It’s great to be welcomed when you visit anywhere but this was something else. As two Cardiff primary school teachers got off their plane in Lusaka, Zambia, thousands of cheering locals lined the runway.
Unfortunately they weren’t there to greet Eoghan Walsh and Angie Carne, teachers at Radnor Road Primary School in Canton, but were expecting the Zambian national football team who had just won the African Nations Cup for the first time.
Still it was a pleasant fiction for the pair, after two long flights from the UK, to think they might be the cause of all the celebration.
Angie said: “When we were on the plane we got news that Zambia had just won the African Nations Cup. The football team must have been on their way as when our plane landed they presumed we were the team.
“We thought ‘they have done this arrival for us’! It was amazing and a really great introduction to Zambia.”
Angie, 34, from Bridgend and Eoghan, 33, from Waterford in Ireland, couldn’t escape football during their nine-day stay, arriving in Zambia the day after the national team beat Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in the final on Sunday, February 12.
Eoghan said: “Everything was football. Everything on the news every single day was about how Zambia can move on and grow from this. They loved the fact that they had won, because they were underdogs.
“They have a lot of hardship and corruption. When you read the local papers, every day it’s about corruption. Winning was just a feel good factor putting everybody in high spirits. They fancy themselves now for the world cup!”
The victory had a special resonance for Zambia as it came in the city of Libreville in Gabon where 19 years before, 25 Zambian players and officials were killed in a plane crash en route to a World Cup qualifier with Senegal.
But the triumph this year of ‘chipolopolo’ or the ‘copper bullets’ as the team are known, had everyone at the school Angie and Eoghan were visiting up and dancing – including the headmistress.
On the pair’s last night at Shikoswe Basic School in Kafue, Maureen Mulendema was on her feet enjoying the party as the Zambian team’s unofficial anthem, also called chipolopolo, was played.
Eoghan said: “The staff had a special goodbye meal for us. We were at the head of a table and the head teacher just got out and started dancing.”
Tribal Cousins with Chipolopolo 2012
He and Angie had been visiting the school of 2,223 pupils after Radnor Road Primary was twinned with it as part of a British Council international school partnership scheme at the end of last year.
They were shown round the school, where teachers teach from 6.30am to 5pm every day, and got to give their own lessons.
Angie said: “They understand the value of education, more so than our children. They feel more privileged that they have a school to go to despite the fact they have one textbook between five people, holes in the floor and a leaking roof when it rains.”
She and Eoghan also got to visit other schools in the area, experience life in an isolated Zambian rural community, and see the magnificent Victoria Falls.
Eoghan said: “I think I saw the challenges of teaching when you are just left with the minimum, when it’s just you and the children and a blackboard. How lucky we are with small class sizes and all the resources we could ever wish for.”
Angie’s class of year fives and sixes have already suggested fundraising ideas after learning how short of books are Shikoswe’s students, who range from ages 6 to 16. The two sets of pupils have also started corresponding and it’s now the turn of the Radnor Road kids to write back.
There are also plans for some of the teachers at Shikoswe to come and visit Cardiff in June and having been to Africa and seen a Zambian school for himself, Eoghan hopes this is just the beginning of a long friendship between the two schools.
He said: “It’s not just a name, not just ‘this school is twinned with this school’. It’s about what we can actually get out of it. This was just the first step really.”