LSE International History undergraduate Ollie Cook will be one of a group to row down the Upper Zambezi in Zambia this summer to raise funds and awareness for the charity Village Water. He looks ahead to what promises to be a once in a lifetime experience.
In August this year I am joining a group of rowers headed by my dad (LSE 1991) who aim to become the first people to have ever rowed down the 1000km stretch of the Upper Zambezi in Zambia.
We hope to finish the row within three weeks, which means rowing up to 70km a day, while trying to dodge hippos, rapids and the odd croc!
We are doing the row to raise funds and awareness for Village Water, a charity based in the remote Western Province of Zambia through which the Zambezi flows.
They aim to eradicate the devastating effects of diarrhoea and other water-based diseases such as malaria and worm infections from the village communities that live along the Zambezi.
Village Water has already been immensely successful. They have served more than 75,000 people in 326 villages by providing water wells, sanitation and hygiene education.
There were 42 cases of severe diarrhoea and 20 cases of malaria in Nandusu village before the charity helped initiate a clean water programme in 2008. By 2010, there were two cases of diarrhoea and one case of malaria after the work of Village Water.
We hope that the Row Zambezi expedition can act as a platform to raise awareness about the vital effect of water sanitation projects in remote communities and the continued tremendous work of Village Water.
By rowing down the Zambezi, we hope to highlight the gross paradox that the local villages face. They live alongside one of the mightiest rivers in Africa yet are faced with a lack of clean usable water.
The expedition is pushing off from Chavuma on the Angolan-Zambian border and finishing 1000km downstream in Livingstone, although we will be careful not to row too close to Victoria Falls!
The expedition is made up of three, three-man custom-made rowing boats, one support boat and a land-based expedition support team. The team includes sixteen rowers, rotating between the nine seats on the rowing boats, two local Zambian guides and an essential group of people working in South Africa, Zambia and the UK to make the expedition a reality.
The row will take us through the beautiful Bartose Floodplain, which can be up to 25km wide in the rainy season, before skirting the Caprivi Strip and Katimo Mulilo, and culminates in a sprint finish between the three rowing boats to Livingstone.
The rowers have been training furiously for the expedition. With up to 70km rowing a day, including the trials of having to avoid rapids, crocodiles, hippos, and camping alongside the river each night, training has included a rather damp weekend on an SAS survival course!
I am currently a second year International Relations and History undergraduate. I have a personal connection to Zambia as my mum grew up in Chingola, in the Copperbelt of Zambia, after my grandparents emigrated from the UK in the early 1960s.
My family has always held a special affinity with Zambia and my parents have long wanted to arrange an expedition that would raise money for a Zambian charity while achieving a difficult challenge.
My greatest fear is the risk the team could face. There are many uncertainties, posed to a large extent by the local wildlife, and the mental task of rowing such long distances. The expedition is really going to be one of a kind!
When we arrive at the head of Victoria Falls, we will give all our equipment to the local Zambian rowing club based in Livingstone. The rowing club was founded in 1906, and even hosted a major international regatta in 1910. Unfortunately today the club is not what it used to be.
The expedition really hopes to inspire a new generation of African rowers. In fact one of the rowers on the team is Antonia van Deventer who is training to represent Zambia in rowing at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Hopefully the Livingstone Rowing Club – with our boats and equipment – will soon be teaching young Africans to row and represent their country.
In the mean time please have a look at our website, Row Zambezi!