A Warm Reception in Zambia

Rosaleen Kenny Zambia"One of the most striking and surprising things about Zambia was the native trees that are all around Lusaka and around the country. I was amazed at the variety of the lush greenery everywhere. Another thing I loved is that everywhere we went, we heard wonderful music - from people’s houses and yards, and even on the street."

Rosaleen Kenny has worked for Irish Jesuit Missions for more than 20 years. As the organisation’s receptionist, she is the main point of contact for Irish Jesuits who live and work overseas, and their families. Last year, she fulfilled a dream to visit somewhere she has heard about for many years through the friendships she has made with the Irish Jesuit missionary community. She and her husband visited Zambia and spent time with the Jesuit community there. The trip was very meaningful to Rosaleen, and to the Irish Jesuits in Zambia*. 

"We arrived in Lusaka airport on a Friday evening, after a long and tiring journey, and were met by Jim McGloin who brought us to our little flat, off Senanga Road. After freshening up, we went to the Jesuit residence, Luwisha House, where we had a lovely supper with Michael J. Kelly and Jerry O’Connell who were in great form. Despite the good company, tiredness from all the travelling caught up with us, and we were in bed and asleep by 9pm.


Our first day in Lusaka was eventful. In the morning, Charlie Searson brought us to Leopards’ Hill to see St Ignatius’ Jesuit School, which was undergoing reconstruction and expansion. Afterwards, we went to meet a Zambian family who had kindly invited us to their home. David Milombe, the head of the Pioneers in Lusaka Archdiocese, and his wife were very friendly and hospitable. We had a chat, and he said he feels very lucky to have four daughters, yet some people commiserate with him that he has no son. He tells them that his daughters are as good as any son and will have a more positive impact on their family and society as educated women. We also met his grandchildren and we were charmed when the family sang for us.

Later, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at Chelston (which included deep-fried caterpillars!) where we met an interesting woman, Chapwa Kasoma, who is completing a PhD in crop science. Her work is researching inherent resistance to pests in maize in Zambia. She hopes to harness resistance to the fall fireworm, the newest pest in the country and would like to research what is happening in other countries it has invaded, i.e. Canada and the U.S. to see if they can find a maize variation which is resistant, to find a way to rid Zambia of this pest.

Rosaleen Charlie Zambia Web

In the afternoon Charlie took us to see some of the real Lusaka. We went to Kalingalinga, which was not on the usual tourist track an interesting place to visit, to see all of the different small businesses that exist in the city. We were amazed to see that people seem to just build a house anywhere space is available! We learned that in Lusaka, people build their house in stages - the walls, the windows, the roof - and when finished, (even though it can take some years) they will not have a mortgage but will own the house outright. As people’s income improves, they often do not move, but build better houses in relatively impoverished areas so they can remain close to family.

Our day ended with a supper at St Ignatius’ Parish where we met Clive Dillon-Malone among others. As usual with the Jesuits, there was lots of interesting chat and discussion. Clive told us that he had just received another four-year contract with the University of Zambia, where he is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics. At 80 years old, when most people are long retired, he is still working which is impressive!


Jim McGloin picked us up for Mass at the University of Zambia on Sunday morning. There was such a positive atmosphere on arrival, with the church full of young people who were dressed beautifully, all in church long before the start! Once it began, the harmonies and the joy of the choir and musicians was infectious, and everyone joined in with the singing. A group from the veterinary college came dancing up to aisle to present the offertory collection and gifts, adding to the sense of occasion and exuberance. It was a surprise, from an Irish perspective, to see a live goat being brought in as an offering! We were in church for over two-and-a-half hours. We would have had some apprehension about a Mass this long in Ireland, but I can honestly say it was wonderful to be there and to see and hear how Zambians celebrate their faith.


On Monday morning, Leonard Chiti, a Zambian Jesuit who is Provincial of the Zambia-Malawi region, brought us to meet the team of the Jesuit Development Office. The office office fundraises for Jesuit projects and provides a link between Jesuits and lay people by promoting collaboration and solidarity. We spoke with Mallah Phiti, the Programmes Officer, Emmanuel Haambokamaa, who works in Communications and Norbert Tembo, the Community Coordinator about the work of the office. We talked with Tadeusz Swiderski, the Director, about the Development Farm in Kasisi. The office team is working to continue this as an environmental, self-sustaining project and to get non-Jesuits involved.

We also visited the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), of which Leonard Chiti is a former Director. We chatted to staff members Faith and Dominica who gave us an overview of their work. JCTR acts as a voice for the promotion of faith and social and economic justice in Zambia. It also encourages active citizenship and community participation and attempts to hold the government accountable, as in its advocacy around the recent change in the law on ‘the public order act’. At times the Zambian government will use JCTR’s research, they produce a basic ‘food basket’, this is price focused on cost of living each month to check if basic items needed for a family of five are available on the living wage. They also compare salaries, and trade unions use this information. They also try and keep a check on the mining companies and the benefit or not of this industry for the people. The mining companies do not have a good record in human rights; in particular for their workers. Leonard took us to lunch at Chula House where we met Frank Wafer, and Frs. Klaus and Kujur. This is a lovely comfortable house with a courtyard in the middle and the older men seem very happy and comfortable. Frank was well, and I think enjoyed our visit.


After lunch, Leonard brought us to visit the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) where we met Henrietta and Brother Paul Desmarais. Henrietta explained that KATC is involved with training, research, production and lobbying and advocacy and is in the process of training the local community and others, running short courses in organic farming. Its overall goal is to contribute to the creation of a gradually improving rural structure with a view to fostering an improvement in productivity, food security and rural livelihoods while conserving the environment. They have 25 members of staff and collaborates with a number of local and international likeminded organisations and institutions including the Government Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and the University of Zambia.

They focus on teaching and on the practicalities of generating income, as well as lobbying to create awareness and influence decision-makers. Paul is very passionate about the long-term benefits of sustainable organic agriculture and explained that although it means hard work for some years, the benefits are substantial in both growth and the long-term health benefits. Once trained, 15% of those who have attended the courses become full adapters and others become partial adapters. Gradually many begin to accept the rules of organic farming but usually only on a partial basis. Paul drove us around to look at fields and showed us the crop sprayer which was paid for through the Irish government. Much of the farm is split up into small allotments making it easier for the farmers to apply the organic farming rules. We visited areas where they have small factories making organic yogurt and cheese and an organic oat factory.


We then met Tadeusz who showed us around the area where he is growing moringa trees, the plan is to plant tens of thousands of these trees, harvest and dry the leaves and sell them as a health food supplement. This, it is hoped, will be a major source of income for the future. He also showed us the drying house, where they are experimenting drying various herbs, garlic, chilli etc. We also visited the fish farm, they plan to set up a commercial system of pisciculture, raising fish commercially in tanks. There is a very large lake created used mainly for irrigation; the fish project is in the two lined pools created in the farm project itself. The hope is to create employment and have various sustainable enterprises with a continued generated income at Kasisi. One thing needed to assist this would be a much better road into the area; the dirt roads are very difficult to travel, especially if you do not have a powerful car.

Before leaving the area, we visited the Kasisi Jesuit Residence and met Fr Bruno Konrat and the group of Jesuits living there. In the evening Leonard brought us to the Novitiate for dinner where we joined the young men in prayers before enjoying a meal with them. We met Frs. John Moore and David Harold Barry and had another very enjoyable evening.


On Tuesday morning we set out with Nicholas (Nick) Penge to Chikuni. This was a long journey not helped by the road almost disappearing for many miles as the surface disintegrated and all the traffic including huge trucks attempted to negotiate the potholes and dips for close to 40 kilometres. Nicholas was very patient and skilled and thankfully had a powerful four-by-four car, so we eventually arrived safely. We were greeted very graciously by Fr Ron Hidaka and given comfortable rooms for the night. Nicholas brought us to see the school close by. We met Fr Dhana who enthusiastically showed us around Canisius Secondary School. He was particular delighted to show us the classroom with computers donated from Ireland and explained how important these were and what excellent quality they were. The school is expanding all the time and it was explained that they had added many classrooms in the recent past thanks again to aid (via the IJM) from Ireland. It was wonderful to see where the money donated is going, the buildings are bright and modern and there was such a positive and enthusiastic atmosphere from all those involved.


We then went to visit Fr Andrew Lesniara at the Chikuni Parish. He and Tadeusz set up a radio station for the Tonga people of Chikuni Parish, which has been broadcasting since 2000. The goal of Chikuni Radio was to give the community the chance to create, participate in and listen to programmes that affect the community. The project was supported by Irish Jesuit Missions and was a ground-breaking move at the time, which helped to overcome the information gap in the region. Andrew gave us a tour of their facilities while he explained what they do at Chikuni Radio. The most important aspect of the project, is that it provides access to education to children in remote areas. The ‘radio schools’ use wind-up radios and are run by local volunteer teachers. They broadcast classes every day. Groups of children gather together and are overseen and supported in their learning by the volunteer teacher. Andrew shines with enthusiasm for the work he is doing. He talked to us about the music festivals they organise every few years, which attract more than 10,000 people. He is so enthusiastic and talented; a true reflection of the inspiration of the Jesuit ethos, ‘people for others’. We saw the Charles Lwanga Teacher Training College, before returning to the Canisius Community to meet Gabriel McKinney, Fr Hidaka and Fr Bert Otten. After supper we went outside to look at the stars. Bert had an app on his phone which showed the constellations above us, which was magical as the stars were so bright and the sky so beautiful.


The next morning, we visited the Mukanzubo Institute where we met Yvonne Ndaba, a close associate of Frank Wafer, who greeted us enthusiastically and explained some of the work that the institute is involved with. Frank set up this institute in order to record and save many of the Tonga traditions and the language for posterity. We had a tour of their museum and were shown many examples of the historical tools and implements. We were told the interesting story of how the Jesuits, Fr Moreau and Fr Torrend arrived in Chikuni in 1905 and established the mission. Outside there are some recreated houses showing how people lived in this region many years ago. We saw Cardoner Garden which was set up by Fr Elpidius Kalyepe to illustrate the story of the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola. The story begins with parts of the Jesuit prayer, the Examen, exhibited and continues along a long walk displaying the life of Ignatius. There is a great sense of peace in the garden.


The last three days of our visit were spent in Livingstone, which is quite old-fashioned looking and much smaller than I had expected. On the morning after our arrival, we visited the Victoria Falls –‘Mosi-Oa-Tunya’ (meaning the smoke that thunders). Seeing the power of the waterfall and walking through the mist where we got soaked by the spray was an amazing experience. We visited a nature park and saw a mother rhinoceros with her baby. We were guarded and instructed by the local wildlife rangers who had automatic rifles to protect themselves from poachers. Later, we took a cruise on the Zambezi river, which was in flood and saw several animals and some beautiful, colourful birds. The sunset was spectacular.


We returned to Lusaka on Saturday afternoon. A last perfect memory will be of a Mass that Michael J. Kelly and Jerry O’Connell celebrated for us at the tiny chapel in Luwisha House on the Sunday of our departure. In scale, it was the exact opposite of the Mass the previous week at UNZA but just as wonderful. Michael dedicated the Mass for us, and for our family adding a beautiful homily which mentioned my daughter Lyndsay and the baby she was due to give birth to in the coming days. We were incredibly touched by the kindness of Michael and Jerry in including us in this celebration, an experience we won’t forget.

We had an amazing, exhausting, exciting experience in Zambia and it was inspirational to witness what Irish Jesuits have been involved with building in the country. The people we met are motivated by doing; they are changing lives, not just talking about it. Both my husband, Gerry, and I were struck by the spirituality and deep sense of conviction of the people involved in the Jesuit projects we visited, and by their motivation to help others. The warmth and kindness of our welcome was exceptional."

Rosaleen Kenny


*There are nine remaining Irish Jesuit missionaries in the Zambia-Malawi Province. They are: Peter Carroll SJ, Clive Dillon-Malone SJ, Joseph Keaney SJ, Michael J. Kelly SJ, Michael T. Kelly SJ, Gabriel McKinney SJ, Jerry O'Connell SJ, Charlie Searson SJ and Frank Wafer SJ. Sadly, John Moore SJ passed away in September 2018.


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