The Princess Royal on her visit to Mukuni village, Zambia
"The Princess is coming!" cried the schoolchildren, waving their flags as they lined the dirt track to Mukuni School. At 9.30 on the dot (the Princess Royal doesn't do late) an appropriately large official 4x4 sporting a Royal Standard, drew up outside a newly painted roundel here in Mukuni, a remote town some 18 km from Livingstone. There waiting for the Princess was Jane Kaye-Bailey, founder of the Butterfly Tree project that was the happy object of this rare royal visit on the last day of the Princess Royal's official visit to Zambia as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Before even waiting to be introduced to the 12 volunteers and the charity's local committee, the Princess started firing well-informed questions at Jane about the charity. As the visit progressed it was clear that she is extremely well informed on all the peculiarly African and Third World problems that beset Mukuni. HIV/AIDS, malaria, education, sponsorship of orphans left fatherless from that dreadful illness and education, education, education. It is all these that Butterfly Tree seeks to address in this one area of Southern Zambia.
The Princess Royal visited the Special Education classroom. Here 16 pupils with a range of disabilities attend school daily - children who would otherwise never see the inside of any school. She moved on to see a Grade 9 class in action and then to a small marquee set up in the playground. Then, watched by more than 1000 fellow pupils, the school choir serenaded her and there was a traditional dance. Most movingly a talented 13 year old orphan, Natasha, who was one of the inspirations behind setting up the charity, read a poem written by Jane which neatly sums up what Butterfly Tree is all about:
Spread Your Wings
I am a butterfly who has emerged from a tree
My wings are developing so I can be free
I am learning and yearning to break the poverty cycle
In order to help those in need like me
As time passes by The Butterfly Tree
Will nurture many more orphans like me
My life is enriched with the education I receive
Soon I can explore what the world can offer me.
Having unveiled a plaque to commemorate her visit, Princess Anne moved on in the boiling heat and at a brisk pace off the school campus to the town's clinic - her entourage and the people from Butterfly Tree, including myself as a trustee of the Saga Charitable Trust, one of their main donors, trying to keep up with her. Before the arrival of Butterfly Tree the town clinic's sole equipment was one thermometer and one blood pressure gauge. Now, as well as basic but sufficient gadgetry of medicine, there is a special maternity unit (where fortuitously a woman in labour was lying) and a recovery room where a woman with a newborn baby received the Princess from her bed.
The clinic also stocks the vital retro viral drugs for the one in six of the local population who have HIV/AIDS, and hosts educational workshops on malaria and HIV/AIDS. The Princess discussed retro virals with the male nurse, inspected the boarding house built to house heavily pregnant women who have to walk up to 50 km to the clinic, heard all about the malaria prevention programme which is sponsored by Saga Charitable Trust. And then she was off. In a cloud of red dust and escorted by several police cars, the Princess disappeared into the bush to cram in another visit to another charity before returning to the UK that afternoon.
She left in her wake a very happy and exhausted bunch of people. Thrilled and overwhelmed by the privilege of the visit, and exhausted by the weeks of preparation it took to prepare the site, coach the children and organise the event.
Who knows what will come of such a visit? Even before it had ended there was one happy result: a very bright boy called Haz-Jondo Mudenda who has been sponsored by Butterfly Tree to get him the further education he so evidently deserves was having to make do with teacher training college in Livingstone rather than university due to lack of funding. But the local government minister heard his story and has offered to fund a place for him to study mathematics in Lusaka. Another butterfly spreads its wings.