The Butterfly Tree provides clean water, health facilities and educational programs in Zambia. For orphans and rural communities that have been heavily affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Jane Kaye-Bailey, Chairman of The Butterfly Tree, went to Zambia for the first time on a business incentive trip. She stayed in a luxurious accommodation, went of safaris, and took scenic helicopter rides. On one of her free days, she chose to visit a school instead of lounging by the pool as her co-workers did.
“When I went to this village and was shown around, it was extreme poverty. No doubt about it. But it was when I went to the school and learned that 50% of the children were orphans, it was staggering. There were almost 1,000 children there,” Kaye-Bailey said.
That is what sparked her idea to start The Butterfly Tree. 17 years later, her organization is still helping children in remote villages to stay healthy and educated.
“I went back to the UK and very quickly, raised a few thousand pounds for people in Zambia. Less than a month later, my youngest son and I went back to Zambia and we went to the school. We shared the money between the school and the clinic,” Kaye-Bailey said. “After a week, my son and I went back to the UK and vowed we would raise more money.”
In their first year, they didn’t even register as a charity but were raising too much money to the point where they were obligated to become a nonprofit.
“I haven’t got a degree in international development,” Kaye-Bailey said. “But I’ve got a lot of life experiences, good and bad, and I’ve got a lot of common sense. I think that combination helped us succeed.”
Not only did she register her charity in the UK, she registered it in Zambia as well. That means, they are able to have control over the funding from the UK and where it ends up in Zambia. When she began her charity, Kaye-Bailey said she would set aside a large amount of time to work on it under one condition: her organization would be fully volunteer-based. She was not looking to use any of the money on salaries or big fancy offices. She just wanted to raise money to help vulnerable children and that she did. Using the ministries of health and education for advice and planning, The Butterfly Tree has been able to accomplish several great feats.
Since it began, the organization has expanded greatly. It has built entire schools, clinics and boreholes, sponsored hundreds of children, continued malaria prevention and conducted extensive work on HIV prevention.
Though it hasn’t always been easy.
“The economy here is very poor. They had a change of government last year. The people in the area where I work in the south very much depend on tourism as their source of income,” Kaye-Bailey said.
When COVID completely eliminated tourism, the economy became even worse in Zambia. To this day, tourism has not picked backup, therefore it has been extremely difficult for families in poverty to get back on their feet. Even before COVID, Zambia was riddled with illness. From 2019-2020, there was a severe drought and some parts of the country were on the verge of famine.
“The area where I work has a very high prevalence of HIV. It’s something like 24%. The other major issue is malaria, which is still one of the worst diseases on the planet,” Kaye-Bailey said. “What’s interesting is when COVID hit, the entire world was fighting this virus. Every scientist, every medical expert. Malaria, however, only affects certain parts of the world and it’s a lot more complex because it’s a parasite, not a virus. A lot of people don’t even know or really care about malaria but every two minutes a child dies from it. Mostly in southern Africa.”
Kaye-Bailey is astonished by this statistic because malaria is easily treatable. The problem lies in living in a remote area where there are no medical facilities nearby. In that case, someone’s chance of survival is slim to none. The health centers do train community health workers to help administer tests and then provide care. If it is caught at an early enough stage, malaria is completely treatable. A large burden, however, is that there’s a chance it can keep reoccurring for the rest of your life.
“There are a lot of challenges here. Two of the main ones are HIV and malaria. Sadly, the village people seem to suffer the most, that’s why we work there,” Kaye-Bailey said.
One village can have as few as 100 households with only a few hundred people, while other larger villages can have up to 8,500 people. These communities initially try to start a school themselves in order to educate their children. They will have an adult teaching who is not trained and a building held up by poles with a grass roof for them to use as an educational facility. These schools will often have about 200-300 students.
“We have developed three high schools in this district. One of them has about 2,200 students alone. We put in four classrooms, a science lab, boarding houses for those from other villages, toilets, a borehole so they can have fresh water,” Kaye-Bailey said.
Within five years, that first school was not big enough. They built a satellite school alongside it. Now, more children are being educated than ever in Zambia, as the new government abolished school fees. There are now about 120 students per classroom at The Butterfly Tree’s schools.
“The one thing I wanted from the initial concept of the charity, was to make it as sustainable as possible. We work very closely with the ministry of education. We will put the infrastructure in. Once that’s in place, we hand it over to them. They provide all the teaching staff, trained by the government,” Kaye-Bailey said. “Last year, this new government engaged 30,000 new teachers. The teachers have jobs, the children have teachers.”
The sustainability aspect comes in when children who were previously sponsored to go to the school then end up using their knowledge to work in education, run sponsorship programs, etc. While education is a large aspect of what The Butterfly Tree aims to improve, it is definitely not the only problem they face.
“Education is needed but so is clean water, so is good healthcare. We took more of a holistic approach and gave them their essentials in life: water, food, health and then education,” Kaye-Bailey said. “We found a lot of areas where children were drinking from streams and rivers but they’re contaminated. They’ve got a risk of disease, they’re sharing that water with cattle or goats. Then you’ve got the healthcare situation.”
Healthcare facilities are not by any means easily accessible in these remote parts of Zambia. Sometimes people have to walk 12 miles to reach the nearest health center. If you’re ill or about to deliver a child, that is not an easy task. Especially in temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Kaye-Bailey was aware of pregnant mothers traveling this far in extreme heat and was so distraught, she built a maternity ward and mother shelter so babies can be safely delivered.
The Butterfly Tree has had fantastic achievements thus far and to continue doing so, they need funding from donors. You can donate on their website, sponsor a project or an orphan, send money for construction and more. They ask that you do not donate any material items.
“It’s called The Butterfly Tree because when a pupa evolves it’s placed in a tree,” Kaye-Bailey said, “when it develops into a butterfly, it is released into the wild.”