Community Development in Zambia

My mother told me that one of the greatest positive changes in her life occurred when my father installed a hand water pump inside our Minnesota farmhouse in 1945. At that time, my parents had five children. I was reminded of this when my resolution to connect deeply with Africa took shape this year in response to a request for help in Nsongwe, Zambia. Nsongwe is the home of 1,500 people of the Tokaleya tribe and rests on a plateau above the Zambezi River.

The request came from Muyano Mulindi (AKA Bridget Meyer), wife of my high school classmate Bob Meyer. Bob had arrived in Zambia in 1982 and worked as a river- rafting guide on the Zambezi River for several years, marrying Bridget in 1987. After living in the US for many years, they now have a small farm on the edge of Nsongwe.

Bob Meyer, Jan Irene Miller and Bridget Meyer
Bob Meyer, Jan Irene Miller and Bridget Meyer

When my husband Jim and I visited Bob and Bridget in April, 2012, Bridget and the head teacher at the village school took me aside and shared the story of years of frustrated attempts to persuade the utility company to bring electricity to the school and clinic. They asked for my help. So, I began to research the development and sustainability issues in Zambia.

A few months later, I visited Nsongwe again and met with village leaders to learn about their concerns and priorities. Each of the leaders spoke of their visions of future microeconomic developments that could be supported by this project. They agreed that electricity and running water for the school and clinic were a top priority.

I learned that the World Bank had constructed the Nsongwe Medical Clinic, Basic School, and homes for teachers and nurses in the 1990s. The Zambian government operates the school, where 400 students attend grades 1-9. The clinic provides pre- and postnatal care, basic first aid and medicine for malaria and other common diseases. It also acts as a referral service to hospitals in the nearby town of Livingstone.

Challenges in Nsongwe

Residents of Nsongwe live simply with no electricity, running water or sewer systems in their modest traditional dwellings. The town is forty-five minutes by vehicle from Livingstone on a nearly impassable road with no bus service. Dehydration, malaria, snakebites and problems in childbirth are common occurrences. The clinic cannot provide adequate care without water, light, heat, refrigeration, and security.

Overland Missions, a Christian non-profit organization based in Florida, has a base camp near Nsongwe. I immediately made contact with Beverley Muruvan, the camp’s operations manager. I also telephoned the organization’s financial director in the US.

Overland staff agreed to partner with me to collect and disburse funds as needed to Bridget, who would act as the project manager in Nsongwe. Bridget’s return to her native home, her passion for her village, and her considerable leadership skills made it apparent that this could be a successful endeavor. She would provide a critical cultural leadership bridge and be an example for other African villages. Bridget immediately wrote letters to the Tokaleya tribal chief and the Zambian Ministries of Health and Education requesting permission to proceed.

The Project Begins

The project was officially launched in September of 2012 when, as CEO of Fit for Leadership, I signed a memorandum of understanding with Overland Missions and contributed the initial $20,000 to pay Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation Limited (ZESCO) and an additional $2,500 for project management and administrative support. With the help of Wendy Burger, a South African administrative consultant, we constructed a project website on Razoo, a non-profit crowd-funding platform on which Overland Missions is registered. Funds are donated by members of the public online on behalf of Overland Missions Nsongwe Infrastructure Project These funds are then transferred from Overland Missions USA to their Zambia base camp. Beverley Muruvan at the base camp cooperates with my organization, which leads the overall project. Bridget and the newly formed Nsongwe Sustainability Committee (NSUDECO) define, prioritize and manage affiliated infrastructure projects in Nsongwe.

Electrifying the Nsongwe School and Village
Electrifying the Nsongwe School and Village

ZESCO was contracted to conduct a site survey, bid the electric power supply contract, and extend power from the regional energy grid to the village. The first set of power poles arrived in November, 2012, coinciding with my next visit to the village. Nsongwe residents began to see that electricity was actually going to happen. ZESCO successfully completed line and pole installations despite delays due to very rocky ground. Installation of a 100 kV transformer was completed and an additional 50 residents applied to ZESCO for electricity to their homes. Bridget arranged a group application, which resulted in a 90% discount on these residents’ application and setup fees.

The second project was a contract for electrical wiring and meters in homes and other buildings. The villagers donated $2,000 worth of handcrafted items, which my friends and I sold at the US Embassy Lusaka Christmas craft market. I raised additional funds through my personal and business network. NSUDECO contracted Morris Musonda, a trained electrician who was also a former ZESCO employee. He made a very competitive bid on the projects, hired local Nsongwe workers, and very graciously continued to work on wiring the buildings while negotiating his terms of payment with us.

Expanding the project’s scope

As NSUDECO evaluated needs at the clinic, the scope of the project expanded. Wendy and I received requests for external showers and toilets, an incinerator, geyser, refrigerator, shelving, flooring, and internal sink plumbing. All of this occurred before the initial electrical project was complete. In January, 2013, I spent a week in Nsongwe with Wendy, coaching NSUDECO on how to stay within scope of our agreement.

Stakeholders walk about
Stakeholders walk about

NSUDECO members, along with Wendy and I, met with representatives of each of the pertinent stakeholders: the District Health Office (DOH), the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), and the District Education Office (DEO). The DOH Director and staff thanked us for our contribution in electrifying the clinic, and said, “We’ll take it from here.” They committed to cover the costs of the geyser, plumbing inside the clinic, a refrigerator, and the monthly costs for electricity, including the upcoming electricity costs for pumping water for storage near the clinic. NSUDECO subsequently took steps to improve the village volunteer system at the clinic and request that DOH employ someone in the village clean it.

With NSUDECO’s priority to eventually build showers and toilets outside the clinic, I voiced concern about the cost, safety and long-term sustainability of water sanitation and management for the village. On January 31, 2013, with Wendy, representatives from ZEMA, the DOH, and David Shirtliff water engineering, we did a village “walk about” with NSUDECO to discuss possible solutions. These local experts will help NSUDECO draft a phased plan to meet village water requirements. They also approved the location and initial construction of a water storage tank and taps near the clinic.

Switching on the lights

Work continued on the ground at the village and funds were raised online to complete the wiring of all thirteen buildings. History was made on April 4, 2013, when the electricity was switched on for the first time, exactly one year after my first visit. What a celebration – two of the first three major projects successfully launched in a relatively short time. I kept hearing from the Nsongwe community: “Things move slowly in Africa – but not your project!”

Water storage and sanitation must be provided to both the clinic and the school in order to complete the cornerstone projects and improve healthcare and education in the village. The school, nurses’ homes, and teachers’ homes will also require significant future investment. Providing water storage at the clinic with two taps for village use will be a good start. The third and final project of phase one infrastructure; providing a submersible pump in a qualified bore hole, along with piping, storage and taps, has been bid at $7,000. We are hoping to have funds raised by the end of May, 2013.

You can read more about this project by visiting the Razoo website at or our facebook page at

Nsongwe Sustainability Committee (NSUDECO) 2013
Nsongwe Sustainability Committee (NSUDECO) 2013
Initial craft donations
Initial craft donations
First Village Meeting - Nsongwe
First Village Meeting – Nsongwe

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