Heat, hope and HIV: Student reflections on a Zambian summer

by Alison Dow, fourth-year student studying geography

I’ve never been someone to miss an opportunity, so when the chance arose for me to travel to Africa this summer I couldn’t let it pass me by.  Project Zambia is run through the Athletic Union and Student Services, placing students in Zambian schools and communities in order to coach sports and lead sessions on HIV/AIDS education.  After months of fundraising, I joined three St Andrews students in a flight to the capital, Lusaka.

In Lusaka I worked at Fountain of Hope, a boys’ orphanage and mixed community school which has recently been visited by Ban Ki-moon and Princess Anne during their respective visits to Zambia.  As the student from St Andrews representing Student Services, I was particularly interested to see how people living here manage to live in poverty and yet still have a very positive attitude to life.

When I first arrived at Fountain of Hope I was struck by the upbeat atmosphere of the place and immediately felt part of their community.  It is remarkably easy to forget that many of the children here used to be on the streets or are orphans, as the staff work so hard to give these children a real chance for the future.  I taught English and Maths some mornings in the school.  Having 50 children all with varying understandings of English, and only chalk and one textbook, made me realise how easy it is to take education for granted in the UK.

Whilst I found the coaching aspect a little challenging (I myself can barely kick a football and I was coaching a team of 30 boys, all with ball skills I could only envy!), the determination and charming nature of the children made this a fantastic experience.  Also, coaching in the African sun presents its own difficulties, particularly as a red-headed Scot who’s more used to battling the St Andrews north wind!

St Andreans get everywhere.  During a weekend visit to Victoria Falls, we watched the Olympic opening ceremony, featuring (to my surprise) one of my fellow travellers in the Chariots of Fire scene.   As we sat watching, I was astonished to hear a familiar voice call my name: the Pedal Africa team had arrived on their journey across the continent, raising money for One Water and the St Andrews Charity Campaign!

After spending 6 weeks in Lusaka, I moved out to the rural village Liteta with my fellow St Andrews students.  Here we experienced a completely different way of life, living with a local family in the African bush with no running water or electricity.  As well as continuing to coach sports and lead HIV/AIDS awareness sessions with the kids from across the region, we also ran workshops for the Zambian peer leaders.

Project Zambia has been an unforgettable experience and one that has given me a greater appreciation of the small things in life.  It was an honour to meet so many inspirational people during an adventure I never anticipated when I first arrived in St Andrews.


Project Zambia students, along with staff seeking professional development, travel to Zambia to live and work in the communities, schools and orphanages for the summer months in conjunction with the Zambian organisation Sport In Action.  To finance their missions, students fundraise throughout the year.  If you would like to support their efforts, visit our website.

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One thought on “Heat, hope and HIV: Student reflections on a Zambian summer

  1. Pat Tsekouras (nee Renwick) MA 1967 says:

    Alison, what a wonderful opportunity for you – an experience that will truly stay with you for the rest of your life. After I graduated from St Andrews way back in 1967 – things were very different then! – I went off on VSO to teach French in Ghana for a year. I missed it so much after I returned that I went back for a further two years on a contract with the Ghanaian Ministry of Education. Your remark about a piece of chalk and one textbook certainly rang a bell, though technology has changed so much in the past 40-50 years that I believe even remote places now often have access to the Internet and mobile telephony. I wish you every success in your chosen career – and I’m sure you will always feel drawn back to both Africa and St Andrews (I am currently in the throes of organising a reunion next year of a group of friends who met when we first went up, 50 years ago!)
    Best wishes, Pat Tsekouras (nee Renwick) MA 1967

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