We Are Randox | James Crilly’s adventures in Zambia
This week our WeAreRandox feature is a story from James Crilly, one of our QC Marketing Executives. Before James came to work in Randox he travelled to Misisi as part of Project Zambia. James took some time out to reflect on his Zambian adventure and tell us a little bit about what he got up to.
“Back when I attended St Mary’s Grammar school in Belfast I applied to take part in Project Zambia. It’s a Belfast based registered charity that first started up in 2002 by Dr Donaldson from St Marys CBGS Belfast. The aim of project Zambia is to help support and empower host communities to develop solutions to their problems and difficulties.
“Dr Donaldson had been my RE teacher and had always entertained during lessons with videos, pictures and old stories of Zambia. So when I finally reached Upper Sixth and had the opportunity to apply to take part in Project Zambia I jumped at it. We were told at the time that those with the best AS results would be given first priority. The next day at assembly they called out the names of the 13 students who had been chosen and thankfully I made the cut. We teamed up with thirteen other students from St Dominic’s Girls’ School and started to prepare for our journey together that Easter.
“As part of the process we each had to raise £1500 that would go towards our flights, hostels, food and equipment. One of the first ideas I had was to complete a 10K run at Shaw’s bridge. However on the day of the run there was snow! I decided I would go ahead with the fundraiser despite the weather and turned the 10K run into a 10K walk. I organised church talks in my local parish where I spoke to the local community about Project Zambia. There was a lot of interest and I managed to raise £2500 which I put straight into my ‘Zambia Funds’ piggybank. One lady who came up to me after the mass donated £500 which was amazing. I also did a 24 hour fast and my old primary school ‘Holy Trinity’ hosted a non-uniform day which raised £450.
“I remember being surprised when we touched down in Zambia airport to see how developed it was. When you think about Zambia the first thing that comes to mind is poverty but the airport was quite surprising. It wasn’t like Heathrow airport but there were a couple of shops, you could get a coffee and they had different terminals. It was worlds apart from where we were going to be.
“When we arrived in Lusaka, Zambia one of the first places we went was called Misisi. This was a slum that could be found right along a railway track. Misisi has been identified as one of the five worst slums in Sub-Saharan Africa so it isn’t hard to imagine the horrific scenes we encountered here. I can honestly say it’s probably one of the worst places I have ever seen with sewage, rubbish and urine everywhere. But right in the middle of it is a little school called St Catherine’s which housed all the children from the Misisi area. The school was literally just a couple of small buildings and right around the buildings was a stone wall with a huge cast iron gate. When we asked why such a rundown area would go to such measures we were told it was built to stop men from getting in and kidnapping the children for prostitution.
“Finding this out really shocked us and we decided to help the school appear more child friendly and welcoming for the children. We painted all the classrooms, hung up numbers pictures and those who were artistic drew images of Disney characters on the classroom walls. We also built a toilet because if the children needed to go to the bathroom they had to go out the back and into a small brick shelter that had a small little bucket. Once they had finished they had to throw the content in the bucket down a hole which ran out into the compound adding to the horrific smell and unsanitary conditions.
“Another place that we visited was ‘The Home of Hope’ which was just outside Misisi and was made up of two large metal containers and run by a priest called Brother Isaac. It housed boys who were anything between 6 months old to 18 years old and there were about 40 children in total there. There was one classroom and one bedroom which had six bunk beds in it. You got about two children to each bunk and the rest had to sleep on the floor. As you can imagine there was rivalry between the children to see who got to sleep in the bunk beds and usually the older children over-ruled the younger children.
“While there we helped put the finishing touches to the roof of the school they were building and cleaned up the surrounding area. It was overrun with weeds and high grass which wasn’t really safe for the children. We wanted them to be able to play safely on the grounds and if they fell and hurt themselves they wouldn’t have access to any medical supplies. I was here for about four days and really got the opportunity to interact with all the kids. They were interested in sports and loved playing football with us. So one afternoon we went into the nearest shopping centre and bought them basketball hoops, footballs, football nets, basketball nets board games, chalks and pencils which they loved.
“Another memory I have of being there was attending the funeral of the son of Peter Tembo, co-founder of Project Zambia. There were 100s and 100s of Zambian people there and only about 20 of us from the school. They called us ‘Mazungus’ which means white person. It might seem strange to say it was a privilege to attend the funeral but this was very much unheard of in Zambia. White people didn’t get asked to come along to local funerals which shows the high regard that they had for Project Zambia and its volunteers. The white people who live in Zambia live behind guarded 15 foot high walls and razor sharp barbed wire. They have golf courses and swimming pools and live in a completely different world from the local Zambian people. The locals would have never have seen the light of day in their territory. You would know who had money and who didn’t even among the Zambians by whether or not they had hair. A lot of people had shaved heads due to head lice and had no shoes and dirty rags on their back.
“One of the last places I went to was Kabwata Orphanage which was run by two nuns. Here there were about 70 children who had either been abandoned by their family or had none. We did a bit of DIY work which involved putting up bunkbeds, chests of drawers and paintings. Here I had the pleasure of meeting one little guy called Mosses who came to Kabwata Orphanage when he was only one years old. He had been abandoned and left on the roadside in a moses basket and that’s how he got his name. He’s now sixteen and doing really well in school. He has high aspirations for the future and possibly could be become a teacher which is a career that is looked upon highly in Zambia.
“On Easter Saturday before we left we stayed in a hostel and about half a mile away, there was a large church. One day we decided to go and check it out and as we were walking up to it you could hear music and people singing. Once we turned the corner of the church I saw a sea of thousands of Zambians: there were men beating on drums and women dressed in their Sunday best, waving palms and dancing and singing, creating waves of colour below me. It was sight I will never forget. These people had literally nothing but yet were so happy and welcoming to us. We got to join in on the celebration which was amazing and I would honestly go back tomorrow if I got the chance.
“My little brother Owen is going over on 27th June for ten days so I decided to help him out by doing a bun sale in Randox. I was up till midnight the night before baking and we raised £243.89 which was great. He’s also going to be doing a 10K run at Black Mountain and a non-uniform day in his old primary school. I had saved about £200 from when I went to Zambia because I knew one day he would go himself. I kept it in a little red container and my mum hid it in her room so no-one could get to it. He said he might shave his head but that depends on how well the rest of the fundraising goes! I’ll make sure to keep you updated on that one.”
For more information about fundraising at Randox please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Randox’s Public Relations Executive, Amy McIlwaine, tells us about her time in New York State, working in Camp Wakonda (Homes for the Homeless)
We’re celebrating the bright and vibrant lives of Randox employees, and the way in which these inspiring individuals have helped to make Randox as great as it is today. Stay up to date with the #WeAreRandox hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to hear more stories.
We were discussing our most inspiring moments with Amy McIlwaine, Public Relations Executive of Randox Laboratories, this week. She told us a story of her time volunteering with children in New York State that we knew we had to share! We hope her story inspires you as much as it did us:
Here is Amy’s story:
“During my years at school and at University I worked as a part-time lifeguard in a local pool. I’ve always been quite ambitious, so, when the time came to graduate and I decided to do some overseas work, I applied to be Waterfront Director at a camp in New York State, called Camp Wakonda.
When I say the words ‘Summer camp’ to people they usually picture expensive facilities with music suites, maybe some horse stables and jet-skis, with a love-able rogue Joe Jonas lookalike thrown in for good measure, but Camp Wakonda wasn’t quite like that!
Camp Wakonda is a Summer camp that is run by the Homes for the Homeless organisation, and accepts children between 6 and 10 years old who are homeless and living in New York shelters.
The camp has limited resources, cabins with no electricity, and various (sometimes) friendly camp companions such as bears, chipmunks and rattlesnakes (we were in the middle of the woods). Children came to camp with very few belongings – sometimes even without a decent pair of shoes. But in spite of all that, it’s one of my favourite places on this earth. Being free from the stresses of everyday life (mind you, working with 90 children at a time brings a different kind of stress!) is wonderfully liberating and living in the middle of nature brings a certain serenity.
Although we had such limited resources, we had the time of our lives! You learn to be really creative – we had themed days throughout the summer like a Harry Potter banquet, a ‘Fairytales of Wakonda’ pantomime, and even Christmas on the 25th July! That one was probably my favourite – some of the children had never had a real Christmas before. I’m happy to admit that I welled up when I saw how incredibly excited they were at receiving just one small gift.”
Smiling from ear-to-ear, Amy went on to highlight the importance of the camp she worked in, in offering homeless children from New York the opportunity to just enjoy being kids, and how this inspired her:
“The spirit of the children, and the counsellors, at Camp Wakonda is something that I had not come across before, and have not come across since. For children who have had such a difficult upbringing, they came to camp with the biggest smiles on their faces, and the smallest things like three hot meals a day meant the world to them. It was great to see them free from the stresses of their unfortunate circumstances. For me, as their swimming teacher, nothing made me smile more than when a child came running up to me shouting ‘Miss Amy, I learned how to float today!’ or when a camper who had been so scared of the water finally got in and had a beaming smile from ear-to-ear when I handed them a swimming certificate. Many of the children had never left the city, and so had never experienced some of the things that we take for granted – like being able to see the stars in the sky at night.
I lived and worked in Wakonda for three months during 2014, and went back again in 2015, as Unit Leader of the older girl’s unit. I was responsible for counselor training, and the welfare of both the girl campers and the female counselors. When you’re practically working 24/7 for three months, the children become your entire life – everything that you do is with their needs in mind. Because of this, the children are so grateful of the time and attention that the counselors give them.
The work that Homes for the Homeless does for those kids is amazing, it really makes a difference to their lives, and I’m so glad that I have been part of it.”
Find out more about Camp Wakonda in this NY 1 News coverage video, here.
Randox wouldn’t be the innovative and caring healthcare company it is today without the hard work of young people with fresh perspectives and world experience like Amy – so we’re delighted that she has brought her enthusiasm to our team! We hope her story inspired you to take part in your community through volunteering. For us, we never stop. We’re helping to improve healthcare and diagnostics through consistent hard work, because for us, this means saving lives.
If you’re looking for a career in Business, Science or Engineering, let Randox be the next step in your adventure!
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or stay up-to-date with the hashtag #WeAreRandox. Visit our website to view our careers opportunities at Randox Laboratories.