TWO church of Scotland elders from Inverclyde will visit Zambia to spend a week at a pioneering aid project.

Helen Eckford of Port Glasgow New Parish Church and Patricia Roberston of Westburn Church in Greenock are looking forward to see the inspirational work being done at the Journeying Together programme, which supports teenage mothers.

The initiative is based in the district of Kanyama on the edge of the capital Lusaka.

Helen said: "As a Guild member I have always been involved in supporting the projects but this is the first time I will have the opportunity to observe first hand.

“I feel excited as well as a little apprehensive about the visit to Kanyama.

“For me, it is a privilege to take part in the trip and get to know a new culture and lifestyle.

"It will be a life-changing experience and I look forward to meeting new people of all ages, passing on some of my skills to the girls and learning from them.”

Patricia is a past national convener of the Church of Scotland Guild, which has donated £40,000 to the project.

The 71-year-old retired teacher, who met Deaconess Mable Sitchali, the programme leader, in 2018, said: "I am very much looking forward to visiting this project and seeing how the money is helping teenage mums."

The programme is run by the United Church of Zambia and supports 50 girls who live in a densely-populated area which is often affected by severe flooding during the rainy season.

Poor drainage and sanitation can lead to outbreaks of cholera and dysentery with babies and small children most at risk.

The project provides training in nutrition, parenting and sex education and works to build confidence in the girls and challenge social injustice.

The girls are given the opportunity to return to school to finish their education or provided with vocational training in a skill to enable them to make their own money.

Helen says the people here are well known for their compassion to others.

She said: "The Church and the Guild play a part in this, both at home and abroad, sharing time, talents and money to enrich and improve the lives of others.

“I have had amazing support from the congregation in my church which has raised about £500 to help the girls involved in the project.”

Karen Gillon, associate secretary of the Guild, says some of the young women's stories are heart-rending/

She said: "Some of them are victims of domestic violence, victims of rape or sometimes they just fell in love with a boy, got pregnant and he then disappeared.

"It is about giving young women a hand up, not a handout, because what they really want is the chance to finish their education, get a job and give their child the best possible start in life.

“Whatever their circumstances, the project is about showing these girls that they are valued and loved by God and equipping them with the skills that they need to thrive.”