This week at The Chazuka Project, we are taking a moment to look back on the journey so far. This all started when Alex, aged 23 at the time, came up with the idea to kayak the length of the three Great Lakes of Africa, starting with Lake Malawi… alone. You might assume that Alex was an experienced kayaker or seasoned expeditioner… but you’d be wrong. In fact, he’d never kayaked before and his planning skills for this mission were nothing short of abysmal.
Alex’s dreams of floating quietly over calm waters were soon quashed as he had unwittingly arrived as the windy season had just begun and the lake was producing dangerous swells up to 15ft high. Being ever the optimist, Alex decided to continue his mission, against the advice of the local people. This was a stupid decision that nearly cost him his life. It was also a decision that would change his and many other people’s lives forever. Read on to find an excerpt from Alex’s diary on that day…
Journal Entry: June 12th 2016
“My kayak pivots up, its nose rises high towards the oncoming wave. Upon impact, white water explodes and rushes inside my yak drenching me to the bone. I paddle forwards attempting to summit the next wave. My head rushes with adrenaline as the situation escalates.
For a split second, I spot land and the temptation to give in overwhelms me. I pivot again now rapidly descending the wave. Land disappears from sight and I am engulfed between the two monstrous waves.
Forced to ‘abandon ship’, I have no choice but to swim back to land along side my sunken yak. It’s a relief to get off the water, the sand is soft, and I have discovered a small and beautiful beach. However I am not alone…
Surrounded by a gang of startled children, I drag my yak onto the beach and roll it over to empty out the lake water. I sense the children seem afraid and cautious of me, so to ease the situation, I suggest that we play some football. One child disappears and soon returns with a football made from recycled plastic bags, string and an inflated condom.
After an exhausting game of football, I sit by my kayak and read a chapter on my kindle. Crowding around in awe and excitement, my new buddies are completely mind blown by my devise. “Bible, bible!” they begin to remark.
Later on that evening the Chief of the village invites me for dinner. He is a small skinny man with the kindest of smiles. We eat maize and dried fish and I am formally introduced to the village. I feel safe and protected by these kind and generous people.”
So what happened next?
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this village was going to become my home for the next 9 months. Being so carried away with my adventure I’d totally forgotten that this day was actually my 24th birthday. Now stranded in a small fishing village in rural Africa, I was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the local villagers. They shared their food, sang me songs, played their drums, allocated a special place for my tent and each night a young man would stand guard watching over my tent in case of thieves.
I decided to teach the kids some English, since it was obviously desired, so I made a trip into the nearest town (20Km away) and purchased a stack of exercise books and a box of ballpoint pens. The villagers assembled beneath an enormous mango tree and the books were handed out to each child. I soon realised how appreciative these children were of the book they had been given.
It quickly transpired that these kids had never attended school. Before teaching the alphabet I had to teach them how to hold a pen. Then of course they had no idea how to behave in class… taming this rabble of children was going to be a mighty challenge (as if the kayaking wasn’t enough!) and again I felt way out of my depth.
One day as we were practising our spellings, a young man approached me and asked, ‘Alex, can I be a teacher at your school?’ Astonished, I looked down at the eager-eyed jamboree of kids beneath the mango tree, and then, for the first time, it became apparent that I had somehow unintentionally started a school…”
Fast-forward 3 years and we are no longer gathering underneath a mango tree. A proper school has been built complete with a kitchen and a toilet. We have 2 teachers, 25 Chazuka pupils and an in-country committee all helping to run the school.
The project is now growing at a rapid rate and it has become much bigger than an idea some guy with zero kayaking-skills once had… We are excited to announce that a strong Board of Trustees has been built. We are also applying to become a registered charity; a challenge not too dissimilar from tackling those 15ft swells . This will open up so many new doors to help us drive this project forward so that we can help the children of Chazuka build a brighter future for themselves.