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A Change of Perspective


I had underestimated how much cultural and geographic distance would so quickly affect my perspective on the issues which usually dominate my everyday life. Although I've only been in Zambia for just over a week, I already feel a growing disconnect from the endless cycle of Brexit updates, Twitter sagas and political trivialities which characterise the news agenda at home.

Even the regular social media updates from friends have lost their impact. In a society where the everyday struggles are against HIV, child pregnancy and gender-based violence, a Facebook meme or Snapchat story which only a few weeks ago may have amused me, seem trival. I'm no longer able to ignore the outrageous inequalities which scar our world when faced with them every day.

But between patchy WiFi signals and ridiculously cheap (albeit at times slow) 3G, I've been able to keep up to date with the broad brushstrokes of what's been happening back home.

And it must be said that it seems as if not too much has changed in the past week or so. The British government throwing a tantrum over the EU repeating what they had already all agreed about the Irish border shows that at least the Brexiteers' postmodern approach to truth appears to remain unchanged. And the continuing DUP-SF arguments in NI are an indication that unlike on previous occasions, the current political divisions will not be remedied by time alone.

But rather than the impending hard border or local political squabbles dominating the recent weeks' headlines, it's been the Day After Tomorrow-esque snowfall. However, the upsurge in unusual weather occurrences has not been isolated to the Northwest European Archipelago.

Here in Zambia, it's the rainy season (lasting from November to April). But it's not raining as much as usual. The days here have been marked by sporadic heavy showers, but I'm told that normally the rain would be constant. And elsewhere in the country there are reports of flash floods, previously unheard of. To us from Ireland, a reduced rainfall would seem like a blessing, but to a country with a large agrarian population, dependent on subsistence farming, the consequences of the changing climate could be far more severe... But I'm sure that even despite its extraordinary nature, recent meteorology has failed to change the minds of the renowned climate science experts in the White House or East Antrim.

I've just completed ten days' training with Restless Development in Kabwe (a city in Zambia's Central Province, a few hour's drive north of the capital, Lusaka), and have moved in with my host family in the rural Muwowo community. Along with other volunteers there, I shall be delivering sessions to local young people on topics such as sexual health and financial literacy.

The programme, funded by UK Aid, is called the International Citizen Service (ICS). It's implemented by many NGOs across the world, here in Zambia, Restless Development is bringing together UK and Zambian ICS volunteers (over 50 in total), to work across ten communities in the Kabwe area.

The past week's training have been fascinating - in terms about learning about Zambia in the sessions, but primarily in regard to getting to know the national volunteers. The cultural exchange has been mostly positive, but certain things -- a Zambian volunteer joking about domestic violence, the lack of outrage over the country's ban on same-sex sexual activity, and the countless examples of sexism I've witnessed already -- act as a reminder that no matter how often we in the West describe certain values and concepts as "universal", in practise, they rarely are.


Jack O'Dwyer-Henry is a co-founder of Challenges NI.

N.B. Any opinions expressed here are not endorsed by Challenges NI.

#JackODwyerHenry #DispatchesfromZambia

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