Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Jones

Welcome to the latest installment of UP Zambia’s Volunteer Spotlight Series which showcases the phenomenal volunteers that give of their time and energy (often coming thousands of miles) to help bring freedom to Zambia's incarcerated youth. This series allows you to hear from volunteers from a wide-range of backgrounds describing their experience working with UP Zambia. Thanks so much to Chris Jones for the skills you brought to our organization and your commitment to the UP Zambia mission!

 Chris Jones joining our volunteer team for Saturday Visits at Kamwala Remand Correctional Facility. The day's activities included a quiz tournament with three rounds of questions that covered the topics of Geography, Zambia Facts, and Sports. 

Chris Jones joining our volunteer team for Saturday Visits at Kamwala Remand Correctional Facility. The day's activities included a quiz tournament with three rounds of questions that covered the topics of Geography, Zambia Facts, and Sports. 

Musings of an Englishman

I had a wonderful time in March 2017 working as a volunteer for Sarah Larios at UP Zambia. So - what’s a grey haired 62-year-old from Sheffield, England doing at the end of the rainy season in Lusaka?

I’m a retired chartered accountant, who spent his professional life in multi-national groups, and I wanted to help worthwhile organisations in the developing world. Four years ago, I found an agency in London – Accounting for International Development (AfID) – that matches accountants, who are willing to give their time, with NGOs who need help attracting / retaining funding from the likes of USAID, DFID etc. Through this agency, I’d previously been to Mombasa, Kenya where I helped an NGO that worked with girls caught in commercial sex work, and to Ho, Ghana where I worked with an NGO that empowered people with disability in the rural Volta region. In both cases, I was blown away by the passion within everyone driving these NGOs.

With permission from my wife to leave her again in the cold English winter, I embarked on another “jaunt” in sunny climes.  I approached AfID and received details of three NGOs who needed assistance. I chose UP Zambia not only because they were a start-up who needed help on their financial systems and governance but mainly because I felt that their work with juveniles caught in the legal system was worthwhile. I hadn’t really appreciated that March was the end of the Zambian rainy season!

I was slightly reticent about working in a rapidly growing city of 2½ million people as I felt I could be lost and it may be difficult to get to know Lusaka. The guide books were also not too glowing, but my first impression of Lusaka was that it was much more developed and more affluent than the cities I had visited in Kenya and Ghana. The main roads were better and there were more buildings of real substance. However, Lusaka is certainly a city of contrast: there is a huge difference between the few wealthy areas and many poorer areas.

Sara managed to find a guest house for me in the leafy suburb of Kabulonga - an area with embassies, professional offices and large houses abutting Lusaka’s best golf course. And, despite the guidebook’s warnings, Sara assured me that an old bloke would be fine walking at night – just be careful of open drains! A kilometer away across a small airfield was Kalingalinga and UP Zambia’s office. Kalingalinga is an area of high density, single-story housing and, off the main roads, untarmacked streets interspersed among rows of 1960s-style shops. There, furniture makers display their wicker settees and chairs, metalworkers display their gates and water tank towers and numerous people sell items such as plants and crushed stone.

Every day, I would walk to the office. It was three kilometers round the airfield and took 30 minutes (or longer if it had been raining and I had to avoid some fairly extensive puddles). As I began to be recognised – an Englishman in an old Tilley hat – people would acknowledge me and occasionally would fall into conversation. There was one enchanting lady who ran a roadside stall selling eggs, fruit, crisps etc. who was frequently singing. I’m in a choir in Sheffield and tried to teach her “African Prayer” – originally a protest song in South Africa and now part of their national anthem – but without much success.

 Chris and our volunteers traveled to Kabwe to visit and play football, chess, and music with the juveniles at Kabwe Medium Correctional Facility. 

Chris and our volunteers traveled to Kabwe to visit and play football, chess, and music with the juveniles at Kabwe Medium Correctional Facility. 

As it turns out, there was little need to worry about getting to know Lusaka. Sara could not have been more inclusive. She invited me to numerous activities with her friends including The African Under 20's football finals. One of Sara’s friends managed to get tickets for a group of us to go to the final: Zambia v Senegal. A lifelong football fanatic, I’ve never been in such a vibrant crowd with vuvuzelas blaring away and everyone high fiving and hugging when Zambia scored. The Senegal team openly engaged in witchcraft (illegal in Zambia) by throwing a symbol into the Zambia goalmouth just before a Senegal free kick. Queue bedlam – FIFA’s rules didn’t cover this! Fortunately, Zambia won.

In the office, I was working from 08:30 to 16:30 each day. After 16:30, the roads become jammed (Lusaka is expanding so rapidly that the road network struggles to cope). Even walking on the roadside can be challenging as the multitudinous mini buses simply disregard you and drive anywhere they wish!

UP Zambia started in earnest in July 2016 and my first task was to upgrade their accounting records and prepare accounts for 2016. Having done this my next task was to introduce financial systems and controls for the future and, specifically, to support a contract which UP Zambia had just won from the German Embassy for a new project, Justice for Juveniles, which provides legal support for all juveniles coming before the magistrates’ courts in Lusaka in 2017.

AfID’s philosophy is to send volunteers to identify issues, mentor NGOs and train local staff to be self-sufficient. This is exactly what Sara wanted at UPZ. In the last two weeks of March, having set-up the financial records and systems and agreed these with Sara, I helped Sara recruit and train Kawelwa Siwale a 20-year-old with book-keeping experience, to become UP Zambia’s part-time Administrator.

Aside from my financial duties, I was fortunate to accompany UP Zambia’s enthusiastic volunteers led by Sara and fellow director, Kelly Kapianga, on Saturday morning prison visits. As we walked to the gates of the prison, the sound of singing floated over the walls. The juveniles were gathered in their compound lustily singing religious songs. These visits are UP Zambia’s opportunity to encourage the youth with activities and ensure that each juvenile is provided legal support. One of my abiding memories is the sheer boredom of the 80 plus boys living in two bare rooms and a walled yard the size of half a tennis court. It is a constant challenge for Sara to think of suitable activities but that day she prepared a quiz. The boys were split into three teams and I was very impressed with the clear respect the boys had for Sara and the UP Zambia volunteers. Once the legal needs of the boys had been identified, they were completely focused on the quiz and worked closely together in their teams to get the right answers. Every Saturday morning back in England, I now think of Sara and her weekly visits to the Kamwala Remand Prison in Lusaka.

To round out my trip, I took time for some sightseeing before the long journey home. Everyone told me that no trip to Zambia is complete without visiting Livingstone and, following Sara’s guidance, I had a delightful long week-end in Livingstone visiting the Victoria Falls and going to Chobe National Park in Botswana.

 Chris and our volunteers delivering child-friendly food donations to babies in Kabwe Female Correctional Facility. These little ones first few years of life are spent with their mothers who are serving sentences. 

Chris and our volunteers delivering child-friendly food donations to babies in Kabwe Female Correctional Facility. These little ones first few years of life are spent with their mothers who are serving sentences. 

Looking back on my trip, several things stuck with me. Just as I had been in Kenya and Ghana, I was touched by the passion Sara, her fellow directors, and all the volunteers I met showed for their work. The individual stories for many of the juveniles are quite harrowing, some are manifestly unjust and there is no doubt in my mind that UP Zambia provides invaluable support to the juveniles in a system that is weighed against them. Without UP Zambia’s intervention, many would be treated unfairly and some swallowed up without trace.

UP Zambia cannot survive on “fresh air“ and it needs financial as well as focused volunteer support. I hope that my five weeks in Lusaka has helped UP Zambia and allowed them to take a step forward to enable them to be self-sufficient for the long-term. I also hope it can inspire others to give of their time and talents, whatever they may be, to help support this worthwhile organization.

Undukumbukire - I will remember them.

Story by Chris Jones

- Chris Jones is a retired chartered accountant from Sheffield in the United Kingdom. He spent much of his professional life working with multi-national groups and currently volunteers with Accounting for International Development (AfID) helping worthwhile organisations in the developing world better manage their financial and strategic goals.