Regular readers of this blog will realise that I like to promote good things about Zambia: indeed, good things about Africa in general, as we so often get overwhelmed by miserable, depressing news from the continent.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not trying to say that there is not poverty, or injustice, or starvation, or malnutrition, or HIV/AIDS, or corruption, or a lack of decent education, or refugee crises, or exploitation, or drought, or war, or…
What I am saying is that GOOD THINGS DO HAPPEN.
And one of them is The Extraordinary Project. People who follow me on Facebook will know I have begun sharing this project’s posts: 40 days of the people and photos in their magnificent book.
But I run away with myself. You are no doubt asking, “What is The Extraordinary Project?”
It is a collaboration between Gareth Bentley (Zambian, photographer) and Johan Rahm (Swedish, writer) to celebrate the different, exciting, diverse people of Zambia. Together they have produced a book (available locally in Lusaka: I’ll let you know when it is available worldwide) that introduces us, as readers, to the many wonderful people of the country.
In their words:
Zambia is an unknown entity to so many around the world. Like her neighbors, the country is rich in wildlife, minerals and natural beauty but unlike much of the continent Zambia has remained peaceful during the transition to self-rule and subsequently through five changes of government. In spite of this, or more likely because of this, Zambia and Zambians are rarely seen on screens or in print around the world where war, hunger and disaster most often describe the continent.
Living in Zambia, we kept meeting people with amazing personal stories and the idea for this project was born. In this book we try to unearth and celebrate the lives of the different, the passionate, the inspiring. From a boy drafted out of his village school to fight in the jungles of Burma in World War II to the young filmmaker who made it to Cannes with her first movie, to the elderly man who in his youth fought for and gained independence for his country; each story a thread in the tapestry that makes Zambia the unique place that it is.
As collaborators on this project, we represent two very different perspectives on Zambia. Gareth is a Zambian citizen, his family having settled here in the late 1800s and Johan is a Swede who has lived in Zambia for 5 years. These two perspectives have been extremely important in trying to achieve some form of balance.
Inside the country many of the people who share their stories in this book are completely unknown to most Zambians. We hope this book will be a source of pride to the next generation of Zambians in all walks of life.
From an outside perspective, the portrayal of Africa is seriously skewed. Most of the news that reaches audiences on other continents has to do with war and famine. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Zambia. It is time that Africa and Zambia are portrayed in a fashion that reflects the truth. We hope that this book in some small way will contribute to that cause.
The most difficult problem we have had while working on this book is to limit the number of people we include. We have come across so many fascinating stories. The selection we have made should not be seen as a definitive list of the most extraordinary people in Zambia. How could it ever be possible to make such a list? Rather we would like it to be seen as examples of how many great people there are in Zambia and what amazing things they have achieved. We hope to carry on working on this project and continue to find and publish more extraordinary Zambian stories.
Do go to the website and view some of the marvellous pictures … and then lobby them to get the book available worldwide! The photos are amazing, and the stories bring joy to the heart. Take Day 3, for example, and the story of Chembe Mwanza, Acrobat and Outreach worker. Had you associated Zambia with Acrobats? I presume not! The story of his life from being thrown out onto the streets by his stepmother, through living rough in the capital city to his discovery of a love of theatre and acrobatics is inspiring for all.
I wholeheartedly commend the book and the project to you.
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