by Rory Murphy (Christian Brothers College, Cork)
Parents, siblings and friends all walked on eggshells around us when we arrived back from our two-week immersion project in southern Zambia. It was like they thought we’d greet them in the airport as catatonic shells of men, nihilists condemning the world to death. As if our experience had harrowed us to the point that we would no longer function when we re-entered the “normal world”. Some of the things we experienced during the project were undeniably challenging but the overriding emotion we all got off the plane with was much simpler than sorrow or guilt.
It was hope.
President Obama once told a small group of young people of about our age the following;
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope”.
We didn’t fill the world with hope, we didn’t save Africa and we may not even have changed lives. But we bettered them, if only for an hour. And the quote rings true. How could one not be filled with hope when walking out of Flamboyant Special School where disabled children came from miles around and receive some level of education where previously they’d have just been left at home? How could you weep for humanity when you see the sheer joy just a hurley can bring a group of children? Knowing we have a lifetime to make a difference, how could we end the project with anything less than enthusiasm?
To be joyful, though, is not to be naive, and the suffering we saw was not lost on us.
While our school was completing development on a state-of-the-art gym, Luyabolola Primary School in Mazabuka had to forbid students from entering their newest building for fear of it collapsing. Many of their students, we were told, ate their only meal of the day at school. A solitary tap spat unclean water in the yard, the only source for the whole student body. Here more than anywhere else, the clichés made perfect sense. The corruption was palpable, overt even but we were the only ones who could see it. The standard of education was piteous. The unfair distribution of wealth was as startling as it was distressing. But then the most accurate of clichés was the one that shocked us the most. The kids, everyone, really, was staggeringly happy. It’s a weak adjective to use but it’s apt. Unadulterated, unmitigated joy was plastered across every single of their faces.
This is a region that is starved of funding because it voted against the sitting President in the last election, an election that many suspect to be rigged. Job opportunities, for most, fall under two headings, the scythe or the dog collar. One in four are HIV positive. Infant mortality rates are sky high. And they were happy.
If negativity breeds negativity, then the opposite is certainly true. Their hope breeds hope. Their joy breeds joy. Their unwavering belief that they will be doctors and engineers and architects and that their lives will be better than that of their parents is as inspiring as it is heartrending. If they believe that they can rise above all the disadvantages dealt to them and make something of themselves, how can we not believe that we are able to make a difference over the course of our lives?
All views and opinions expressed in this article are the views of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of SERVE or our partner organisations.