Acoura assist with food safety project in Zambia
24 September, 2015
In September 2015 I travelled to the Robert Shitima Project in Kabwe as a Trustee of its fund-raising charity, Zamcog (www.zamcog.org.uk). The Orphanage and School takes 446 street kids from the largest shantytown in Sub-Saharan Africa many of whom have no family at all because generations have died from AIDS.
The Project provides an education, and for those who need it, a safe place to live. When children leave school, transitional housing is being provided (and more is currently under construction) to give them somewhere to live whilst they wait for their exam results and either find work or go to tertiary education if they get a bursary or can find sponsorship.
Last time I visited I taught every child and member of staff about the importance of hand washing and how to do it; a bar of soap for everyone was provided by Unilever. Soap dispensers were purchased and put up with the help of the older students in the shower rooms at the Homes, in toilet blocks and the kitchen and I have pledged to replenish stocks when needed. The metal work skills students made cages to cover the dispensers to ensure they would withstand heavy wear and tear and would stay in place, and they are still there a year later!
This time I took the hygiene theme further and decided that a Food Safety Level 2 course would be useful for 20 staff and senior students with materials kindly donated by Acoura. The course was to be useful for a number of reasons; kitchen staff needed to have training as they cook for over 450 people per day; as the school is trying to get registration with the government it now gets inspected, and food safety is important from that point of view apart from the obvious need to serve safe food. In addition, some staff and ex-students are involved in broiler chicken production, others in vegetable production and some were patrons and matrons in the children’s homes within the school, and as such prepare food for the children in the evenings and for breakfast. Some of the older children are hoping to become employed in the hospitality industry – there is great excitement as Pizza Hut is setting up in Kabwe, and having a food safety qualification could be very useful.
The challenges began before I arrived – our normal course materials weigh a lot as we use a workshop approach with no Powerpoint but I was restricted by baggage allowance. When travelling to the Project, every gram is carefully considered – mosquito nets or footballs, books or coats. However, my laptop is light weight, and I decided to go with that, as another request had been (following an enforcement inspection) for white coats for kitchen staff, which was timely, as we had many Hygiene Audit Systems coats which were to be replaced with those bearing the Acoura brand.
However, rain has been very scarce for two years in this part of Africa, and this means that hydro-electric power is failing. The area is experiencing frequent 8 hour power cuts, usually scheduled, but sometimes random, and the day available for training was under threat of having no power for much of the day. As I like to show photographs (usually printed and given out to groups to discuss) this was going to prove tricky. Luckily the schedules were changed and we had uninterrupted supply all day.
When discussing temperature control, the 8 hour power cuts cropped up again as there is a real potential for foods to defrost, refreeze and defrost. We discussed ways of helping to secure the cold temperature during such eventualities, and came up with an idea to make an ice blanket with potable water in bags which could be laid on top of the frozen foods (normally mostly their own raw chickens) to fill the freezer to capacity in the hope that the food underneath would keep at least under 0 for longer. Strict interpretation of prescriptive standards quickly changes to what is most pragmatic and a risk based approach has to prevail. They hadn’t got a probe thermometer so were puzzled about how to take temperatures – fortunately I had brought one with me, and remembered not to take it as hand-luggage.
However the Project doesn’t yet have a chiller – it’s on the CAPEX list but most of the food is dried or frozen and all is cooked daily, probably by far the safest in the circumstances. Since I was at the School last year, improvements have been made to the floor, work-surfaces and drainage in the kitchen which is now very smart and easy to clean.
Pest control was interesting – some of the ex street kids viewed mice and wild birds as food, rather than as pests! The windows have no insect screens, but they actually also have no glass, so a discussion on this in the course led to a request for screening to be put into the budget for the kitchen – however with so many children to feed and educate, and no government funding, all the money raised by Zamcog has to go where the need is greatest.
During the exam, I was horrified to see one mature lady was holding the exam paper at arms length – she had long sight and no glasses – this just doesn’t happen in a UK class and it had not crossed my mind. Fortunately my prescription was suitable and she continued in comfort, but had to rub out all the crosses she had made on the paper as she had put them in the wrong place the first time round. Even more fortunately, I had received 20 pairs of glasses of various prescriptions and was able to give her a pair to keep the next day.
The kids at the project are the lucky ones – they have been given a chance, and their school mantra is “Education for Change.” When walking round the school during lesson time, no-one is mucking around or being disruptive; every moment of the education given to them is treasured because they all see this as a way to climb out of the terrible situation they were born in. Despite hardship, this is a happy environment, and the kids have huge pride in their school and their appearance, looking smart and clean without washing machines or even hot water. For the older children studying for exams, when we ask them what they need, it is more text books to extend their study, and power to be able to study when it is dark and the power fails. Many great friendships have been made between the students and children who have visited, with hand-delivered letters being sent with visitors and now they even find a way to get on to social media to keep in touch by getting pocket money jobs to pay for that all important data (post takes weeks and is very unreliable). Currently at the school there is no wifi other than in the administrative office, which of course doesn’t work during a power cut.
Next projects include:
- solar power;
- internet access for all the school
- an IT centre that can be used by the community on a pay as you go basis
- transitional housing for school leavers (who must leave the Homes)
But of course, this school is funded only by donations, so not everything can come at once. The Zamcog Trustees are grateful for the support from Acoura.