Nine people travelled to Zambia for three weeks in 2008 on a Social Justice Educational Study Tour organized by CJI. The tour was designed to help Canadian educators deepen their understanding of international social justice and to enable them to use what they learned with their students and the people they work with. Tim Wild shared his impressions:
Zambia is a resilient place. Sure, at first blush, it is easy to get lost in the facts, the figures and the enormity of injustice. The low ranking of Zambia in the United Nations’ Development Index, the AIDS prevalence rate, the crushing number of orphans, the tragic impact of structural adjustment, and the decline of commodity prices can paint a pretty bleak picture of conditions in the country – and, initially at least, its prospects for the future.
But this problem-based focus fails to portray the social, economic, political and cultural vitality of Zambia. It also does not reflect what Zambians are doing to confront these undoubtedly significant challenges, develop their communities, and create a more just, humane and inclusive society. Fortunately, I was able to witness this more positive side of the equation first hand, when I visited Zambia on a CJI Study Tour.
In large part, this positive side is grounded in the notion of community and reciprocity. As we were reminded by Fr Peter Henriot SJ in Lusaka, Ubuntu, essentially the relationship of the “I” to the “we” in community, is a central principle to many dimensions of Zambian life. There remains a sense that collective action is required to meet the vast and impersonal forces of modern society. And application of this principle was plain to see in the projects and initiatives we had the opportunity to experience.
The increased availability of anti-retroviral drugs has helped in the management of HIV and AIDS. People can remain in their own communities with the necessary supports and services, which together with the provision of micro-credit schemes, are due to the work of home-based care communities. The Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) is working with local farmers on expanding the role of organic farming and collective marketing; as a result there is higher yield, less impact on the environment, more independence from external factors and forces, and greater savings to the producer. These projects – as with many of the other initiatives we visited – reflect the undeniable benefits of community working together, and the role that international partners can play in supporting this work.
At root, the tour provided an opportunity to see effective examples of Catholic social teaching in action. For me, it was a movingly spiritual journey, and helped in my realization of the wider, global and theological dimensions of Ubuntu.