Students from Brunel University London gained valuable first-hand experience of how Zambia improves the livelihoods of refugees and their host communities, thanks to a four-week field trip at the invitation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – the first such trip by a UK university to the Southern African country.
The seven first-year students, from the Global Challenges BASc undergraduate degree, worked with two refugee and resettlement communities in the west of the country, learning how the UNDP and Zambia’s Department of Resettlement work together to integrate recently arrived and long-term refugees alongside locals.
The end of the trip included some time to reflect – and to commune with elephants, hippos and other wildlife that wandered into the camp – and culminated in the students presenting project ideas to the UNDP and government officials about how the resettlement work can be further improved.
This was a golden opportunity for students to put their learning in practice. The field trip built upon original classroom work from earlier in the year, with the students applying it directly to the Zambia context, where they explored the scientific, social, political and economic factors that impact decision-making, communication and project design.
The students developed creative solutions to community issues with local and national stakeholders on the ground, directly contributing to the United Nations work on their Sustainable Development Goals in Zambia and Southern Africa as a whole.
But first, the students – led by Dr Mary Richards and Dr Olwenn Martin – needed time to get familiar with the daily realities of rural Zambian life. They crossed over crocodile-rich waters to buy live chickens from a local market to cook on charcoal stoves; picked litter on the shores of Lake Kariba to understand the result of a lack of waste disposal and recycling infrastructure; and visited a fishing boat to appreciate the hard, dirty and dangerous livelihood that's causing fish stocks to dive.
Students buying provisions in Siavonga market · Litter pick by Lake Kariba
Working with refugees
After driving to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to explore how goods flow in and out of Zambia, the group spent four days at Meheba refugee and resettlement community, conducting a training workshop in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), part of the United Nations.
For nearly 50 years, Meheba has welcomed people fleeing war and hardship in Angola, Rwanda and more recently DR Congo to the relative peace and prosperity of Zambia. With Brunel’s support, the ILO offered training to the farmers and to the students in order to improve agricultural strategies to a rewarding and economically productive level. For the students, this was an opportunity to understand the issues faced by the farmers and start thinking about projects that might help the community.
Students with agricultural officers and farmers · An audience with His Royal Highness Chief Mumena
“Providing training to both students and local stakeholders facilitated unique dynamics to emerge during group tasks,” said Dr Martin, Lecturer in Global Challenges. “The quality of interactions between participants was noted by many as the highlight of the training, and I believe this was instrumental in offering the students unique insights into the livelihoods of local farmers.”
From there, the group headed to Mayukwayukwa resettlement community for five nights of home stays with locals across the extensive site, established in 1966 as one of Africa’s first refugee camps. They explored the bulking centre where farmed produce is stored before it goes to market, and met with agricultural workers, fish farmers and beekeepers. Two more days of training with locals further enhanced their appreciation of the challenges faced in developing livelihoods beyond the current semi-subsistence level.
Working in the market during home stays in Mayukwayukwa · Taking a step with refugees
Community support officer Olipa leads the presentation · Student Craig Nelson listens to Mary, a farmer in Mayukwayukwa
Reflecting and refining
The group then retreated for nearly a week to camp on the banks of the Kafue River in the south of the country, supported by Kaingu Safari Lodge. This was time for the students to assimilate findings, refine their projects and prepare their presentations. Their ideas included:
- Setting up better management structures to improve how the bulking centre is used, so that farmers could make greater profits from their crops through a properly managed supply chain.
- Increasing the use of greenhouses, and linking them with aquaponics (for raising aquatic animals and growing crops) to greatly reduce the amount of water used for crops, creating greater resilience to climate change.
- Growing bamboo near the bulking centre, to be used for construction and as part of the aquaponics kit.
- Investing in a biogas generator, fed by corn husks and other waste organic matter, to run a hammer mill to produce flour – more valuable than unprocessed grain.
And so the students headed to Zambia’s capital Lusaka on 27 June for their final task: they presented their projects to an assembled group of government and UNDP officials associated with the resettlement schemes, and received very supportive feedback. These ideas are now being written up for further review – and potential implementation.
“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” said Craig Nelson, who’s studying for a degree in Global Challenges (Security). “The people of Zambia showed nothing but love and compassion and I saw nothing but smiles from the youth to the elderly. The trip has made me so much more appreciative of the opportunities that I have, and I know for sure I’ll approach future tasks with complete positivity and commitment!”
For Dr Richards, Brunel’s Global Challenges Programme Director, the project exceeded her expectations in every respect: “The openness of the people we met was a major contributing factor, but our students really rose to the intellectual, physical, sociocultural and psychological challenges – ably supported by my fellow staff.
“We are very proud of what our students achieved on this trip, and look forward to further developing the collaboration with UNDP and the Department of Resettlement.”
Brunel University London is a member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), which highlights our commitment to supporting and contributing (through research and education) to the realisation of the United Nations General Assembly’s goals.
Find out more about studying Global Challenges at Brunel University London.
The field trip was funded by Brunel's Access and Participation Fund and the Provost's Go International: Stand Out initiative. All flights were carbon offset.
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821 email@example.com