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“A working holiday”

Once again, our three-week trip to FCTrelief Foundation in Zambia was a real “working holiday.” The timing was perfect for all that needed to be discussed, decided and done. Chris Merk reports. 


As reported, 2024 had a challenging start due to the cholera outbreak – the worst in years – and schools, colleges and Universities could not open until mid-February, shortly before we arrived. The staff at FCTrelief had done a good job during these first weeks of enrolling the new pupils, giving out homework when the children came for lunches, making sure they all had their new uniforms, shoes and books, and generally monitoring all the pupils until schools opened. We have 30 new pupils, making a total of almost 100 pupils this year – the highest number so far. 


A Future through Education

Our 17 “Grade 12” pupils received their results and once again some were very good. The best pupils are very keen to have the chance of further and higher education. Most of them should be eligible for a bursary and some have already applied! They are motivated by those pupils now studying. Some of those students came to talk to our pupils about their courses during our workshops, so they have a better idea of what to study and where to apply. Violet and Mable, who had the best results of our girls, would love to study pharmacy next year. This is a challenging course, but like Memory who completed her three-year course in December, they are clever and determined enough.


Violet and Mable

During the first week of our visit there was a constant flow of students (now 16 of them) coming to sign for their 2024 study loans, which was an ideal opportunity to talk to them about their courses and progress. Some of the “Grade 12” school-leavers also come to ask for help and advice. 

Three asked to go to the Vocational Training College in “Chikupi” for a year’s course in agriculture. However, we were told that there were no more places for 2024 and the school year had already started. On asking specifically for three places for our FCTrelief students, we were then told that they would make space for our young people as we enjoy such a good reputation! How excited Steven, Janet and Eunice were at this chance in life. Within three days we had talked with their parents, who agreed to help where possible, made the applications and helped sort out all they needed to start. For the first time the respective families were able to help with some food, pots and cooking utensils, as well as bedding and some of the specific requirements, like boots and personal hygiene products. We helped them with the rest including a locker for the girls and a suitcase for Steven. By Friday, they could board our new bus with everything and were driven by Danny and Erich to “Chikupi,” excited that this had been possible. They had only missed the first week and were eager to learn and catch up. It was touching to hear from Eunice’s mother and Steven and Janet’s fathers how very grateful they are to FCT for this opportunity, knowing that when their children complete the year and have a certificate, it will be much easier for them to find work afterwards. Eunice shared that it is “fun,” that they are enjoying it and are learning a lot.


Steven, Eunice und Janet with Dads

For the third year running we have Prefects and Head Boys at their respective schools, which speaks for their conduct and character – again reflecting well on our teachers as role models and all that the pupils learn at FCT. Our children are polite, well-behaved and a pleasure to talk to. All very grateful to be part of the FCTrelief programme, which after almost 10 years has made its mark in the community.

We are pleased to see how our school-leavers keep up their friendships made at FCTrelief after leaving us and some either study together or share accommodation and generally support each other – like family members.  


Francis und Moses (Headboys)

Two New Nurses

Two other girls, Mary and Gertrude, asked for our assistance to apply to “Makeni” Nursing College, as they know our two nurses who are half way through their second year there. Again, we helped them with the paperwork and recommendation letters for the application and test, which worked out well. Once they were accepted, they could apply for a bursary which we hope they will be given. Both girls come from very challenging home situations and it is an important factor that they can live at the college during the three years of training, to be safe and learn to be independent. With a shortage of nurses generally in Zambia, they have good chances of finding a job once they qualify. Again our reputation as a foundation helped these girls to get accepted.

Mary and Gertrude


Administration Workload

We went through all the paperwork for 2023, had our AGM, prepared all the accounts and wrote the yearly reports to go to the various offices (like NGO) in good time. We talked with all the staff and prepared their new contracts – this time for three years instead of one, as we are pleased with them and they are grateful for the job security, if all goes as expected. We checked all the infrastructure on the plot, had two powerful youth meetings on Saturdays with over100 young people, and met lots of other people we are involved with: helping some apply for jobs where we have connections, speaking to those who are repaying their study loans as some are struggling to do so due to the constantly rising living costs or are still waiting for employment after completing their studies – a great challenge in Zambia. Nothing happens fast and they have to “keep pushing,” as they say, until they find work even when qualified.


Erich Vracko joined us for the fourth time and was a valuable help in many ways – whether taking photos, driving or on the computer. He is quite at home now in Zambia and is appreciated by the staff and pupils. Gordon Merk also joined us a week later and was able to distribute a large suitcase full of donations from Bulgaria for the children, including winter socks/slippers that elderly people had hand-knitted. Everything was very well received. He is now involved in all the different spheres of work at FCTrelief, as well as running his charity in Bulgaria, and a great asset, preparing for when he will take over from us in the coming years.


Returning Home to Take a Rest...

Once again these 3 weeks flew by and we achieved an amazing amount of work as well as meeting up with and talking to a long list of people we know, work with or help. It was very rewarding, yet hard work. We left knowing we had done our utmost for this trip and left happy people behind. It was time to fly home for a rest! 





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