Vision Aid Overseas – Helping the World to See

Margaret Murray and fellow vulonteer from VAO

Margaret Murray and fellow volunteer from VAO

Sight is one of the precious gifts that the almighty God has bestowed to humans and, of course, other members of the animal kingdom. Sadly, however, many lose it because they lack access to facilities where they can receive help when eye problems start. It is for this reason that volunteers from Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) in the United Kingdom have come to Zambia to establish eye clinics in all provinces and offer training in refraction to the local people.

VAO is relatively not new in Zambia. According to Country Program Director Karen Edwards, that charitable organization has existed in Zambia as a Non Governmental Organization for the past 13 years. During her voluntary work in Zambia she has worked side-by-side with the Ministry of Health.

The organization has recently embarked on a three-year program to empower the trained Zambians so that even without external aid they can provide corrective measures to those who have irregularities with sight. Mrs. Edwards disclosed that in the first year of the program they are giving 100% aid. In the second, they will provide 50% and 25% in the third year. Thereafter, the Zambian government will continue providing all the necessary help.

To get the program under way, there was a team of five optometrists from VAO who were training Zambians to carry on the work when they left. Those UK based volunteers footed their own bill for travel, stay and acquisition of equipment. Quiet commendable!

During their stay in Zambia they incorporated the training with free eye tests and provision of spectacles to patients in needs at a cost which was as good as free. Very fancy fully fitted spanking new eyeglasses were ranging from K10 (US$1.6) to K100 (US$16). That swanky type which is sold at about K1000 (US$160) by commercial opticians and worn only by the elite was going for a mere K200 (US$ 33).

SAM_1694The money raised from the sale of the specs will be used to sustain the clinics. Surely for the wide range of frames to be maintained and satisfy patients of all classes, money will be needed. Patients can choose the frames in the dispensary ably manned by fully trained optical dispensers Namakau Mulezimu and Harrison Mukonde. These two can advise which frames can fit well without causing any strain.

VAO also established a vision center at Ndola Central Hospital (NCH). That exercise, according to team leader Margaret Murray, was a success. Indeed it was because the lab for making the spectacles is now running at full capacity.

Ms. Murray further explained that their plan is to set up eye clinics in all provinces of Zambia so that patients won’t have to travel to Ndola or Lusaka for eye tests. Instead, they will be tested where they live and if it is established that they need glasses, only their prescriptions will be forwarded to Ndola by the quickest means. When the glasses are made, they will promptly be sent back to the patients.

For two consecutive weeks, many residents of Ndola who have and who don’t have eye problems went there to be tested. Those who were found to be in need of glasses were advised on which lenses they needed for reading and/or distance. Even those who needed just sunspecs received attention.

Ms. Murray said, “Everyday we attended to an average of forty-five patients.” Such a response can only be described as successful and in agreement with VAO’s slogan: ‘Helping the World to see.’

The two weeks exercise which they did in Ndola was not the end; it was only part one. “There will be part two in October and, thereafter, part three,” Ms. Murray promised. So those who missed part one only need to take heart; more is coming.

Stephen Monde working on a glazing machine

Stephen Monde working on a glazing machine

In fact, as the Country Program Director disclosed, after setting up a glass making lab at NCH, VAO in Zambia has plans to establish another one at Chainama Hospital in Lusaka. Outreach programs are also in the pipeline. This means that even those who live in areas where there will be no clinics will be cared for.

Lameck Mfune measuring a lens power using a foci-meter machine

Lameck Mfune measuring lens power using a foci-meter machine

Felistus Mulendema making a former using a former cutter

Felistus Mulendema making a former using a former cutter

 

 

 

 

 

 

VAO did not make the whole exercise a success on its own, there were Zambians who played key rolls. Mrs. Edwards did not hesitate to give credit to Dr. David Mwitumwa, the program assistant in Zambia, whom she described as a key man in the establishment of the lab for making glasses at NCH. National Eye Health Coordinator Dr. Muma Mulenga, based at Ndeke House in Lusaka and Mr. Metela Lukavu who is the Optometry Clinical Officer and Cataract surgeon also contributed to the success of the program.

Others are Dr. Misa Funjika, Senior Medical Superintendent at NCH and Dr. Malawo Dante. The entire NCH management also received praises from VAO for paving way for the smooth running of the program.

With the opening of the fully equipped eye clinic on May 15, 2014 at NCH, Zambia is headed for a future of reduced blindness. What remains is to uproot the uncivilized belief found especially in the rural areas that glasses spoil eyes (of course using wrong glasses can impair one’s vision). Therefore, every glass-wearing Zambia must proudly correct that misconception and help more Zambians to see.

 

The Many Faces of the Zambia International Trade Fair

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During the past 50 years the Zambia International Trade Fair has seen significant transformation in terms of exhibition and gate charges – but mostly to the displeasure of the public. Those who visited the show in the seventies would attest to the diminished amusement that modern-day show goers are treated to.

In those years the main arena used to be a center of entertainment. There, paratroopers could demonstrate how they parachute from flying airplanes, there were bikers darting through flames of fire without being burnt and so many atypical displays of gymnastics. They are not there any longer.

Of course there are things about the show that have hung around for a prolonged period before they can be replaced, if ever. For example, the word ‘showcase’ has beaten our eardrums for a good number of years and it is quickly becoming a cliché. Let’s hope in the near future our reporters and exhibitors will sparsely use that word in connection with the trade fair. Terms like display, exhibit, unveil, demonstrate, parade, reveal – the list is endless – can be tuneful substitutes for ‘showcase.’

The main entrance has also maintained the same outlook since its inception some 5 decades ago. As you approach, you are greeted with the words “Welcome to the Zambia International Trade Fair” that are vividly inscribed on the panel above the gates. The theme and period of the fair, also written there, of course change every year. This year it was “Showcasing 50 Year of Business Transformation and Development.”

On major changes, we can talk about gate charges. Almost every year they are upped. This year an adult had to part away with K20 (about US$3) before being allowed to pass through the gates (an increase of 100% compared to last year). Those who did so saw the many faces of the fair; and these were quite diverse. Take a look at some of them.

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Dusty footpaths were common place. In them, solitary tenderfoots afraid of treading on forbidden ground wandered and saw what they commonly see in the compounds. Likely, they wished they had used their hard earned money elsewhere.

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However, the regulars saw much more because they knew exactly where to find what they wanted. These freely entered the stands that the tenderfoots from the compounds feared to even go near because they (stands) are characterized with nobility. To walk in, one had to radiate some kind of pageantry and speak good English – aristocratic foreign trade was flaunted there.

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For socializers who need to stay posted in the world of infotainment, there was never shortage of stands where they could spend time window-shopping. The exhibitors there had little to explain but a lot to show and sell. With the widespread of digital satellite TV and internet even in the houses of the commoners, the displays attracted many classes of people.

Those who are born during the e-age and who felt the urge to see where we started from were given that rare opportunity. Objects from the archives were brought in the open. It was great to see pictures of the basic kiln where Ndola Lime Company used to process their product and compare them with the state-of-the-art equipment that they use now.

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Zambia Railways also explained their metamorphosis from infancy when they transported people and goods using steam powered locomotives though maturity when they use diesel powered ones. (Had Professor Clive Chirwa stayed on as Zambia Railways Chief Executive Officer, probably an electric train would have been on display)

 

Actually, there was much more on display but most of it was what can be seen at any flea market or shopping mall. Whether or not there will be a major improvement in the next 50 years, it’s simply hard to tell.

IS BEING BLACK the ONLY CRITERION FOR BEING A PATRIOTIC ZAMBIAN ?

WRITTEN BY BRIAN MULENGA (via Facebook).

I will start by making a controversial statement. We black Zambians are racists. We hide behind our supposedly friendly nature but always we try to be more Zambian than other Zambians of a different colour.

There are pictures of the Zambian swimming team at the Commonwealth Games on social media and yes only one team member is black and the rest are white. This does not make them any less Zambian than Zambians of African descent.

Take the kids on the Zambian swimming team. Gomes, Goveia, Shone. These are real Zambian names and probably more authentically Zambian than some of the people who trade on their skin colour.This racism can be silly and rather stupid. Because some of these people , the kids on the swimming team, come from families that have been in Zambia for over 100 years and are Zambians by birth and citizenship.

Take the Shones. They are on the fourth or fifth generation of Zambians. They made Kasama home for a very long time and presently Shones can be found in Ndola as well as Kasama. They run one of the biggest trucking firms in Zambia called Kasembo transport. The Gomes family are also in transport are also in their fourth or fifth generation here. The Goveia family is very African with Goveias found in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and once again they can count on over 150 years of African history and over 100 years in Zambia.

Another time I saw naked racism was when the Millers put up a promotional video for their Lilayi Housing Development Estate. The insults and generally racist comments were disgusting. The central theme was “who let a white man have land in Lusaka?”

The Miller family spring from a civil engineer who laid the first railway into Zambia and liked it here. He started farming in Lilayi in 1904. 110 years later the Millers are still in Zambia and not only do they employ hundreds of Zambians but have repeatedly proved their loyalty to their home, Zambia by investing millions of dollars in Zambia. They stuck with Zambia when times where hard and have reaped well from their faith in Zambia.

Farmers House, Arcades, the Airtel Headquarters, the Stanbic Head Office. The root of this property empire was a farmers cooperatives, the Farmers Coop dating back to the colonial era. It owned Farmers House, Grosvenor House and operated out of a single row of offices where the building housing LUSE stands. As white farmers gave up on Zambia and left the Milers bought up their shares in Farmer’s Coop.

The foresight of the Millers, i.e. keeping faith and keeping to a goal i.e. one day Lusaka would provide world class real estate opportunities has paid off well for them. This is real long term vision.

Earlier on another forum people assailed the Galaun family over having large tracts of land in Zambia. According to prevailing opinion land is for indigenous Zambians i.e. black people. My response is no Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, Tumbuka or Mambwe is indigenous to Lusaka. They are as foreign as the Galauns and if foreigners (code for white people) should not own land in Lusaka then black foreigners (Lozi, Tongas, Bembas etc) are not welcome to it as well Give it back to the Solis and Lenjes the real owners of Lusaka and its environs. To me this is simply cheap greed and envy!!!

Racism is always illogical stupid and foolish. Take the anger against Galaun. How come no one hankers and chases after the massive empty tracts of land that can be found just outside Lusaka within 100 kilometers of the Post Office ? There is a direct road to Mkushi from Kasisi (not the familiar road up to Kapiri and then you go right. This one goes straight across empty grassland) which passes through kilometers and kilometers of empty savanna grassland. How come no-one makes noise about that ? Why do they hanker after the land that has been made green and productive by decades of hard work ?

Is being Zambian only associated with being black ? How about the reality of the fact that 90% of Zambians only arrived in Zambia in the last 300 years ? To put into perspective by the time Cape Town was being founded in 1652 the Bembas, Lozi, Lundas, Kaondes etc were all in DRC or Angola. The Ngonis are even more recent arrivals. They arrived in Zambia around the same time as David Livingstone in the 1840s.

So if we put this into context is a Zambian of white descent, fourth generation, who can show you graves of his family from as far back as 1905 less Zambian than a black Zambian who only knows his family tree back to 1950 ? Is an Ngoni less Zambian full knowing his family are South Africans who only arrived in Zambia in 1850 ? Or does the colour of the skin determine citizenship ?

For me actions speak louder than words. The Millers, Shones, Goveias, Coventrys, Kirbys, Benders etc are Zambian. They have proved it. They stayed when others left. They invested their savings here, they sweated and scraped.

One white acquaintance of mine always uses his Zambian passport and green NRC to devastating effect. He says producing it always shuts up people. Especially when he can not only put a village and chief there but also speak the language !!!! On one occasion he told me a stroppy policeman at a road block changed tone and claimed he was his cousin after they traded stories about common acquaintances back home at the village!

Zambia should take a leaf from the United States. Americans of every shade and hue proudly represent their country and they are proud to be Americans. When Zambians of a different colour try to do the same, a certain vocal minority always sink to the lowest common denominator, race.

We all know Mpezeni’s heritage. Zwagendaba was a general in Zwide’s army and was defeated together with Zwide at Qokli Hill by the mighty Shaka. How come I never hear anyone calling him and his invading army foreigners nor their descendnts and demand that he and the Moyos, Mkwananzis etc must give back the land they grabbed by force from the local Kunda and Chewa in Eastern Province?

[Editor: This thoughtful article was informally written by Mr. Brian Mulenga on social media.]

Reminiscing on the Naming of Heroes National Stadium

heroesIn whatever pomp, in whatever line of attack or lack thereof, the Heroes National Stadium has finally been opened. Hitherto, we can not completely ignore some ‘disaster’ in the route to its delayed commissioning; talk about delays in connecting electricity, water and access roads.

Now that it has been commissioned, we can say a lot about the road to its present state. Well, so much can be said but let’s just take a look at an incident that almost set Zambia on fire – the naming of the stadium.

Had it not been for the intervention of President Michael Sata, that newly constructed football stadium in Lusaka would have been named ‘Gabon Disaster Heroes National Stadium.’ Likely, that also would have developed durable tenacity between the Zambia Cabinet and the citizens.

Kambwili drops Gabon, DisasterThe name was forced down the throat of the nation through Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili but it received unprecedented criticism from all and sundry. Honorable Kambwili claimed that Cabinet had consulted widely before irreversibly settling for the ‘disastrous’ name. According to the minister, they picked on that name to honor the football players, military personnel and a journalist who heroically perished off the coast of Gabon in 1993.

However, from the torrential outpouring of censure against the name, it was self-evident that Zambians do not subscribe to gloomy nomenclature. Everywhere people were urging the government to sever the words ‘Gabon’ and ‘Disaster’ from that sentential name. But the minister maintained that time for debate had elapsed and no matter what, the name had already been ineradicably etched on the marble plaque.

For those who were uncomfortable with the length of the name, the minister still remained adamant and had a sneering suggestion for them. “If you feel the name is too long, you can simply call it Heroes, twaya ku Heroes (We are going to Heroes),” he said during a TV interview.

To reinforce the sports minister’s stance, Vice President Guy Scott referred to the nonexistent Dag Hammarskjoeld Memorial Stadium in Ndola (now a thicket) whose long name everybody was at home with before its demolition. “People simply called it ‘Dag,’” he reminisced, giving the citizens a leeway to sever the crap that they were not comfortable with. But officially the long name would remain intact.

From the foregoing, a name is not simply a term used to distinguish one thing from another; it carries with it essential character and reputation that identifies the named thing. That is why when one is privileged to name a public structure, one must consider the inclination of the stakeholders or else unnecessary debates may arise. If all are in agreement, everything runs smoothly.

For instance, when Mr. Sata named the stadium in Ndola after the late president Levy Mwanawasa, everybody welcomed the idea. All they asked for was the removal of some Chinese writings on the entrance which local soccer fans were not able to decipher. Since then, not a single voice has been heard against that name.

Even when the name of the founder of the historical Lusaka village, Chief Lusaaka, was obliterated form the panels at the international airport and replaced with ‘Kenneth Kaunda,’ the Ila (natives of Lusaka), didn’t revolt. (Before then, the airport was called Lusaka International Airport) For sure it would have been greed on their part to object the renaming of the airport when there are so many things named after their chief; including Lusaka General Hospital.

But what really is in a name so that it should be such a big deal to call or not to call a stadium ‘Disaster?’ Well, according to Mr. Kambwili, the name served as a reminder of those football players who died in pursuit of national glory. However, the citizens, who okayed memory of the deceased, utterly rejected the thought of ‘disaster’ anywhere near their prized sports ground. Furthermore, while their dislike for the name ‘Gabon’ is slowly waning, they still are not yet ready to attach that name to something as dear to them as a football field.

Levy Mwanawasa Stadium is so named in memory of the late president who is said to have initiated the idea of that world class arena. Dag also reminded the Zambians of the former United Nations Secretary General who died in a plane crash in Zambia in 1961 while on a peace keeping mission to the Republic of Congo.

We also have Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport in Ndola, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula Airport in Livingstone, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Clinic in Kabwe and many more. Thus far, it is easy to notice that most of the names belonged to people who are dead. In fact, some people feel that naming a monument after a living person does not have the same weight as it would if the person it is named after was dead.

But think for a moment: are dead people so indispensable that we should always turn to the grave when naming our infrastructure? We must start to learn to let go.

The point is, while names may serve as reminders of the dead who shaped the nation or indeed the world, they (names) must also incite us to appreciate the living that we can identify with. It would be good to see one of the national stadia in line for construction in Livingstone and Mongu named after a living hero. Even an activity that takes place in a structure can be its name as in the case of Soccer City Stadium in South Africa.

So the name ‘Heroes National Stadium’ is okay. It will not forebode undesirable disasters and death but instead it will fill the Zambians with life and successes – past, present and future. Even heroes who will emerge when this generation is long dead will be proud in the sports ground and take it as their own. But by no means will the name determine the outcome of the games that will take place there.

A Vendetta against Vedanta? – part 2

As calls for nationalization or increased taxation of Vedanta’s KCM mine in Zambia grow, it is interesting to find many people who believe that they are actually not being motivated by any sort of envy when they demand that KCM pays more in (backdated) taxes. They tell themselves that they are only demanding “fairness.”

The reason I know that such calls for “fairness” can not possibly be sincere is because of the obvious contradictions involved in the argument. I will ignore for now the obvious fact that KCM has in fact paid much more in taxes than any of the people who claim to have contributed more to the Treasury by simply granting (for argument’s sake) that they haven’t.

“The rest of us have been paying extremely high taxes from our incomes,” the argument goes, “KCM should pay its fair share. They’ve escaped by hiding their profits.”

Firstly, if you believe you pay too much in taxes, it does not make sense that you should wish for someone else to join you in that misfortune. Your demand should be that “the rest of us” who pay too much, should pay less. There are very few people who think that the taxes they pay to the Zambian government are OK. Almost everyone, especially those who make a bit more money than others, feel that these taxes are abusively high. To give a third or almost half of your income to the government just feels punitive and it feels like the government is punishing you (for succeeding), especially when there is nothing to show for such high taxes.

But if you feel those high taxes on your productivity and success are wrong, your demand should be that such taxes should be heavily reduced. You can not demand that such abuse should be extended to everyone who has allegedly been “hiding” from the reach of the arm of government. It’s not different from anything else where abuse or overpayment is involved: if you believe that you are being overcharged for a service, and then you discover someone who has somehow been escaping such abusive charges, would your anger be directed at the person who escaped such unfair charges or would you direct it at the person who is charging too high in the first place?

In fact, the Patriotic Front of president Michael Sata campaigned on this very principle before they came into power. For ten years, President Sata kept telling people that the government was abusing them with punitively high taxation, and he rightly focused their anger on government for such punitive abuse. The MMD government was “taking money from your pockets” and he was going to fix that by reducing all kinds of taxes and even eliminate many unnecessary ones, on individuals and corporations. The fact that so many people loved his message means that it resonated with them: the taxes are abusively high. What these same citizens should be demanding is that the president keeps at least this promise, instead of wishing the same abuse to be “backdated” on everyone who they think has escaped such abuse in the past. Their anger should be directed at the abuser, not the one who escapes it. I think that’s common sense, if sincerity is to be assumed.

Which brings me to the next reason why I think this demand for higher taxation is insincere.

It’s a contradiction I’ve never understood: why do so many people who believe that the government is corrupt and incompetent also want it to collect more money? If you believe that someone is a thief, why would you wish that they should receive even more money?

Many people who have always called for more taxation on the mines, whether it is “windfall tax” or increased corporate taxes etc, are also people who say that the MMD government was the most corrupt group of individuals to ever lead a country. And yet those same people say they are upset that the MMD didn’t collect even more money! You wanted “thieves” to collect more money?

This is happening even today. Ask an opposition politician if he thinks the PF uses the money it collects to benefit “the poor,” the opposition leader will reply “of course not. They are thieves who steal most of the money in the coffers through corrupt deals, and any of the money that is left is still mismanaged so that it does not really benefit the poor. That’s why we want to take over government.” If you ask the same politician if the government should raise taxes on the mines, he will say “yes, those greedy mines should be paying more in taxes so that the poor can receive some services from government.”

That’s confusing. Why do you want a government that steals and/or wastes most of the money it collects, and that allegedly does not care for the poor, to collect even more money in taxes? The truth is that that politician is not being sincere in at least one of those positions since there is an obvious contradiction. And it is not just the politicians, it is also other people who claim that they are just being objective when they make these demands for higher taxation on others, while also saying they don’t trust the present or former government to ever use the money for its intended purposes.