The Unplanned Journey -- Part Two
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016
By Lisa Gower
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This site was inspired by my trip to Zambia a few years back. People had said to me, "Africa will change your life." No truer words have ever been spoken. I continue to carry Zambia, more specifically Mfuwe, in my heart.

One of the people I met during that trip was Lisa Gower. She's a prime example of how a destination can change the course of your life. And... how you can leave your mark just as well.

Here's the second (see the first here) in a series of installments of articles from Lisa about her tango with Mfuwe. Enjoy!

I am lucky enough to be well-traveled, but not in this area of the world. I'd never even had an inkling of desire to go on a safari. I was sensible enough, however, to do a little bit of research. Even Wikipedia was a little vague on the region.

"Mfuwe is the main settlement of South Luangwa National Park in the Eastern Province of Zambia, serving the tourism industry and wildlife conservation in the Luangwa Valley. It is located about 100 km (62 mi) west-north-west of Chipata."

It was upon this very sketchy information that I based my change of a lifetime. Remember my motto: Why not give it a go and deal with the outcome later. Yep, when I act on that motto, I do it with style!

Being met in Lusaka Airport Immigration Office by a tall, redheaded, pony-tailed man dressed in an army jumpsuit was bound to cause attention from many people. This didn't bother me a bit. After all, unintentionally causing a few stares and grabbing attention through how I navigate my life is my normal.

So the adventure began. Next came some of the ‘best/worst’ experiences in my life. I refer to them this way as it's impossible to separate the best and the worst, as they all happened at the same time.

Unsurprisingly, my relationship with the man I followed to Zambia didn't work out. He was unable to deal with the challenges of living in rural Africa and left for the Swiss Alps -- with a good percentage of my savings -- to become a recluse.

This turn of circumstances became the catalyst for me to find a new life during my three-weeks stay in Luangwa. What followed were a series of coincidences that occurred in such a bizarre way, they seem like fiction. The result -- I fell in love with the little town of Mfuwe.

Not long before I was due to return to the UK, I was offered an opportunity that would mean moving to Mfuwe – something to mull over and think about carefully. Would I be interested in:

Volunteering for a year managing an Outreach Conservation and Sponsorship program for children. That's right, an unpaid position.

Living on school grounds, where no white person had ever lived before...

A facility where there's only sometimes electricity, and if you're lucky, water comes from a borehole. Where washing one's clothes is done by hand with the aid of a stone...

The diet will be limited to maize, onions and tomatoes...

Where venturing outside after dark brings with it the risk of a confrontation with an elephant...

That there would be bouts of malaria so severe I'd be convinced I was dying.

Intense weather conditions -- heat that stops one from functioning properly.

Seeing poverty, sickness and the death of people I'd become very close to.

As if amidst an out-of-body experience, I heard my brain and mouth responding, "I'd love to."

The positive thing of rushing headlong into a change of life – naivety.

The first night I arrived to start my new life in Mfuwe, I realized I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. Through my candlelit tears (no power on the first night did not assist matters), I resolved I'd stick out the volunteer position for a month without being embarrassed to go home as a failure.

A week later I thought maybe six months would be fine. Six months stretched to seven years.

Had I'd stayed in my safe and secure ‘corporate bubble,’ I wouldn't have been responsible for enabling 100 children to be educated, with a number of them going on to professions such as nursing, teaching and mechanics. These same students would serve as role models for younger generation in rural areas.

I would not know I had the ability to develop school infrastructure and manage building projects.

To communicate globally the challenges of education for Mfuwe, raising funds so these truly inspiring young people could achieve their dreams and raise the standard of life for them and their families.

I also would not have experienced so many adventures plus the amazing friends I met along the way, experiences both wonderful, good, and downright scary, all making me realize what was worth worrying about in this world and what is better to let go.

Africa, for me, was not about the beauty and drama of the bush and its animals (although they did play a huge part in my experiences), but the community -- in particular the children -- who astounded me every day with their determination to get through each day, which is a challenge in rural Zambia Their focus on family and community spirit was both humbling and inspiring at the same time.

As my time in Mfuwe progressed, and my understanding of the children’s wants and desires developed, I made it my mission not only find funding to pay their school fees, but also for a higher education, followed by employment -- the key to success in the area.

Though I've always considered myself to be non-maternal, I came to be known as "mum" to an entire community of children and young adults.

In my small way I was able to change lives, build confidence in these individuals so they could achieve their goals, regardless of where they were born. I truly made a difference to this community. This magical place I came to call home.

To hear more about Lisa's life-transforming journey, head over to her website http://www.theunplannedjourney.com.

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