I thought I'd take this time to tell a few stories of some of the kids so that those reading, praying and supporting can see the fruit of our labor through the words. I wish everyone could see these kids and their lives and daily hardships and battles first hand, but I will do my best to bring them to life here.
Kelley Chamoa is an 18 year old boy who's parents are drug addicts and alcoholics. He lives in a one bedroom shack secluded from the rest of the village with 5 brothers and sisters. He himself quit school and turned to alcohol and sniffing glue with friends... for three years. Last year, one of his friends tried to hitch a ride to town on a train, lost his footing and was killed. This reality hit Kelley hard and he was ministered to by Pastor Chirwa of the Faith Baptist Church in Kabanana where our orphans attend. He first began attending church there, and even started bringing his brothers and sisters and inviting friends. He asked our ministry for help in getting his life back on track and we are proud to say he is back into school- he has, on his own initiative, planted a garden for us to use for the sick orphans we care for and has recently approached Pr. Chirwa to be baptised and join the church.
Protasho Musara (15) and Patrick Banda (13) live with Protasho's mother along with Protasho's twin sister, Maggie. The mother is a bartender and an alcoholic. They recently were removed from their home and had to relocate. They are currently living in a rented room next to an open pit that the neighbors all use as a toilet. The stench is terrible and the living conditions are atrocious. They have been out of school for quite some time because the mother was using her money on alcohol. Their uncle came to us requesting that we assist them. When we tried to put them into school they were denied because they are far too old to be in the same grade as the other kids at their level. Neither of them could speak English or even spell their name. I began teaching them in January. On the first day of class they could not understand a word I was saying and could not recite the alphabet past the letter "c". They couldn't recognise their own names written down or name any of the numbers or letters. I am overwhelmingly proud (and typing with tears rolling down my face) to say that today they are reading simple sentences, writing letters to their sponsors and communicating full conversations with me in English. Today Protasho said "Madame, I am reading ChiZungu books. Oh and B-O-O-K!!" I had to laugh... they know me well as a teacher, spellings are music to my ears! (chizungu litterally means "big white" and they use it to refer to the English that Americans speak.) They have a lot of family trouble and Protasho is abused and "hated" (his word) by his mother because he has decided to go back to school instead of working for money. Last week their mother went away to a funeral in another village and left them with no food or water. She has yet to return.... we stocked their shelves and are regularly checking on them, but this shows you the extreme selfishness and ugliness of some of the guardians we deal with. Despite all of this, they come to Sunday school and church every Sunday and recently prepared a duet that they sang at a youth conference in front of over 100 people.
Nathan Tembo is our first ever grade 12 graduate. He comes from very poor living conditions with both a mother and a brother suffering from HIV and an unwed sister with a newborn. His home has been quite tumultuous of late with physical fights, beatings, arguments and general unrest. We decided to look into college for him since he, despite all of this, graduated with highest merits and honours from his school. Nathan went out on his own and got a job working as the natural sciences teacher at Raobath Academy. He will be applying at the University of Zambia in August with our help. We are overwhelmingly proud of him and... he is actually Geofrey's, another one of our orphans, teacher! How cool to see one graduate from the program and turn around to teach and mentor the next generation of orphans.
Morgan Tembo (Nathan's brother) has been one of our most challenging orphans. He was characterized by pride, stubbornness and lack of respect or self control. He was involved in physical fights with his sister and even beat his mother. He ran away from home after learning he was not blood related to the people he had grown up to believe were his mother and siblings. When he returned, he came with a terrible attitude of demands and self righteousness. Over the next months we came up with a plan of making him work to pay off his school fees. He washed my car every week, dug the foundation for the church building, helped Kelley with the garden, cleared the pastor's lawn and cleaned the church every Saturday to prepare it for service the next day. He has since apologised for his actions and through Kelley's (his best friend) good example and witness we see an amazing change and transformation in his character and attitude. He announced last week that he is a Christian and wants to attend baptismal classes.
Kaumba Mwondela is one of our brightest and most hard working orphans. He is in grade 8 and his teachers consider him to be one of the highest in his class, along with one of our other orphans, his best friend Tisa Sakala. He lives over an hour from the school that he attends and his living conditions are some of the worst. His room is a bare cement wall with a dirt floor. Before we sent blankets, he was using an empty cornmeal bag as a blanket and sleeping on the dirt. His parents both passed away and he is living with an uncle who could not afford to send him to school. He patiently waited and watched his cousins leave for school each day, and yet he stayed positive and helped his uncle by gardening and doing general repairs around the house. He has faithfully been coming to church even before we began to support him. When we handed out clothing earlier this year, he began giving some of his away to his needy friends before even looking to see what was in the bag. He is always encouraging the younger boys and is one of the first to always say thank you and be more concerned about others well being than his own.
Tisa Sakala lives in a one bedroom home on the busiest street in Chipata surrounded by bars and noise. She lives with her two cousins, her mother, her brother and her sister. They have no power or running water, like most of our orphans and they all sleep together in a small room. Their mother sells tomatoes but recently ran out of money and they were not eating for quite some time. Every day I pass by their home on my way home from work and see Tisa outside scrubbing clothes, cooking nshima, sweeping, bathing her brother or doing many other kinds of work. Many girls her age are out with friends or getting into trouble, especially in her are, but she is bound and determined to work hard to better her life. She is often sick, and is a tiny little thing for her age (she has the body of a 12 year old but is 18). She is dealing with a lot of stress and worry but she defies all odds and is at the top of her class of over 70 students. She has not yet professed Christianity but is open and willing to talk about it.
Barbara Mwamba was another "problem child" for us. She was failing almost every subject and her teachers told us she was lazy and uninterested. When confronted about it, she seemed cold and uninterested in what we had to say. We decided to give her one more chance and we switched her to a better school. I pulled her aside and told her I knew she wasn't lazy and wanted a better life for her and offered her extra help. She took me up on it and I have been tutoring her every Friday since. She is now... incredibly, one of our most determined and hard working students. Her teachers say she gets to school before they do and waits outside, and she is always the last to leave- except on Fridays when she has tutoring :) She has a million questions and is suddenly hungry to excel. All she needed was someone to believe in her and have a little faith in her and now the sky is her limit. She is happier, more joyful and is faithfully attending church. Her home life is terrible, her mother has been prostituting form the home and all but kicked the kids (her two brothers and one sister, who is HIV+) out to fulfil her own selfish desires. She made it clear she didn't want the kids and when they went to their older sisters home for help she accepted them, on one condition... that they work. They are worked like slaves at their sisters home and are physically and emotionally abused. One day Barbara was confiding in me and she started hitting the sided of her head and saying "she just screams at me... she screams and screams and screams..." ...To go through all that and then show up to school the next day early and with a smile on your face... that is the Grace of God.
There are so many more examples... Sometimes it can be easy to only see the hardships and the need that we can't fulfill. I tend to become overwhelmed some days. There are nights when I fall asleep crying because I am in a bed with a blanket and my head in a pillow and I don't know where my children are, or if they are safe from harm, or if they are cold or if they had supper.... I can start to drown in the negatives and the deep emotions of this work and this ministry....
I wanted to write this both as an encouragement to myself and to all those who sponsor a child, or give or have given in the past. Our time and money is not being wasted, brethren. The naked are being given warmth, the hungry are being given nourishment, the sick and weak are being given medication and most importantly... lost and dead souls are being given life and orphans are being adopted into the family of the living God and they now have someone to call 'Dad'.
Your prayers are not in vain. Your gifts and donations are not given in vain. I smell and touch and see and hug and tickle and hold hands with and laugh with and cry with these children. They are my life and my life is a gift from God.