In 1969, Bridgend native Deana Owen made her first journey to Zambia, spending three years there working for the country’s government as a nurse. Little did she know she would return over forty years later to change the lives of 2000 Zambian children.
When she retired from work as a health visitor in 2012, she visited again, this time as a volunteer for a charity, and instead of three years, it was only for three months – or so she thought. After seeing the issues that the locals were facing, she began what would turn out to be eight years of life changing work.
“HIV and AIDS was a huge problem – it had wiped out a lot of the middle generations. I met a little girl who was being looked after by her Grandmother’s sister, as the Grandmother was ill with HIV herself, and I asked where the girl went to school, and it was a school called Lushomo, so I asked if I could go see it.”
The school was just like a cattle shed with no door or windows, they were sat on bricks and crammed in like sardines and taught by unqualified teachers.”
Deana then met with the PTA at the school, and was shocked when they asked her to rebuild it.
“I came back to the UK with no idea of how I was going to do this, and I couldn’t find a charity willing to rebuild the school, so I set up ‘Friends of Monze.’”
With the help of her local Quakers group in Bridgend, and the ‘Zambia women’s and girls’ foundation’ in Zambia, Deana set up the charity in 2013 – which she now runs from her home. During that time she has raised nearly half a million pounds for projects in Monze.
Her work in Zambia began with the Lushomo school, which was the first of seven school buildings Deana and her team would build, and as can be seen from the photos below, the building was in poor shape before the work started.
“We work closely with the department of education in Monze, and they give us a list of schools that need rebuilding.
There were a lot of builders interested in building the school, but the one we’ve got we’re very pleased with his work.”
We’ve trained 9 apprentice builders, three were girls, and they’re helping the contactors building the schools.”
The first classroom block of the Lushomo school was finished in 2014, and a second one soon followed to accommodate as many children as possible.
Deana admits that “The hardest part is coming back (to the UK) and trying to find more money.”
Over the past eight years she has managed to raise £400,000 for the area through a number of different ways. The charity received three grants from the Welsh Government’s ‘Wales and Africa Grant Scheme’, with the scheme also giving Deana round the clock advice if needed.
Add to that three grants from the Quaker Peace and Social Witness committee, support from two rotary clubs, and numerous charity sales, Deana has managed to keep the charity stable – which maintains a future for both the charity and the community in Monze.
“Everything is designed to be sustainable so we can walk away and they can carry on, we’re building schools for 40 years.”
It’s not just building schools that Deana has committed her last eight years to doing. Following a drought in Zambia last year, Deana decided to teach the locals of Monze the method of permaculture.
“Permaculture is a method of growing food organically using organic fertiliser – for the school gardens – to grow a variety of crops, but it needs the right amount of rain.”
The drought led to a failed harvest, leaving farmers with no seeds to plant. After many generous donations, Deana raised £27,000 to provide seeds and fertiliser for 200 families who are now able to grow food and feed themselves.
“The climate is changing, so we need to teach the people to grow a variety of crops, collecting seeds from the traditional crops, and growing more crop those seeds.”
When it rains in Zambia, it’s like turning a tap on, it’s like being in a shower. So, we’re also teaching water harvesting, digging drainage ditches, so all the water goes in there, underground and raises the underground water level, making it easier to pump water by hand.”
Eight years later, and Deana – along with a team of volunteers in South Wales, and a hard-working building force in Zambia – has now built seven school buildings for 2000 children and numerous teacher houses for the local area.
At the end of last year, she was awarded by the Bridgend Association of Volunteer Organisations (BAVO) for her work.
“It’s nice to take a bit of time out and know that someone has recognised my work, for them to notice someone was doing work overseas was great.”
“It sort of makes you feel really strange if you think too much about it, it’s amazing, we’ve built 7 schools , and provided boar holes to get water to them, and to see these dirty children putting their hands under clean water, it really catches you.”
Deana continues to travel to Monze – which has a population of 30,000 – once a year, to check up on any current building jobs, and to see the community that now see her as one of their own.
“People there are very friendly, in Monze, you can’t go up the street without stopping and talking, they ask about your family and home, and your cows, it’s amazing.”
“There’s not many white people in the town, so I’d be the only white women these children have seen, they’re very excited and interested.
They call us ‘Mzungu’, a person from another place, and they come running up to you, shaking your hands.”
At the age of 73, and despite retiring eight years ago, Deana has no intention of stopping her work in Zambia anytime soon.
“It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, I have to do Facebook, Twitter and the website, and doing funding applications is not five minutes work! Mentally it certainly keeps me on the ball, and socially it gives me lots of contacts.
“I shall keep carrying on until I can’t carry on any longer.”
For more information on Deana’s work with ‘The Friends of Monze’, visit: