Zambia Immersion Programme
St. Mary’s: Zambian Immersion Programme
St Mary’s Zambia Immersion Programme was established here in St. Mary’s Grammar School, Belfast in the spring of 2002. The aim of the project was to encourage students and staff, in Christian Brothers’ Schools in Ireland, to work with the poor and marginalised in the developing countries of the world.
St. Mary’s Grammar school identified Zambia, in southern Africa, as such a country in need. The school and local community raise the money needed to support the people in the programmes our school is immersed with. Over the years we, as a school community, have built very strong relationships with our Zambian partners and feel honoured and blessed to be able to work alongside them. All aspects of our endeavour – preparation, fundraising, travel and immersion are centred on the Gospel values and charism of Blessed Edmund Rice.
Each June/July, a group of approximately ten of our students and several staff travel to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to work for two weeks on a number of projects there. Our work over the years has centred on numerous projects including:
- Kabwata Orphanage
- Home of Hope in the St. Lawrence’s Centre
- The St. Catherine’s Centre, based in the slum of Misisi and
- Mapepe Village
Whilst the fundraising and awareness of our project is a whole school endeavour, it is our Senior School students who are selected to travel. Each year, in the summer term, application forms are made available for Year 13 & Year 14 students who wish to be considered for selection for the following year’s immersion visit.
The application requires our students to think earnestly about why they wish to travel to Zambia, how they can fundraise to facilitate their travel and how they have involved themselves in the life of the project throughout their time as a student. Our staff volunteers make a similar application and also take full responsibility for raising the necessary funds for their visit. We are not poverty tourists – our immersion is primarily about standing alongside our Zambian brothers and sisters as equals however, our staff and students tirelessly fundraise to ensure that we can fully support financially the projects we visit.
After pupil selection in September, parents are sent an information pack and invited to attend the first of two meetings hosted in the school. At this initial meeting they will receive a presentation on the nature and purpose of the trip as well as discussion on the practical preparations (fundraising/inoculations etc). Students will meet weekly over the course of the year to help prepare them for their immersion experience.
Our immersion project takes us to the margins to stand in solidarity with those who experience poverty, injustice and oppression in their daily lives. It is a privilege to work in partnership with the people of Zambia and to try to help, support and empower our host communities to develop solutions to their own problems.
St Mary’s has worked to raise awareness of the conditions and causes that offend the human dignity of so many people throughout the world and to forge close bonds of friendship and solidarity with our host communities. Our Zambian brothers and sisters are not to be pitied; they do not want to live on the handouts and charitable contributions of Western nations. They want us to stand with them in the call for justice and equality for all the people of our world.
Upon our return each year, students are encouraged to speak at year group assemblies and to help prepare the next group of immersion recruits. They are also challenged to see their immersion, not as a one-off event but, as an opportunity to live out the vision of Edmund Rice amongst the people of Ireland. What good is it if we visit the people of Zambia but fail to address the poverty and injustices closer to home? We challenge each immersion student to involve themselves in support of our vulnerable sisters and brothers here in our own cities, towns and country and remind them of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25:
“Whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers,
you do for me.”