CLA News / The 2019 Commonwealth Law Conference Legacy Project In Zambia
Those who attended the Commonwealth Law Conference in Livingstone, Zambia last year, as well as readers of CLA newsletters, will recall that for the 2019 CLC supported a legacy project as an act of corporate social responsibility. In support of the Zambezi Sunrise Trust (a British charity, two of whose trustees are members of the Bar of England and Wales), the Conference funded the construction of a new classroom for vulnerable children. Situated at Linda Community School, not far from the conference venue, the new classroom was the fourth to be built there and helped enable the school of 470 disadvantaged children to move from its previous cramped and inadequate conditions to new premises. The ‘Commonwealth Classroom’ as it came to be known, was opened by Baroness Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, at a memorable ceremony that was attended by many conference delegates and legal dignitaries. Those who were at the Conference will also recall the children of the school choir singing at the Conference opening and closing ceremonies.
I am pleased to say that, eighteen months later, the Conference has left a lasting legacy at the school. The classroom continues in use every school day, and will do for many years to come. Moreover, it has had an additional unexpected benefit. After the recent reopening of schools in Zambia (which had endured a six month closure because of the Coronavirus pandemic), the additional space has greatly enhanced the ability of the school to practise the social distancing of children in a class shift system. This was unforeseen, but has been a huge help. It has also helped enable us to expand the school so that children will be able to stay on and receive a secondary education: the photographs include the school’s first ever Grade 8 (secondary level) class.
The classroom itself has also been further enhanced as a result of visits to the school by attendees at the Conference: the Law Society of Northern Ireland have funded much needed cupboard storage space, and desks have been sponsored by a school in Australia whose head teacher attended the Conference as the spouse of a delegate.
An immediate after effect of the Conference was the construction of the second half of the two classroom block, of which the Commonwealth Room was the first. Inspired by the generosity of Commonwealth Lawyers, Zambezi Sunrise Trust launched a ‘Class Action’ fundraiser aimed at U.K. lawyers, challenging them to match the donations of their Commonwealth brethren. That appeal secured the cost of funding the adjoining classroom. The project featured in ‘Counsel’ Magazine (the journal of the English Bar) through the good offices of another delegate, which also led to further donations. As a consequence, there is now a two room ‘legal’ block.
In Livingstone itself, connections made with the school during the relatively short time that the Conference took place continue to pay dividends a year and a half later. The Law Association of Zambia has twice visited the school, and made donations to it including substantial amounts of cleaning materials, mealie meal and other cooking essentials. The Royal Livingstone Hotel, sister hotel to the conference venue and where many delegates stayed, has also made donations to the school. Investigations are also ongoing into the possibility of repairing a derelict bridge that many of the more distant children have to cross on their daily walk in to get to lessons (often impossible in the rainy season)…..
The Conference legacy, however, has not been restricted to the classroom and the education that children receive every day in it. Another memorable feature of the CLC were the popular delegate bags, made from bright local chitenge material. They were made by the Tiyese (‘Let’s Try’) Craft Initiative, a local women’s empowerment group set up by Zambezi Sunrise Trust. The 670 bags were a huge success – and had a transformative effect on the lives of the ladies who made them. Not only were debts and obligations met, but investments in their, and their children’s, futures were made. Their reputation, enhanced by making the bags, has also led to more work. As I write this, the pedal powered sewing machines that were purchased to make the CLC bags are being used to make 2500 face masks for a local NGO to help in the fight against the spread of Coronavirus. This will go a long way to help replace the loss of income that the ladies have suffered this year with the disappearance of tourists who would normally buy their bags, aprons, headbands, ties, mats and other items. Again, this may not have been specifically foreseen, but the decision of the CLA to adopt a local project as a beneficiary of the Conference has made a real and lasting difference to members of the local community.
The Conference itself, of course, leaves an enduring legacy of connections and learning within the legal professions of member nations. What delegates, and potential delegates to the next Commonwealth Law Conference in the Bahamas, may not realise is that it also leaves a residue of lasting benefit and fond memories within its host community. If you are reading this on a weekday, the chances are that a group of children are learning in their first ever purpose built classroom – with a Commonwealth flag painted on the wall.
You can learn more about the work of the Zambezi Sunrise Trust, including with Linda Community School and Tiyese Craft Initiative, and make a donation if you so wish, at www.zambezisunrisetrust.co.uk .
Trustee, The Zambezi Sunrise Trust