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Clocking up kilometres for Zambia

“I learned how kind and generous people can be for a worthy cause and how much people care for others. I also learned more about life in Zambia and how little they have in comparison to us. Things we take for granted such as the simple act of turning on the light switch on a dull and gloomy day is not a given in Zambia.”

The words of Crescent College Comprehensive SJ student Maria Campbell who mobilised students, parishioners, family, and friends in Limerick to take part in a fundraising walk of 12,532km, the distance from St John’s Castle Limerick to St Edmund’s Secondary School in Zambia.

So far Maria has raised almost €10,000 to fund the purchase and installation of a solar panel system for the school which is situated in Muchenje, Chibombo District in Zambia. She is hoping to raise €18,068. Her #powerwalktozambia began on Friday 19 May, and she reached St Edmund’s School (virtually) on Monday 21 June 2021, the longest day of the year.

“12,500 kilometres is a long way so I knew we would need to recruit plenty of walkers to help cover the distance in a month,” Maria explains. “We got everyone to download a free app called Pacer, and join our “powerwalktozambia” group. We hoped to get 100 people so that everyone would walk an average of 125km. We ended up with exactly 100 people but it took a couple of weeks to reach that figure.”

On Sunday 20 June she posted on her GoFundMe page: “Sunday evening: Totalling the kilometers walked and I think we will be at the gates of St Edmund’s School tomorrow morning! We’ve €9002 raised so far with a huge collection from the parishioners of St Paul’s Dooradoyle Limerick.”

Currently, St Edmunds school in Zambia has no electricity supply, which is affecting the students learning. Maria explains: “Students cannot do any night-time or evening study. The school hall cannot be used at night-time, thus depriving both the school and the wider community of a valuable resource. Teachers and students cannot avail of teaching technology such as projectors, photocopiers, and video recording”. She adds that “electricity is a basic necessity which would enhance the school life and education of all the pupils of St. Edmund’s and the community life of Muchenje itself”.

Although it all went very smoothly Maria had some fearful moments. “I was worried about everything before we started. I was worried that we wouldn’t get enough walkers and that we wouldn’t raise enough money on the GoFundMe site. Then my school pals, my family, our friends, and even some of my teachers joined the walk.

Maria, is a long-distance runner, and for four weeks she kept walking, along with a few of her fellow transition students from Crescent College”I organised a day out at the zoo with my family and all my cousins from Dublin. We had great fun and it was brilliant to meet up with them after not seeing them during lockdown” she says, adding, “My two friends and I also spent a few days walking around Co. Wicklow, trying unsuccessfully to spot Patrick Dempsey on the set of Disenchanted in Enniskerry!”

She may not have met any celebrities on her travels but Maria has been touched by all those who have joined up to support her. “One person can always make a difference, but for things to change everyone needs to help. I got loads of help in this project, especially from my parents, my auntie Claire (especially on social media) and my friends Ciara and Kate. ”

Maria still needs to raise another €9,000 for the solar panels so the work goes on. “I spoke at St Paul’s Church, Dooradoyle, last weekend and raised over €1,000,” she says, adding, “I will be speaking at Raheen and Monaleen churches this weekend. I also know that there is another €2,500 pledged. Now that the walk is over we intend to keep the GoFundMe page open until about July 10th. People have been very generous and I’m delighted the way things are going and it looks like we’ll either meet or get very close to our target” If you would like to donate to Maria’s fundraiser for St. Edmund’s Secondary School, please click here » and help her reach her target.

Maria is also inspired by her uncle, Fr Martin McGowan, a past pupil of Crescent College SJ (Class of 83) who is a missionary priest in the Muchenje parish. When Martin left Crescent he studied engineering in the University of Limerick, graduating in 1987. After graduation, Martin joined the St Patrick Missionary Fathers, better known as the Kiltegan Fathers. He has been living and working in Zambia since his ordination in 1997.

Maria is hopeful that the project will be complete by the end of August. “My uncle, Fr. Martin, will supervise the installation of the energy system and the electrification of the school” she explains. “From talking to him, I know that this project will make a huge difference to the pupils’ education, not just now, but for generations to come. I can’t wait to see the ‘lighting up’ ceremony.

According to Brendan Lunn, a teacher at Crescent College and involved in faith formation there, the school is immensely proud of both Martin and Maria. ” Martin’s spirituality and engineering prowess have helped transform the communities in which he has worked. He has helped build churches, schools, hospitals and houses in many villages and districts. Both Martin and Maria’s dedication to the service of others is truly inspiring.  They continue the school’s connections with Zambia,” he says.

Brendan notes that in 1964 Dr Kenneth Kaunda became the first president of independent Zambia.  In the previous year he had visited Crescent College SJ, where he spent time with his friend Rev. Fr Robert Thompson SJ, who had helped his family during Zambia’s struggle for independence from Britain.

President Kaunda would later return to Limerick to receive the honour of the Freedom of the City. As a former teacher he was a strong advocate on young people receiving an education.

“I am sure the President would have been extremely proud of the work that Martin and Maria are doing for the children of Zambia,” he concludes.