A celebration of sound and color came from a very grateful community who―quite literally― embraced Her Excellency Pamela O’Donnell, the Canadian High Commissioner to Zambia, and Megan Foster, Counsellor and Head of Global Affairs Canada program in Zambia, when they arrived in Mwandi District in early December. These welcome guests recently spent a day visiting the World Renew drought response project in the region.

World Renew’s in-country partner, The United Church of Zambia, has responded to severe drought in Western Province since May 2019. Four thousand households are receiving in-kind food assistance across sixteen centers in Mwandi District, which they will receive until April 2020. This critical and life-saving work is also being supported by the United Church of Canada, through our shared membership in Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

The Canadian High Commissioner spent the morning at a food distribution center in Loanja village where 194 households have been receiving food assistance in the form of drought-resistant seeds every month. A series of songs and dances from the villagers welcomed the High Commissioner who received a briefing from The United Church of Zambia’s Program Team under the leadership of Rev. Roy Kanchele, the Western Presbytery Bishop. He expressed his warm thanks to the High Commissioner for this timely intervention that has undoubtedly saved many lives. “When you compare Mwandi to the surrounding districts in my Presbytery, who have not been as fortunate to receive the same assistance, it is clear that the project has made a tremendous impact in the lives of those it serves,” he shared.

The local community’s Advisory Committee Chair, Mr. Mukoma Mukendwa, also thanked the High Commissioner in a moving speech that described the incredible impact of the project. “We as a community cannot thank you enough or even have the words to convey our thanks for your splendid support or even convey a fraction of our delight that you have come to visit us here in Loanja. Thanks to your support we can eat, our children have been able to remain in school, and we have the energy to work in our fields too. I feel these are poor words but I hope they go some way to express our feelings and thanks to you and the people of Canada for your gift to us.”

The High Commissioner responded with equal warmth, “The words that you wrote, your incredible welcome, and your appreciation for our assistance has brought tears to my eyes. It is really important that we recognize that we are all one in this and that we see your needs, understand them and help to respond to them in some way. It was [World Renew’s] presence here on the ground for a number of years… that brought attention to the situation, who did the analysis necessary, and indeed did their own fundraising alongside The United Church of Canada, working with The United Church of Zambia and local officials from the government and The Barotse Royal Establishment. It was that clear cooperation and that spirit of collaboration in dealing with this crisis that has allowed the Government of Canada to also step in through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and help.”

The High Commissioner then highlighted the importance of recognizing the effect of climate change on Zambian communities like Loanja. “…[It] is very important that we all recognize the changes that are happening with the climate and the need that we all have to adapt and create greater resilience to manage the changes that will continue to come and I am encouraged by the steps already being taken by this program to address some of that.”

The High Commissioner was also impressed with the emphasis that has been placed on improving  gender equality, as women are encouraged to play a critical role in community decision-making and food distribution, adding, “We don’t often see that level of involvement [of women] and we think this is critically important in a response… so I salute you all for making that happen.”

The High Commissioner then gave a parting speech to the village, sharing in her final words, “…We [must] recognize the challenge that you are facing here and that the only way forward is to never give up. We hope that we can continue working together to overcome the… challenges that you face in dealing with climate change.”

After traveling on to Mwandi to meet representatives from the Zambian government who also extended their deep gratitude to Canada, the High Commissioner made her final visit of the day to Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta.  For Chief Yeta, it was his “hope and desire that the Canadian Government would continue to provide assistance to communities in crisis but also… support longer-term interventions to help communities like Mwandi adapt to the new realities they face as a result of climate change.” He felt deeply grateful for the food assistance his people have received, but he also thanked the High Commissioner for Canada for highlighting the profound and real impact climate change is having on some of the most vulnerable communities around the world.

At World Renew, we are deeply grateful to Her Excellency Pamela O’Donnell for taking the time to visit our work in the Mwandi District and for giving vulnerable communities caught up in the climate crisis renewed hope.