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July 2014 Orphanage Visit

SOA trip to Zambia – 1 July to 20 July 2014

A group of 17 students and staff from Collège du Léman (CDL) has now returned from a 3-week visit to Zambia. The group was assisted by 2 students from our ZOA partner school, St Georges British International School in Rome, plus an ex-St George’s student doing a final undergraduate year Geography research assignment on the AIDS crisis in southern Africa.  

During their 13 days at the SOCH orphanage (‘Serenje Orphans Childrens Home’), the team built relationships with the 44 children being cared for at the orphanage and also engaged in various projects for which they had fund-raised.


Improvements in the orphanage signs were made by the budding artists in the group. The outside walls of the old dormitory were repainted.Through the fund-raising efforts of the students, the new Store Room was transformed by a local carpenter into a much more efficient and clean storage area by provision of wooden storage compartments. At the same time, a separate storeroom was built to store the charcoal to avoid the black dust contaminating food and other items.


The group was able to gauge the success of the 2013/14 ECIS Outreach Grant which provided furniture (tables and chairs) so that all 44 children can do their homework and private study comfortably and productively instead of being crammed together on old benches or sitting on dusty floors. The new furniture is located in the library and canteen. During our visit, the students worked closely with the children on their reading and other school concerns.  

The younger children usually do their homework in the canteen, whereas the older teenagers work in the library. The new furniture was purchased during the last quarter of the 2013 academic year when we were also able to support the children with provision of extra help each day through the employment of 2 part-time teachers, an initiative from the visit by St George’s Sue McClaren and Lauren Hales in July 2013.

This combination of additional support and appropriate furniture has helped all 13 of the older children to pass their entrance examinations to secondary school – this is a significant feat when the national pass-rate is about 30%.

Education is one of SOA’s main concerns and our students and staff also visited the various local Primary Schools attended by the orphanage children. School reports were also examined closely.

The poor resources in the orphanage library received some attention from the group in the form of the purchase in Lusaka of a selection of new reading books, which are culturally appropriate. Further books should be arriving shortly from Ireland, courtesy of St George’s Noreen Johnson.


Here is a photo showing the handover of a cheque for US$1000 to local Serenje District Health officials. These funds were raised at Collège du Léman in May 2014 during the Grand Prix running event which focused on TB Awareness. They are to be used to support the training and provide resources (i.e. bicycles) to local volunteers who will identify and support TB victims in outlying areas of the Serenje District. The local officials will provide photos and feedback after the donation has been spent. It is hoped that this support can be on-going in an area where TB is a huge issue. The CdL girls also visited the Serenje District Hospital where they saw for themselves the overwhelming challenges faced in the area where there are only 4 doctors for a population of over 100,000! As a result of our visit, the orphanage will now be supplied with 44 newly treated mosquito nets.


Our students had raised funds for their individual projects for this visit. How pleased they were to be able to purchase new school shoes for each of the 44 children when they saw the state of many of their shoes! 

There was also an opportunity to go clothes shopping with the children in local shops and market – this approach is much more dignified for the children than bringing piles of donated second-hand clothing from Europe. Furthermore, the new superseded warm fleeces from the Collège du Léman school shop were very gratefully received by the children during these cold winter months.


A basketball hoop with backboard was installed, and a netball court constructed. Existing playground equipment was repaired. The children enjoyed leaving their colourful handprints on the basketball support!


Besides playing with children or helping them with their reading and homework, the visiting students also got to know them better through writing activities. One of these focused on support for Dorcas, an orphan with a severe leg disability. Dorcas left Zambia in early July with an Australian team to travel to Melbourne where the ‘Children First’ organization have organized leg surgery and post-operative support for her. The photo below shows Dorcas meeting Joshua, an orphan from the HMP orphanage at Chibobo – Joshua had similar surgery in Australia through ‘Children First’ last year.

All 44 children from SOCH travelled with the CdL group to the HMP Chibobo orphanage where there were inter-orphanage matches in soccer and netball.


The group established a great reputation within the Serenje community through their excellent behavior and respect for local culture. In particular, a memorable basketball game on the first weekend between the SOA group and a local adult side saw the visitors win convincingly and make new friends.


Whilst the fish-farming project has been disappointing this year due to a dwindling water source (caused by a leak in the water furrow which usually provides water to the pond), the new chicken-run project is reaping significant rewards for the orphanage. One of the students examined the chicken-run project as part of a micro-financing study. This project is managed by the gardener who also tends to a fairly large vegetable garden. More fruit trees were purchased by the group, and these were planted in the orchard area which was established in earlier trips.

Ryan Wilkie, an ex St George’s student who had previously visited the orphanage with a St George’s team, joined the CdL group as part of his Research project at the University of Durham. Whilst his report is still to be published, his preliminary findings are extremely supportive of the orphanage as an appropriate response to the issue of HIV/AIDS in Zambia.

The co-founders of the orphanage, Alois Mwansa and Kevin Gilbert, have decided to pursue an element of self-sustainability for the orphanage through the establishment of a local Serenje Guest House plus a local hammer-mill (for the grinding of maize to make mealie-meal).


A draft budget has been prepared, based on realistic wage increases for all workers at the site. This budget provision has been assisted by the weakening Zambian Kwacha (down 30% on its value at the last budget). There has also been a decision made to allow interchangeability of Carers and Cooks (this flexibility is necessary) as well as Gardener and Watchmen (to allow 4 weeks paid annual leave for all workers).


The final days of the trip were based in Livingstone where the group viewed the famous Victoria Falls and enjoyed a day and night in Chobe National Park.

The group also visited the Kasanka National Park for a weekend excursion from Serenje where they enjoyed a restful break plus a very cold swim in the Kundalila Falls.

In summary, the trip was an outstanding success. The students were exemplary in terms of their behavior and self-motivation. The lives of the orphans and those of the trip participants were greatly enriched from the experience. 

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