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Reflecting on Zambia, by Senan Gardiner (ex-NYCI) and Martin Ryan (ex-No Name Club)

In this article, two participants from the NYCI Development Education Programme’s 2009 Zambia-Ireland Exchange reflect on the experience two years on. Martin Ryan was the CEO of the No-Name Clubs and was based in Kilkenny. Senan Gardiner was the Development Education Project Officer with NYCI and administered the exchange in Zambia. Martin is now a regional manager with Alzheimers Action Ireland, and Senan is the education officer with the Irish Wildlife Trust. Below they reflect on their experience.

What was the purpose of the exchange and in particular, visit to Zambia?

Martin: The visit was to learn and to share, to learn from similar agencies in a majority-world country and to share our experience and learnings with fellow youth and community workers.

Senan:  The visit was all about enabling an immersive dialogue for youth workers to see and really get involved in the many different roles that youth work takes in Zambia and Ireland.

What were your own personal motivations for getting involved?

Martin: I really wanted to find out how the agencies worked in Zambia – agencies that were set up in response to issues – e.g. young people with HIV and AIDS, working with homeless young people – how they were set up and how they worked on a day-to-day basis. Coming from a history of working with youth services, working with young people and volunteers – I wanted to see how this worked in Zambia.

Senan:  Working with the NYCI development education programme at the time I was excited to be the NYCI representative over in Zambia. My personal interests in education for sustainable development and working with LGBT groups meant I was also interested in seeing the crossover with youth work in these areas.

Group of youth workers involved in the Zambia-Irish exchange 2009  

Youth workers involved in the exchange 2009  

What preconceived perceptions did you have of Zambian life?

Martin: I had worked in development work previously in Malawi, out in a rural area, so I felt that Lusaka would be similar, but was far more urban and had better infrastructure.  However the warmth and hospitality was the same in each country! Also the eagerness to which Zambians engage in conversation and listen was a startling quality for me, as in Ireland I feel we “switch off” a lot of the time.

Senan: Having travelled in South America and South East Asia I felt there was a greater emphasis on personal safety in Zambia, from people having drivers to the walled compounds of the state organisations and NGOs we visited, even our hostel was walled, of course in Dublin everything has security alarms and cameras, hence no need for high walls, but it still struck me. What I really enjoyed was the reappropriation of these walls to deliver health messages on HIV/AIDS or to use as a mural. There was a much stronger religious ethos, which I did expect.

Mural in Zambia
Educational Mural, Lusaka


What preparation did you do in advance of the trip?

Martin: We worked together as a team to research the groups we were going to visit as well as team-building exercises.

Senan: NYCI organised two meetings for all the team to get together beforehand – it was actually a mandatory part of the exchange as we felt that the team needed cohesiveness and to be able to basically ”get along”. I’m glad we did because at times we needed to lean on eachother as at times the pace of things was stressful.

Martin: Well, I’d say “tiring” more than “stressful”, we visited a lot of organisations in a short period.

Senan:  …in sweltering weather too!

What was the outstanding highlight from the visit to Zambia?

Martin: The excursion with the YMCA to go and work with streetkids who were no older than my nephew, these young people of ten or younger who were so tough yet so vulnerable, and that there was an organisation helping them, that stuck with me for a long time.

Senan: Developing a youth workshop for 50 young people was a special experience. We split the groups at points and each worked on differing global justice issues with our subgroups through use of body-mapping, visioning and moving debates. I remember a young person replying to a question on whether people should be paid the same in Zambia and Ireland who told me that the economies of the two countries were radically different and to do so would mess up the economy of both countries, and that the question was ridiculous. When I asked this question back in Ireland, there was interestingly far more support for equalising pay among the same age group.

What were the specific issues that stood out for you from Zambia?

Martin: Child Trafficking stood out for me as the South African World Cup was coming up and there was a lot of talk about how to crack down on children being trafficked from Zambia. Each issue seemed to have at least one NGO working on it, including Transparency International that was very vocal on government corruption in Zambia, which I felt was starkly different from Ireland.

Senan: A topic that was still being discussed was the USAID’s previous stance under the Bush administration of solely funding NGOs that only promoted abstinence as a form of HIV prevention. I still remember a few upturned eyes when discussing how certain NGOs reminisced on these times and the red tape they had to get through to work with sex-workers and provide contraception education.

As a youth worker, what were the differences, similarities and struggles?

Martin: Similarities were definitely funding, we both have our struggles for funding, however I’d say that the Zambian organisations got better value for money from what funds they got. There was, what seemed to me, a greater emphasis on training and capacity building of staff in Zambia and this was published and shared with us – another difference – training manuals are far rarer in Ireland.

Senan: I agree with Martin on the greater emphasis on capacity building of staff. A struggle I noticed was that there was no provision for LGBT youth in Zambia and legally homosexuality is criminalised. However I did get an email address of a group which campaigns for equal rights while I was there, but unfortunately they couldn’t meet during our schedule. The level of secrecy and subterfuge involved in getting that email and questions I was asking myself “if I met this group and the police raided, what then?” really brought home to me how far LGBT rights have advanced in Ireland, and the learnings we have in working with LGBT youth that we could really “bring to the table” in future exchanges. In contrast to this conservatism, some of the work the groups did with HIV/AIDS education was far more “advanced” in its scope and audience from flash street theatres to contraception education with under-twelves.

What was the work expected of you during the trip, and your reflections on this?

Martin: We were expected to share a lot and visit a lot of organisations in a quite limited time frame. I felt that each day was packed. Reflecting on the experience I felt we could have focussed more on less projects, but the range we did see gave me a fantastic insight into many different types of youth and community work that goes on in Zambia.

Senan: In my role in Zambia, I had to organise the trip on the Zambian side, including keeping the itinerary, administrating the budget and fire fighting any issues that arose. It was a very exhausting and intense experience. We also had to come back and share with the organisations we worked with and set up a Facebook group afterwards, which is still active and if anyone’s interested in asking us further questions, it can be found here.

What do you feel you brought to the exchange?

Martin: Youth work experience, information on my own work, and a sense of respect for the work and the differing struggles that these organisations have.

Senan: My love for transformative education such as ESD as well as bringing a good bit of knowledge on global justice issues such as climate change.

What personal learnings did you take from the exchange?

Martin: The ability to be creative with resources – the groups we met were so creative with their limited budgets. I took hope and encouragement that the work we do over here is replicated in other countries even if the audience may come from different backgrounds, the ways we work to develop young people works regardless. I found a sense of community amongst the people there who were empowering and building the capacity of youth in Zambia.

Senan: A curiosity to reexplore development issues, and examine in depth the different thinking that explores the concept of “what is developed” and consider our wasteful consumption. The whole time after the exchange I’d find myself drifting back to how to reeducate for a sustainable worldview – one that bypasses the failed “American dream” and goes straight to valuing diverse yet localised sustainable and peacable culture. I believe we’re all developing toward that.

For more information on No Name Club, click here.