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Aileen McCallan in Zambia – Post 5

Aileen McCallan is in Zambia to produce a documentary on food security for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. This is the fifth of her many posts which are also available on Aileen’s own blog site: Aileen in Zambia.

29th September 2010

Meeting the Irish Ambassador

In the last few days I have been extremely busy conducting interviews, meeting people and visiting a number of farms, schools, orphanages and churches in the area of Chisamba. I have spoken with a number of people and recorded their views and opinions for a radio documentary on food security and issues that are helping and hindering food security in Zambia.

During such visits I have had the privilege to meet the Irish Ambassador of Zambia, His Excellency, Tony Cotter. I arrived at the Irish Embassy offices last Friday afternoon. I had been informed beforehand that the offices would be closed but His Excellency had kindly agreed to meet me there on his return from Mazabuka, aware that he was unavailable during the rest of my stay in Zambia.

I arrived at the Embassy a little early.  Just outside the gates I was about to prop myself on a low wall, to catch a few rays, when Marylee, the second secretary, invited me in to wait in His Excellency’s office. A short time after the Ambassador arrived. He shook my hand and in true gentlemanly style apologized for being a little late.

Shaking off his jacket he settled into a chair next to me and asked me how things were in Donegal. I imparted some information about myself, ICRfm and the radio documentary I was producing thanks to the Simon Cumbers Media Fund and Inishowen Community Radio. He told me a little about his role but when he admitted being from Cork a brief discussion ensued about the All Ireland final that took place the previous Sunday. As I am originally from Tyrone I had been quietly supporting Down in the final and didn’t really want to say too much about it.

Still, one has to give credit where credit is due, and as the Ambassador was grinning from ear to ear I didn’t want to burst his bubble, so I agreed with him that Cork did well, considering it was fifteen years since they had won!  (I didn’t tell him I was feeling a little sore for Down. After all Sam Maguire is now so much part of Ulster football it doesn’t even have to pay rent and sure even Sam is entitled to a holiday!) It was clear from His Excellency that he hoped Sam and the Liam McCarthy cup will take up permanent residency in Cork but they probably will have to wait another fifteen years if Tyrone has anything to do with it!

Ok… rant over. Thankfully His Excellancy didn’t hold it against me as he gave me a very good and thorough interview on the work of Ireland and Irish Aid in Zambia.

In his interview the Ambassador spoke about the very long standing relationship Ireland has with Zambia and the positive ongoing relationship with the people of Zambia.  He explained how the Ireland-Zambia relationship was initiated at the beginning of the last century by the arrival of the Irish missionaries when they became very involved particularly in education and health in Zambia. His Excellency applauded their work and was keen to publicly acknowledge the enormous and unique contribution made by the missionaries not only in Zambia but Africa and the rest of the developing world. He said “The Irish missionaries leave a legacy behind them and it should not be forgotten.”

On speaking of the relationship of Ireland and Zambia he recalled how he met the First President of the Republic of Zambia, President Kenneth Kaunda, who was in office from 1964 until 1991 shortly after he arrived.  President Kenneth Kaunda talked about the particular support given by the Irish missionaries, especially the support he and his family received while he was in custody himself.  As a consequence, Ireland was the first country he visited in 1964 which highlighted the strong relationship that had developed between Ireland and Zambia at that time.

His Excellency went on to highlight the work achieved over the last three decades and how Irish aid has made a significant contribution to a number of areas education, health and communities here.

Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (right), Patron of Habitat for Humanity Zambia, greeting the Irish Ambassador to Zambia, Mr. Tony Cotter at a project launch to build houses for at least 320 orphaned and vulnerable children, one of the many projects Ireland and Irish Aid supports in Zambia.

He also commended a number of non-government organizations for their own unique contribution, organizations such as Concern, Self Help Africa, Camara and many others. He talked about the significant contribution that has been made to Zambia economy by the private sector referring to the areas of agribusiness, tourism and industry, creating employment and development opportunities that contributed to the overall support from Ireland to the development of Zambia.

In the view of Irish aid, education is key to development. The Ambassador stressed that development is not possible without good quality education. Education is the primary focus for Irish Aid’s programme in Zambia. The fund aims to improve access to education and increase enrolment by building new schools and expanding existing ones; improve the quality of education through increased teacher training and deployment, development new curricula and educational materials.  In the last 5 years 2,000 classroom and over 5,000 teachers has been put in place in the educational system in Zambia. Irish Aid also supports a number of community-based organizations that work in the education sector.

Aid project that helps children orphaned by AIDS in a large slum on the edge of Kabwe, Zambia.

On the HIV/AIDS catastrophy of 1984 he referred to the one million men woman and children that had died. This meant that the AIDS virus had wiped out a whole country of doctors nurses teachers accountants, all the professions you need to build a country. The virus has had a devastating and long lasting impact on Africa as a whole. However progress has being made and treatment facilities have improved and Zambia is likely to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on gender aid and education.

On hunger the Ambassador reported 45% of children under 15 in Zambia suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. He talked about the success of the social cash transfer programme that makes a small payment to selected persons, equivalent to seven euro a month that is making a huge impact on the families’ lives and livelihood. Prior to this payment each household helped by the scheme only got one meal per day, now each family is receiving 3 meals a day and accessing education. For a very small payment to each family the impact of this programme has been substantial. It also enables families to buy small household animals such as chicken calf’s pigs which may seem very little but provides the families to make money and climb out of the poverty trap that they are in.

An irrigation project funded by Irish Aid

The Ambassador recognized the strong economic progress made in Zambia over the last five years, a growth that is more than 6%, but continues to see the need for Irish Aid to reach those sections of the population who remain most vulnerable to poverty, including rural communities, families affected by HIV/AIDS, hunger, women, children and others.

Finishing off the interview he offered his aspirations and hope for Zambia, his fondness for the Zambian people and his wishes and beliefs on how the country can and will succeed. He also offered his aspirations for the Cork football and hurling GAA teams and a tongue in cheek message for Donegal GAA supporters. To hear what he had to say I will be posting the date and time of the documentary on this blog before it is aired on ICRfm.ie and on www.icrfm.ie.

Please Note: The views and opinions expressed in blogs under the Simon Cumbers Media Fund are those of the journalist and / or their interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government.