver a comprehensive production plan for the Festival, including creative development and coordinating the acts, equipment, volunteer resources and budget. The charity had no records of any sponsors or past attendees and it took a lot of time tracking these things down. I also made a detailed marketing programme, and a project planning template for the team to use when planning future festivals.
Barefeet are doing an incredible job to try to steer these children out of homelessness, to lift their spirits in the darkest of times and give them a renewed sense of self-worth. They have a long battle to fight but their determination and dedication to helping these children is truly inspirational and they have every right to be proud of everything they have achieved thus far.
And just like that, my 30-day adventure in Zambia came to an end. Since I’ve been home the most common question I’ve been asked is “knowing what you know now, would you do it again?” and I can honestly say I would do so, in a heartbeat. Not only have I grown so much as an individual, but the experience has made such a marked difference to me professionally.
My TIE placement saw me completing a vast array of activities which are so foreign to my usual role within Octopus. Rather than attending workshops, I was the facilitator. Instead of relying on our trusty Finance team to put budgets together, it was suddenly down to me to do so. I’ve learnt the art of patience, without which I’m not sure I would have made it through the 30-days! TIE has given me a renewed sense of confidence in my own skills and abilities. During my placement, I was all of a sudden in the driver’s seat of the organisation, with everyone looking to me for solutions and this confidence meant that I didn’t shy away from the challenge. TIE really shows you how exciting life can be outside your comfort zone – I’m so glad I did it and proud of everything I was able to achieve.