The need to help others was instilled in Cory Jackman at a young age. “… Growing up in Grand Falls, my parents (Joan and Frank Jackman) and my grandparents (Florence and Bill Barker) were always so involved in being active in the community and helping the needy, and I guess it was that need I had to fulfil,” Jackman said.
“And it’s a need I want to make sure my children inherit from me.”
Jackman, his wife Corinne and three children live in Alliston, Ont., a small community 45 minutes north of Mississauga. He works in Toronto.
Jackman signed up to become a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity about a year ago.
“I guess living in this fast-paced environment and trying to raise children, and trying to instil some of what we consider to be normal virtues back in Newfoundland, I thought it was time that I brought something like that to them,” he said of his decision to get involved.
“It is only because of the support and encouragement of my wife, Corinne, that I can pursue such an activity.”
Jackson was one of six volunteers from Ontario to travel to a village called Palabana, about 40 minutes away from the city of Luska, in Zambia, Africa, from Aug. 9-21.
The population of Palabana is approximately 3,000 and most of the residents live in mud huts with straw roofs — homes that generally only last a year or two.
“The intent of Habitat is to alleviate poverty and build homes,” Jackman said.
“They have currently built about 60 homes in Palabana village.”
The clay brick home Jackman and the other volunteers built can last 20 to 30 years. It took the group nine days to finish the house.
“The bricks are made on site,” he said.
“The ground has a very high clay content, so they basically just dig the mud out of lower-lying areas and they put it in forms. It sits in the sun for a day and once is a little bit dry, it’s piled in heaps (and fired in ovens).”
The cement mortar is mixed on the ground.
“It takes six to eight people to mix one batch of cement and it takes about 40 minutes,” Jackman said. “It is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.”
The group met the family for whom they were building the house, and the man of the house helped with the build.
“That house (is for) a husband and a wife and five children,” Jackman said.
“Of that couple, only one of those children are theirs — two of the children were the children of his brother who died of AIDS and the other two children were orphaned from someone else in the village.”
There is no running water or electricity in the village.
“They have a community well, so a big part of daily activities is constantly going to the well to get enough water for cooking and drinking,” Jackman said, adding that families traditionally eat a dish called Nshima.
“The majority of people in Palabana grow corn for a living, so they make a corn starch and this corn starch is used to make a wet, doughboy-type food that probably constitutes 60 to 70 per cent of their diet. “
Some people keep chickens and goats which they use for eggs and milk.
“The majority of the protein that I saw being eaten was a bean that grows on the trees,” he said. “So the kids constantly eat — they are eating either the beans that grow on the trees or they are eating bananas that grow everywhere. Other than that, they normally eat one meal a day.”
The volunteers stayed in a home similar to the one they built, and lived under the same conditions as the residents.
“We lived in the village, we had no form of transportation, so we walked to the build site every day,” Jackman said.
“In the morning, the children would be at our house waiting for us. They would walk us to the build site and they would sit and watch us all day and then they would walk us home.”
Two aspects of life there were particularly surprising for Jackman.
“There is a lot of children in the village that don’t attend school, because the schools sponsored by the government in Zambia require that you have both shoes and books to be able to attend a government school,” Jackman said.
“Of course, the majority of people in Zambia can’t afford either, so the majority of the kids don’t attend school.”
A retired headmaster from a government school, Gibson Nsemiwe, has opened an orphanage and school in the village.
“AIDS/HIV has ravaged this area and there are many orphans, therefore he also offers his home as an orphanage …” Jackman said.
“He does a lot of good work. It’s very impressive. We spent a day with him.”
Nsemiwe is the teacher, initiator and project secretary of the Pada Community Trust School for Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
The school is currently for children aged five to 12 who are vulnerable orphans, but the hope is that it will grow to support an education through to Grade 12.
Right now, the school is nothing more than a plastic-covered shelter under a tree, but thanks to support from Canada, a school building is under construction.
“My intent will be to continue to raise funds and assist this organization,” Jackman said.
Another big surprise in Zambia was a medical misconception among the people.
“There is still a common belief among the African people that having sex with a virgin is a cure for HIV, so the young girls are constant targets,” Jackman said.
“HIV is the most common cause of death. The average lifespan of anybody in the village is 38.”
He said it will take some time for the whole experience to sink in.
“I guess the most immediate reaction is a desire to go back,” Jackman said. “I think, for such a small country — and that small country has 13 million residents, a third of Canada’s population in a landmass that’s less than half the size of Ontario — there is so much need there. There is so much to do and there is so much good work being done, but I have seen organizations doing better work, so I’ve made an effort to contact those organizations and I am going to be putting together some fundraising activities but I would like to go back with those organizations.”