Paul Sheridan – Zambia

Paul Sheridan – Media Specialist, SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia

Paul, originally from Co. Donegal, who works as a producer with BBC Northern Ireland, is the first volunteer to be supported by the VC Mission Support Fund which has been established thanks to funding support from the Archdiocese of Dublin.

“I have been assigned here for 12 months in the role of Media Specialist to work with Fr Tom Casey and his colleagues in the SMA Media Centre in Ndola. During the year I am learning about the work of the Media Centre, it’s beneficiaries, the broader development picture in Zambia and the role of media in it. I also hope to help with the further development of Media Centre to make it a more established agent of change and to strengthen its contribution to capacity building not just in Zambia, but beyond.

I arrived here to start my year-long volunteering placement on the 4th of October. That time of the year is the hottest season so the temperature difference was one of most immediate and extreme changes I faced; typically daytime temperatures were in the mid-30’s centigrade. I took some comfort though from local people complaining that it was too hot! Thankfully now though we’re into the rainy season (with its lower temperatures) which lasts until April. But ‘rainy’ here is a very different experience to the Irish version; almost daily, usually around mid to late afternoon, ominous thunder and spectacular sheet lightning herald the most torrential of downpours – a most impressive experience.

Coming from a working environment in which I have been steeped for 16 years to a very different one here has thrown-up plenty of opportunity and challenge. Even in the relatively short space of time I’ve been here we’ve achieved some good results; a Needs Assessment process is well under way, we’ve established a public profile via Facebook, made important contacts – including with the nascent national Catholic TV channel as well as with other agencies in the development sector, initiated an exciting new community-building initiative within the SMA and completed several new video projects.

But it’s sometimes been a personal struggle to adjust my own ambition, expectations and yes, mea cupla – impatience – to the reality of my new working and living environment (despite this being a key point of our Venture training programme!). There have been the basic or immediate hurdles in terms of power-cuts and very inconsistent – and then non-existent – internet access; very frustrating. But so too, at times, with differences in approach and culture both within my immediate working environment and at the wider societal level. Recognising limitations and aligning my aspirations with what is realistic has not been easy but that’s part of why I’m here too – to challenge myself a bit. Mother nature too has ‘put me in my box’ by asserted her authority over my slowly adapting biology (and maybe my carelessness) through three bouts of sickness, one of which led to hospitalisation.

But any problems or disappointments have been far outshone by the positives; first and foremost the people I’ve come to live with. I’ve only recently come to reflect on the peculiarity of my living situation at the SMA provincial house. Living in community with a small cadre of priests is definitely a change from my bachelor life in Belfast. Being immersed in much of their everyday life has been an insight – though it’s not quite Craggy Island parochial house! Together with that of the hard-working local staff, they have matched the warmth of their welcome with a very generous level of hospitality; as well as a room and kitchen in a separate wing of the building I have access to my own car and the freedom to accept or decline involvement in that daily life. I have never felt under pressure to participate in any of the religious activities, routine or otherwise though having the opportunity to do so has meant that attending morning mass on a frequent basis has become another enriching aspect of my life here.

Cheerful, gregarious and caring as the fathers are though, there have been times when I’ve craved some other company. Establishing a social network outside the community has been a frustratingly slow process but in recent weeks I’ve made significant advances in that regard too. Part of this has been the very unanticipated opportunity of appearing as a guest judge in the pilot episode of a new Zambian Reality TV series about a group of aspiring young models!

For now the project work continues, and while things happen differently here, at least I can remind myself that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day!”