Zambian student shocked by South Leith foodbanks

Chishimbe Kondolo at South Leith foodbank. Photo: courtesy of Lisa Ferguson/Scotsman

Chishimbe Kondolo from Kitwe in Zambia has spent the last 3 months in Edinburgh on an exchange visit arranged through the Church of Scotland.

Chishimbe has been staying as a guest of Rev Iain May in Leith, and taking part in the many different community activities organised through South Leith Parish Church. She will begin her studies in journalism on her return to Zambia, and has written the following reflection on her visit to Scotland.

"Before I got to Scotland, anxiety was the order of each day that passed by. Previously, I had only visited South Africa and I could hardly wait for this trip. I could almost imagine Edinburgh as a place where everything moves smoothly and perfectly without any struggles. I had heard a great deal from Iain and Anne May when they stayed with my family in Kitwe in January. I was excited to see the historical places, but I was also nervous about how easy it would be for me to fit in.

Since I arrived in Edinburgh at the start of August I've learned a lot. I have been involved with various church activities like the Boys Brigade, the Girl Guides, the toddlers group and the food bank. Most people have been very welcoming, but I must admit that the food bank was a great surprise.

I know Scotland is a rich country and I did not expect to find food banks. When I was working there, I realised how hard it was for people to receive help and many people found it difficult to open up to me. There were lots of people with different problems, and sometimes from different countries, using the foodbank.

Some of those who did speak to me told me of the difficulties in their lives. Mostly this was through losing their jobs, and some were struggling with drugs or alcohol problems. I was pleased to be able to help, but the scale of the problem was a shock and it was hard to know how much more I could do than listen and learn about their lives.

The experience has just encouraged me to work even harder in my own life. I have realised Scotland is like any other place, where life treats us all the same and we just need to put in a little effort and determination. I have found hard work is always the key.

Zambia is a developing country. There are so many people on the streets with no food or places to call their homes, yet food banks are still not offered. I think the system here works well because people can only use the food bank a small number of times when they really need to. In Zambia, I worry it would lead to dependency. I must say in terms of development, we in Zambia have still got mountains to climb.

The most challenging part of the visit has been the week I spent at Leith Academy. The pupils were friendly and welcoming, but the school system is very different from the girls boarding school I attended back home. The subjects were familiar but it was hard to recognise the content of the lessons. I was surprised at the amount of technology used in the classrooms, and how friendly and informal the teachers are with the pupils during classes. Everyone was very interested to hear what school is like in Zambia, and they were amazed to hear how many languages we need speak. There are 72 recognised languages in my country.

I was lucky to be able to see more of the country and visit London and York. Even though I arrived in Edinburgh at the start of the Festival, I found London to be a very busy place. It was just as I expected, although there were more people than I had imagined. I saw all of the tourist sites like Big Ben and Buckingham palace. I stayed with Iain and Anne's neice in her home on the 13th floor of a building with wonderful views.

I also stayed with Rev Silungwe and his family, who are from Zambia, at their home in Kettering. They were happy to see me, and showed me around the area which has been their home for the last 3 years. It was good to eat traditional Zambian food and it really helped stop me getting too homesick.

Just like myself, many people in Zambia believe the United Kingdom is the perfect place to be. After being here for several months, I realised that people have to work for what they earn. It's not just a matter of being comfortable, but also working hard. The experience has showed me that life treats everyone the same. It doesn't matter your age, occupation or location, life is all the same.

I've experienced things that I will live to remember, and I am looking forward to sharing what I've learned with friends and family from Zambia.

I'm now looking forward to returning home and seeing all my family and friends again. Soon I hope I will begin my university studies. This trip has taught me so much about the world, and I hope after I graduate I may travel abroad again to continue my studies.

Chishimbe Kondolo.

Rev Iain May, of South Leith Parish Church told The Scotsman's Sian Ross: "Chishimbe had initially looked at things from a Third World perspective where £100 a week is a large amount of money.

"But I explained to her about living costs here, zero-hours contracts, welfare cuts and how people can face choices of paying the rent or feeding their kids." Read the full Evening News article here.