Working for World Vision in Zambia, Mark Kelly FCPA sees lives turned around by programs that target fundamental problems.
As World Vision’s national director in Zambia, Mark Kelly’s career presents all sorts of challenges, and not just to himself.
“My wife, Christine, contracted typhoid six weeks after we arrived in Zambia,” he says by way of an example of the occupational hazards that can accompany this type of posting.
After spending more than 20 years in some of the world’s most demanding locations, not much flusters this FCPA. His achievements include conducting research into Asia’s most vulnerable children, managing flood relief projects in Vietnam and leading fundraising efforts in Armenia.
Earlier this year, Kelly was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to the international community through humanitarian programs.
“When I come back to Australia, I’m reminded of what an amazing, incredible country we have here. It smacks me in the face,” says Kelly, who grew up on a farm outside Canberra.
Back home for a short break, he is one year into his posting in Zambia. Known as Northern Rhodesia before gaining independence from the British in 1964, Zambia is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, slightly smaller in size than New South Wales.
Living in the capital, Lusaka, Kelly is responsible for 660 World Vision staff working in 40 different programs that assist more than 300,000 people. Specific areas of focus include malnutrition, sanitation, hygiene, education, children’s health and literacy.
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With both copper prices and local currency values halving over the past five years, the Zambian economy is struggling – copper is responsible for about 65 per cent of Zambia’s total exports. On top of that, rainfall has been low for the past few years, affecting the country’s hydroelectricity supply. Lusaka is without power for eight hours of every day.
“When I come back to Australia, I’m reminded of what an amazing, incredible country we have here. It smacks me in the face.”
“The translation of mineral wealth into social benefit could be better,” says Kelly, adding that high rates of malaria mortality and teenage pregnancy are particular areas of concern.
Sometimes the uncertainty and unfamiliarity play on Kelly’s mind. In a recent management meeting discussing budgets, his assistant quietly entered the room to inform the group that security had requested an early finish because the staff should head home to deal with a spate of local killings.
“In many countries, keeping staff safe immediately following disasters has been a crucial part of my role,” he says, also mindful that World Vision employees have a role to play in serving the people affected by disasters.
To balance all this, there are many positives. Kelly is particularly pleased that Zambian women have embraced local savings initiatives.
“I’ve seen lives turned around by these programs, with communities working together to support one another,” he says.
“Most of them are run by women, and they tell me that because of [the programs], they’re now able to pay for their children’s school fees. You can really see a difference in people’s lives.”
Kelly points to the fact that World Vision works with some of the poorest people on the planet – and some of the wealthiest.
“In a way, that’s our business model,” he says, “and it’s incredibly stimulating intellectually.”
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