When you think of Africa, most people would imagine hot and arid weather, but after a 36 hour journey, with delayed flights, missed connections, and lost baggage, we arrived in the Copper Belt region of Zambia to very pleasant temperatures. With highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s, it was nice to pull out a sweater to keep warm while enjoying the Zambian evening.

I am here with colleagues from Elanco Animal Health to witness the gifting ceremonies of 140 goats and 42 draft cattle in the communities of Mpongwe and Masaiti. Elanco, a Heifer International corporate partner since 2008, is fully funding this project, which will assist 6,210 families in this region over the next 4 years. This hand-over ceremony will be the first animal placement of the project which began almost 1 year ago. Heifer is also partnering in this project with Village Water and the National Food and Nutrition Commission of Zambia.

Our day began with a visit to the Heifer headquarters in Ndola, the largest city in the Copper Belt Region, where we learned details about the baseline data collected in the project communities. This data will be collected at intervals throughout the project to let us know how we are doing, if the families are meeting the objectives and if transformation is taking place. This baseline will provide a starting point.
Most of the information shared today was heartbreaking:

  • 3 in 4 Zambians, or 76 percent, are unemployed
  • Interest rates range between 28 and 30 percent

In the communities where our projects will occur:

  • Just half of the population has attended primary school, and nothing beyond that
  • Slightly more than half, 53 percent, do not have enough food to last more than 7 to 9 months of the year
  • About 3 in 4 do not own latrines

For 1 in 5, the river was their only source of water, and a full 53 percent get their drinking water from unprotected wells. Not surprisingly, health and sanitation conditions in this area are rather dismal.

Close to two-thirds, 61 percent, fall into the low income status. This statistic was especially shocking when it was broken down further for us: in Zambia the average amount considered sufficient to feed yourself, live on—exist!—is $270 per month. Most menial workers in Zambia bring home around $90 per month. Our target families exist with an income far below even a menial worker, so low in fact that income cannot be measured easily since it is not consistent. Families will not have income unless they sell an asset to receive funds for medical expenses, or other emergency needs.

Although assets are not income, the average assets (belongings) owned by these families is around $220. (I thought of my recent bi-monthly trip to the grocery store to feed my family of 5. I believe I spent slightly more than that.)

One very positive piece of data we received: although food security is an issue, these families do not suffer from a lack of access to land—land that could be used for growing crops and raising livestock. This was good to hear and bodes well for the success of the project.

Our next visit was a courtesy call to the government offices of the Permanent Secretary of the Copper Belt Province, “Willie” Lombanya (Office of the President). We were very warmly greeted! Secretary Lombanya was aware of Heifer’s work in the region, but this was an opportunity for us non-Zambians to meet him and thank him for his support of Heifer’s work.

It was a great day full of facts and figures, and will help to set the stage for us tomorrow as we meet the families and begin to enjoy the festivities we came to celebrate!