As summer is starting to melt into autumn, I find myself undertaking that rather sad chore of changing over my wardrobe and changing my summer dresses for heavier, darker autumnal garb. But as I pack up the bikini’s and shorts it makes me smile, because they take me back to just last month when I took 10 other girls over to Zambia to undertake the first ever Zambezi Challenge – 3 days of white water rafting down the Zambezi and camping overnight on beaches along the riverside.
What an amazing adventure we had. We had a diverse group of girls from all over, ages from 20 to 56. We had some very adventurous and experienced rafters, we had many more total novices (myself included!) and as many ranges of nerves as ages.
And whilst everyone was doing the event for different reasons – some love the activity and adrenaline-fuelled high you get from doing something a bit dangerous, others were really excited about going out to the villages to meet the groups of women that Microloan supports – everyone was doing it to raise money for a fantastic cause.
After 3 days of physically demanding activity, being bitten to heaven and back, a few scares, a few bumps and grazes, we then piled into the truck to head back to Choma to meet Samuel and his team at the Microloan headquarters. In just a year, the team have successfully set up 52 groups of women, dealt with significant political unrest and uncovered and dealt fraud from within the team – their passion, commitment and strength as a unit was clear.
Then we went out to visit the women. For some of us this was quite emotional. The world these women live in is so different to our first world lives, but we all discovered something inspirational through talking to these amazing women, who are starting from literally nothing, in many cases not even an ability to read. We learned that despite our external environments being so different, we are all just putting on a smile and going to work to support our families – it was simple & it was uniting.
And we talked to them about how they could diversify their crops, because many of the girls worked closely with the farmers to sell vegetables at the market. Seasons have a big impact on this, so they asked our advice on how they could overcome this issue and we swapped ideas, just as you do in any business meeting with colleagues.
So whilst I pack up my ‘dry season’ clothes to prepare for the ‘rainy season’, I think about my Zambia experience and the women I met and I smile, and I think – right, what adventure shall we have next?
Sitting in the departure lounge at Dubai airport, during my eight hour delay, exhausted from an empowering and exhilarating trip to Zambia, I had time to reflect on one of the most amazing periods of time in my life.
These quiet moments of reflection are often quite rare in our hectic lives and sometimes it takes being stuck at an airport, alone and miles away from home, to really take in everything you’ve experienced.
I’ve always been very adventurous and this trip, on the face of it, looked like a lot of holidays my husband and I go on, however, now I had a chance to reflect, it also felt so different. Spending time with ten inspiring women was something I’ll never forget. Seeing the strength of character shown on a daily basis as we all faced our fears was inspirational, and has given me the extra motivation and belief that I can tackle anything life may throw my way.
Meeting the women in the villages who have benefited from the loans was the part of the trip that I was apprehensive about, I guess for me that was the part that was entering into the unknown. However my apprehension was misplaced and the women were so welcoming, happy and enthusiastic that it was hard not to come away with a huge smile on my face. For me it reinforced the strength of women, as individuals and as a group, and made me realise that we’re all the same – all working to improve our lives, provide for our families and most importantly enjoy life.
So here I am sitting in the waiting room at my local GP surgery, feeling exhausted and in pain. Looking around, I realise how lucky I am though. Weird.
Not just a common or garden head cold, oh no…something far more tropical and adventurous has bought me here. The Zambezi!
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Africa with ten inspiring women, experiencing the most surreal, frightening and exhilarating moments in my (almost) fifty years. Born from a conversation with a very dear friend and colleague at work about Microloan and the incredibly successful work they do with women in Zambia and Malawi, I was inspired to step (understatement) outside of my comfort zone (online shopping, gin and tonic, and far too many shoes) and sign up for the Zambezi white water rafting 3 day challenge.
Now, don’t underestimate how challenging this was in a mixed group with some crazy ladies who wanted extreme sport, and some who just didn’t know what to expect. Yes I can swim. No, there’s not much that scares me. But the thought of being flipped from a boat, into wild rapids, some of the biggest in the world, was terrifying me. And, of course, I got flipped! Being thrown around, disorientated and gasping for breath was as I had imagined. More importantly though, the strength, protection and sheer love I felt immediately after being hauled back into the boat was something I will always remember, and cherish.
Meeting the groups of women in Choma was awesome. It very quickly registered how similar we all were, working to provide for our families, putting on a smile every day regardless of what is going on at home. Plush London offices and weekends in wine-bars with friends couldn’t be more contrasting to the lives our new friends were living, but they were obviously happy. Observing Samuel and his team as they worked with the ladies, teaching them with pictures was something I will never forget.
I’m so thankful to have been part of this challenge. I now have more stories to tell.
My eyes are filling up.
Right, my name has been called – in I go – it’s just a stomach bug, but boy am I proud of how I got it….