Advancing Together With Barrick Gold

Blog A great journey

Barrick’s Lumwana mine in Zambia has contributed to a significant improvement in the quality of education in the local community. Joseph Pyele, who grew up in the area, has played an important role in the transformation. An eight-year veteran of Lumwana’s community relations department, Pyele writes about the initial trepidation he felt upon joining Lumwana, and the pride he feels in contributing to the positive changes in the community.

The day was Friday the first of June 2007. The minibus carrying me and my fellow new arrivals to the Lumwana mine turned from the main paved road into a dusty, meandering road that cut through a thick forest typical of Zambia’s North Western Province. Just when it seemed like we had been travelling forever, a series of tented accommodations appeared with a small canteen on the side. As the minibus stopped and the driver opened the door, I began wondering whether I had made the right choice in accepting a job in such a remote place. I had left my entire family behind in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, where I had worked for an international non-governmental organization for the previous five years.

My doubts were exacerbated when I saw my new "office," a small prefabricated structure with a rickety desk that seemed on the verge of collapsing. My first meeting with my manager was held in the "open air board room," which was literally outdoors. The space, below a group of Musuku Trees, afforded an excellent view of the squirrels performing acrobatic feats in the trees. Little did I know that I was going to spend the next eight years in this place and see it grow from a thick forest into a vibrant mining community of international renown.

My fascination with this journey though is not about how Lumwana has grown from these skeletal structures, but rather the transformation that I have witnessed in the community that surrounds the mine. This transformation has particular resonance for me, as I was born in the neighbouring Mumena community and struggled with scant social services to finish secondary school education, attend university and earn a degree. To come back and work in the area where I grew up and play a role in the change that I have witnessed just gives me an immense sense of satisfaction.

My work as Community Education Support Officer for Lumwana has drawn me close to the community around the mine in a special way. Each time I interact with schoolchildren, I see myself and I’m reminded of my childhood 45 years ago. The parents who I meet bring back memories of my own father and mother struggling to keep me and my seven siblings in school. This propels me to work harder so that this generation doesn’t have to endure the hardships that my family experienced.

The Lumwana mine has funded construction of 32 classrooms and 25 staff houses across the three chiefdoms in the mine’s area of influence. Numerous scholarships have been created to help promising students remain in school and realize their full potential. I have met with parents who have shed tears of joy due to the scholarship assistance provided to their children. I have been privileged to play a leading role in the mine’s engagement with the Ministry of Education at the provincial and district levels. The initiatives that resulted from those engagements have contributed to a significant improvement in national examinations results in North Western Province. Historically, the province scored at the bottom of the country’s nine provinces, but over the last two years it has climbed to third. The number of pupils from the province gaining admission to university has increased dramatically.

I have no regrets about the decision I made eight years ago to join Lumwana. Each time I move around the community, there are different improvements in education, health and other areas that attest to the fact that I have been a member of a great team and that the journey has been worth the effort. If time was to be rewound and I was presented with the same options, I would gladly make the same choice.