Jane Kaye-Bailey of The Butterfly Tree charity, with some of the village children
Jane was enjoying five-star luxury on a holiday in southern Africa with her husband, taking in the wonders of Victoria Falls and other once-in-a-lifetime sights. But little did she realise how that beautiful part of the world would soon come to redefine her life.
"The incentive for starting the charity all came from that trip with my late husband," said Jane. "We went off our itinerary and visited a school where 50 per cent of the children were orphaned. It was astounding and obviously hard to ignore, especially as we were staying in a swish hotel at the time.
"That was in February 2006 - and we came back to the UK wanting to do more. At first, this was mainly to raise money for orphans and for the rebuilding of a teacher's abandoned house. My husband's company, which dealt with electronic point of sale machines, quickly managed to raise £5,000 through sponsorship, which was donated directly to the village.
"My son David and I then spent a week at the village working directly with a teacher and at a clinic, to work out exactly what they wanted and needed. By then the place was really getting under my skin. I needed to do more. So a year later we started to get orphans sponsored and we registered as an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) charity in Zambia. At this point we got in touch with Saga, and our association began." Saga's remit, through the Saga Charitable Trust, is to fund four key areas: education, training, healthcare and sustainable, income-generating enterprises. The trust works closely with local communities to identify programmes, and to focus on local needs to make a real difference to the lives of the local community.
Jane and David, and Miranda De Freston, are The Butterfly Tree's three trustees. Miranda's expertise as a web designer has helped the organisation expand its reach to pull in volunteers from across the globe for regional education and healthcare projects. Jane says there are currently 11 volunteers from the United Kingdom, 16 from Zambia itself, plus others from the United States, South Korea and Australia, with students and professional people among their number. The charity has also forged close links with the University of Sydney, including a programme where final year medical students can go to the Mukuni area to help out with healthcare needs.
Jane emphasises that for prospective volunteers this is a serious business and "not some kind of show". "It is traditional village life and non-commercial," she says. "From the onset we have been very mindful of consulting with the local chiefs and chiefdoms. We have a good relationship with them as a result."
Among the most popular facilities at Mukuni with previous volunteers are the schools. The Butterfly Tree has opened a high school, two pre-schools and a special education class in the region, as well as building extra classrooms and teachers’ houses. The schoolchildren now benefit from nutritional daily meals, and there is also a 'play-pump' merry-go-round, where they can pump fresh water while they play. Indeed, water, food, health and education are the absolute driving forces of the organisation. In 2006 there were still many children dropping out of school, but Jane is happy to report that many more are now staying on and lapping up the rewards of learning. "We started raising funds for the school in 2007, and now it is flourishing. We are hoping to raise money to set up a science lab in the near future.
"There are also great opportunities in these rural communities for volunteers wishing to work with special needs and disabled children. We have set up a teacher exchange programme with Fountaindale School in Nottinghamshire to help this along."
Jane is determined to ensure that charitable donations can improve the lives of the region's women, too. "The building of a new clinic and shelters for women, particularly pregnant women, are vitally important," she said. "There was one local woman I can think of who walked 48km in 40 degrees heat at nine months pregnant to get here. She had a healthy baby in the end. But new and better facilities are invaluable, life-changing and life-saving."
And what single, specific, tangible benefit would Jane like to see come out of Saga's latest Fundraising Fortnight for the people of this part of southern Zambia, where the charity currently juggles no fewer than 30 projects? "Malaria is a huge problem; prevention is the only way in the long term. Saga helps out with this programme. So if each household could be provided with three mosquito nets by the end of the year, then that would be a great achievement."
Saga Charitable Trust - how to donate
Saga Charitable Trust
Saga Charitable Foundation
The Butterfly Tree
Saga Respite for Carers Trust
* Photo courtesy of The Butterfly Tree.