Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Dominic Effect

There’s a few other foreigners living in Kasama, some oldies who’ve been here for years, some Chinese guys who (depressingly) run a few of the new productive shops here but who wouldn’t say hello to you if you were the last person living on the earth, a few Indian guys who work as engineers contracted to the electricity companies and the like and the Powell family who came here in the late 60’s teaching and are still here having raised their family here and now run the very nice Thorntree guesthouse and still teach.

I’m one of three Irish people living in Kasama. The other two being Brother Dominic, a 70 year old Christian Brother from Dublin and Sister Maura a nun from Limerick with the Celesian Order who I’d say (from the look of her) is about 147 years of age and a very pleasant person.

The first development workers in Africa were mainly missionaries. In Zambia many of these were Irish and there are still about 200 of them here. Ireland and Zambia have a very long and strong connection of which I really wasn’t aware of before I’d decided to come here. There are 5 nationalities in the world that don’t need entry visas to Zambia and Irish is one of them. I’ve met quite a few well educated Zambians who’ve told me they were taught by Irish missionaries. In a country with a very very weak education system missionaries established some of the better schools in the country.

I’d heard of Brother Dominic before I’d arrived up here and I’d first started seeing him cycling by my office every day on his bike. Zambians cycle very slowly so it was slightly startling to see this 70 year old powering up the hill every day. Got to know him over the past few months and he’s pure quality, great company and fit as a fiddle. Great musician, reciter of poetry, raconteur, the works. He’s been in Zambia forty odd years and the last ten in Kasama.

I was in his house last week and he said he’d something I might want to watch. He came back into the sitting room with Season 4 of Love/Hate! (This is a pretty decent Irish series about a drug gang in Dublin). He said he loves ‘a bit of violence’ !

I’ve started him on the Wire now.

I only managed to get down to see his school last week for the first time. Built it himself (with his team of fella’s he trains in construction), and is still doing more building now. It’s a technical school that has two different subject areas – 1. Tailoring and Design that teaches adults who never went to school and 2. Computer skills for teenagers who are hoping to go to university.

He built the classrooms, procured all the machinery, set up the courses and put in place the teachers (most of whom graduated from the courses) but refuses to put any funding towards the running of the courses. He basically has coached them to develop a system of management that makes them financially self-sufficient. So students pay a very basic amount to do the courses.

The Computer Classroom
He tells them if they come near him for money he’ll close them down!

Before even constructing the school he built 6 houses.  The rental income from these pays for the maintenance and upkeep of the school buildings.

The Rental Houses
With the Tailoring and Design, they’ve a second room that houses what they call the Social Business, where they produce (mainly) school uniforms that they sell to schools around the town/region, (they’re currently making cushions and a shirt for me). They’re more expensive than some of the other tailors around but the quality is pretty decent so they’re in high demand.  Of the sales 20% goes to the school, 40% they spend on materials and another 40% they pocket themselves. There's also quite a few deaf women in the tailoring section.

I spoke to quite a few of the students in the training part, mainly women in their 30’s, and they all said that when the course was finished they were going to open their own little stall where they’d make clothes/curtains/whatever.

The Classrooms
Very inspiring stuff really. He gets some help from St Declan’s CBS in Dublin in terms of old computers and the like and he gathered up loads of (pretty retro funky looking) Singer sewing machines from Ireland too. He's hoping to start an auto-mechanics course and possibly one training electricians, both industries are very weak in Zambia. 
Overall it’s amazing how resourceful (and hardworking) he’s been and the approach to providing these people with skills and the knowledge to make sustainable income for themselves is just fantastic. 

All done with little support from NGO’s or foreign governments.

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