Friday, 22 July 2016

Kwacha Watcher

The Zambian currency is called the kwacha. It is not available outside of Zambia so I had to wait until I arrived here to get cash out. Rather than opening a Zambian bank account which I was told would not be worth the hassle, I just withdraw my money from my English bank account. This has worked out pretty well as the kwacha has plummeted in value whilst I have been living in Zambia.

Ndola supermarket

When I first arrived here the exchange rate was around K10 (10 kwacha) to the pound, which made it easy to compare prices with home. However, at the end of last year the economic crisis caused the kwacha to fall dramatically. Zambia provides 70% of Africa’s total copper market and there was a reduction in the demand, so prices fell. The exchange rate plummeted to K20 to the pound but this year it seems to have stayed somewhere between K13 and K15 to the pound.

Here’s what you can get for your kwatcha here in Ndola…
A pile of 4 tomatoes from roadside stall is K5 or 35p
A 200g bar of Cadburys (vital for my survival!) is K22 or £1.50
A box of cereal K45 or £3.20
Steak at a restaurant K120 or £8.50
50 litres of petrol K500 or £35

Vegetable stall in Kaniki

Food is expensive here in relation to salaries. A 25kg bag of maize meal, which would provide enough nshima for a family of four for a month, costs nearly K100. To put this into perspective, a full-time manual worker might earn around K600 a month. Petrol is cheaper but cars themselves are expensive because they are all imported, and also need repairs more often due to the poor condition of the roads. On the other hand, a cinema ticket in the city of Lusaka costs K50 or £3.50, which is much better than in the UK!

Making the most of the cheaper cinema in Lusaka with Anna

I find it quite amazing that here I can live on such a small amount of money compared to at home. My accommodation here is provided by the Bible college, so the majority of my costs are for food, internet/phone and transport. In some ways, being a volunteer does challenge my way of thinking. We are brought up to work hard in order to provide for our own needs, rather than relying on other people. Living in a country where people depend on each other a lot more and where sharing food or money is part of daily life, reminds me that how we live in the western world is not the only way. In the UK we prepare for the future by saving money or investing. Here, people in the community seem to do that by sharing what they have with others; helping someone when you have a bit extra often means that they will help you if and when the situation is reversed.

Helping each other

People I know in the local community approach me occasionally to ask for a loan. This could be to pay for repairs to their home or for transport to take a sick family member to the clinic. In these situations, it is extremely difficult to know how best to help. With my Western mindset, I wonder whether a loan really helps as it might encourage the borrower to become reliant rather than learning to save money for such situations. However, many people live very ‘hand to mouth’ in the communities we work in. If they earn money it might be enough for food or rent but not necessarily anything else, so perhaps they do need someone to help. I have also noticed that most people here seem to eventually be able to find the money from somewhere. It can be very hard to know what to do so I just try to listen to individual situations and pray for wisdom.

Helping people to help themselves

It is a real privilege to be able to help people in the local community here who are not able to pay for it, although I do feel they are teaching me many different things. It is also amazing to be blessed with enough money to live here, so I am very grateful to my church and other people who support me – thank you. You make the work we are doing possible, which in turn is making a difference to the lives of children and their guardians in Kaniki. 

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