A Zambian Children’s Orphanage is a long way from Melbourne, but cooperation and mutual respect united cross-continent neighbours.
In May this year, nine students and three staff from Building Design, Information Technology, and building surveying travelled to the Serenje Orphans Children’s Home (SOCH) in North East Zambia to help with a range of different projects around the school grounds as well as assisting with day-to-day activities.
Trip organiser Tim Gilbert says this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been in the making for sometime and the philanthropic element behind it sits with real-life sustainable projects “The aim of the project was to carry out some actual projects that would assist the orphanage to become self-sufficient. For example, a guesthouse had been set up near the orphanage, owned by SOCH, with the plan for earning income by attracting travellers, which would in turn support SOCH so they didn’t need to rely on donations.
The team from Melbourne Polytechnic provided ICT training, enabling SOCH to set up AirBnB account and manage data for the operation.
Building Design students David Petrebski and Shanice Vishniakov, drew up plans for a future SOCH sports and leisure complex, which will be attached to SOCH Inn and act as another source of income to fund the orphanage. In addition, plans have already been drawn up based on the SOCH Management ‘wish-list’, and it is hoped that a future Melbourne Polytechnic students can return one day to assist with the construction and implementation of this process.
Tim says some of the older orphans wanted to stay on at the orphanage, but the management made a ‘tough love’ decision that any 18+ who wanted to stay on needed to be in study and learning a trade. Therefore, the decision was made to build a carpentry shelter/workshop so that the older boys and girls could be taught by the local carpenter. “This was our main objective – to construct the carpentry shelter for them to learn carpentry skills”
The Melbourne Polytechnic team, led by Carpenter/teacher Craig Cartwright together with the SOCH staff built a carpentry workshop in just four days. This trade-based workshop will provide skills and empower those at the school who have failed to qualify for University due to demographic factors such as local education and environment.
Upgrading the surroundings visually and technologically was a welcome addition in the form of freshly painted playground equipment, new shelves, WiFi installation and new computers. The group also cleaned up viruses that had infiltrated the computer systems and installed educational games for the children to learn from.
The group stayed at the SOCH Inn and the locals were extremely welcoming, Luke Howard, who also volunteered his time says “The local people were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us, in a manner you wouldn’t find in a big Australian city. People would greet us on the way, and word travelled across the town ‘Serenje’ immediately so that almost everybody we met knew that we were ‘the Australian group building something at the orphanage’!”
And last but not least, with the help of the orphanage Matron and the team from Melbourne Polytechnic, children returned from their school day to new sports shoes and clothing. Mr Angus Kamandete Chuma who is the principal at the orphanage said “everyone who participated got so much out of this trip, the group helped a lot with education by supervising homework and other educational activities. During socialisation time, games were being played and orphans felt really loved and supported”.
Tim says “as the leader of the group I couldn’t have been prouder of the image our students and staff projected to Zambia about Melbourne Polytechnic, and about Australians in general. Although we arrived at SOCH with a small set of clear project plans, we ended up doing so much more rewarding work that will enrich the lives of the children and the community as a whole”.