WHEN I told everyone I had been chosen to go on the Get Involved Globally trip with Missio Scotland, they were quick to point out that visiting the beautiful African country of Zambia would be the 'experience of a lifetime.' The more often this phrase was repeated, the more nervous I became and I started to question myself. What if I don't take full advantage of this experience? What if I waste my time? What if I actually don’t like it? All the questions were answered after having spent time there—I loved it.
I was ready to experience so much. I didn’t know what was in store for me and I guess because it did scare me a little, my excitement levels were higher than ever. I was lucky enough to travel to Zambia with some wonderful people I already knew from school but also with people who I didn't yet know and I can honestly say I’ve now made friends for life.
We stayed at the City of Hope complex with some of the girls who lived within it and who catered to our every need and couldn’t have been more generous and kind. The Salesian Sisters who run the complex welcomed us and helped to integrate us with the girls who lived there. It was a blessing in disguise to have met these lovely young girls at City of Hope and hear their stories, and in fact, realise that we’re not at all different. There was so many activities to take part in throughout the day and so much happiness and laughter from spending time with these girls, who have been through a lot in their lives already. It made me think that happiness and good times are still possible if you think of the bigger picture.
Every night we would pray the Rosary at 5pm. It was a special time for us all to be together in a sacred place and reflect on what had happened during the day and the impacts it had on us. Seeing how the young girls of City of Hope appreciated their faith and channelled it into hymns and prayers, really made me appreciate my own faith. It was truly amazing and my faith is something I'll never take for granted.
After praying the Rosary, the girls spent time studying and we endeavoured to help them. Witnessing the enthusiasm that these girls had for their education and undertaking work I struggled to do was fantastic. The fact that they truly loved and valued their education made me question why I’m not always as motivated as they are. It was one of many instances during my time in Zambia where I was forced to reflect and try to appreciate things that I maybe had taken for granted back home.
We visited many other schools during our stay. St Columba's High School in Lusaka West was one such school and I really enjoyed that visit. The pupils of the school put on a show for us to entertain us and display their talents. I was taken aback by their dancing and singing skills. They were just so amazing. When it came to our turn I was slightly embarrassed that we were a bit lacking in those departments. The staff and pupils made us feel so welcome and the students were delighted to be able to show us their talents. It was a really lovely experience.
Another of our visits took us to Providence Home, which had been arranged at short notice after we were forced to alter our plans. The home is run by sisters who originally come from India, but live and work there, caring for children who are disabled and to a greater or lesser extent have been abandoned. It was shocking to hear that many parents of disabled children in African countries are made to feel like their child is a curse on them. It was one of many heartbreaking stories we were told while there. The children in Providence Home had either mental health issues or physical health issues, and sometimes both. It was a touching experience that everyone tried to handle in their own way. I really enjoyed just sitting with them, getting to speak to them one-to-one and getting to know them. One thing I did learn is that even with both mental and physical disabilities, they never once showed any other emotion except happiness. They were smiling and laughing so much. That’s what really got me, just how happy they were. Although at first walking into Providence Home shocked me, I still remember their smiles and laughter today and, in a way, it makes me feel happy. I’m so glad I got the chance to experience it and meet the wonderful people within the home and also the sisters who run it. The sisters are true angels. They sleep there and one sister sleeps in the room with the children to make sure they feel safe and secure at night. They do so much for these children. It is so heartwarming to see the amazing work they do and how hard they work to give these kids a better life.
And it wasn't just Providence Home. I met so many religious sisters who have done so much work to help the likes of: disabled children, abandoned children and people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer as well as running schools and the like too. It was fantastic to see and gain an appreciation of just how much the Catholic Church does for people in need. It’s not highlighted enough and I was impressed at the amount of work that that religious sisters and priests were putting into different projects and places to ensure that people were safe and well. There is lack of recognition of the good work that the Catholic Church does. The work that they do is not without cost and without charitable organisations, like Missio Scotland, it would be a real struggle for them. It’s shocking that these organisations aren’t more widely known and supported more.
I couldn’t have had a more amazing experience in Zambia than I did. The culture, the people, the place itself—which is truly stunning—and the Catholic Church all inspired me. The trip made me think, realise and reflect upon everything that I have and appreciate it too. I’m so glad I took part in this trip to Zambia and it will live with me forever.