The House That Farlington Built… in Zambia

02 Oct 2013

Thirteen girls from Farlington built a house this summer: a house in Zambia. The house that Farlington built is in a small town called Mwandi and will be home to a grandmother and five grandchildren. Why no parents? Tragically, in a story that is repeated throughout Zambia, they are dead. The life expectancy here is just 40 years. One in seven people in Zambia are HIV positive or have AIDS. The parent generation is being wiped out, leaving the grandparents to raise the next generation.

The house was the culmination of eighteen months’ work leading up to the trip. Each girl had to raise almost £3,000 to fund their venture. They got weekend and evening jobs; they washed an endless number of cars; they baked hundreds of cakes; they even cycled from Southwater to Brighton Pier in Santa suits! The trip was organised by a specialist company called True Adventure. Our guide, the amazing Lorraine, ran the trip and ensured that every girl had the opportunity to lead the group, be the accountant, oversee the day etc. True Adventure’s philosophy is that the students run the show. Every single girl not only accepted the challenge but also shone in their various roles. Who needs a teacher? Not this group!

The excitement at Gatwick Airport before the party left was sky-high- and that was just the accompanying staff! The flight via Dubai, took 12 hours before the party landed in the capital, Lusaka. A 6 hour bus trip south ended up taking 10 hours owing to an overloaded bus and an argument with a police officer about where the bus could stop!  Livingstone was finally reached and the next day our group visited Victoria Falls, a stunning Word Heritage site. Travelling on to Mwandi the following day, the party was delighted to reach their campsite, not least because of the enormous pot-holes in the roads! It was a bumpy and, at times, hazardous journey.

The next morning our group faced a stark, wooden, very basic structure: literally the outline frame of a small building. We had just a few days to turn it into a desperately needed house. Long branches were woven through the uprights. Next, balls of mud were put into the gaps to begin to create walls. (Well, mud is actually something of a euphemism: it was actually material from termite mounds: in fact termite waste…luckily it did not smell!)

The termite waste had to be mixed with just the exact amount of water in order to create the right texture. This was seriously hard work: much like mixing concrete simply with two shovels rather than a convenient cement-mixer. All the girls worked like Trojans in the African sun but Mr Dwyer did the lion’s share of this back-breaking work.

Limbs aching, the group returned the next day to ‘plaster’ the walls… (okay more termite-waste, but mixed with more water.) This was left to dry and the final day saw the final smooth, wettest ‘plaster’ yet. Lo and behold a house had been built. Left to dry for two weeks it would then be fitted with a metal roof, and the family, who had been on the waiting list for over two years, could move in. Aching but satisfied with a job well done, the group headed into the African bush for a trek and a night camping under the stars….

What was unexpected was the interaction with local children on the way. Lunch turned into a two-hour game with a group of children who were fascinated by the digital cameras being able to show them their beautiful faces in the viewfinder. Our group finally headed off for a meeting with another tiny community, literally in the middle of nowhere, before heading into the actual nowhere for a night in the bush.

A sad farewell was said to Mwandi, before we headed off back to Livingstone, some justly earned R and R included a float down the Zambezi river to encounter crocodiles and hippos, and a visit to an elephant sanctuary.

A genuinely sad goodbye was said to Zambia and the flight home enabled all to catch up on some badly needed sleep. Gatwick was once again full of parents, and all girls were safely returned to their families.

Everyone, whether they were 16 or 47, had been changed by the trip. We all felt humbled by the happiness the people of Zambia showed. The kindness and warm welcome was overwhelming at times. It was very moving that people who had so little should be so welcoming and grateful that we had come to do this simple thing. We all took a little piece of Zambia home in our hearts.

Farlington proudly educates for confidence but having accompanied these girls, I would add that we also educate for compassion and a willingness to do whatever needs doing, even a world away from their daily lives. I was inordinately proud to work alongside girls who didn’t simply talk about helping but were willing to build a house for people they did not know and would never meet. I, for one, cannot wait for the next adventure…

Jane Williams, Head of Year, Farlington School