Spending 10 days in what Zambians call “The Real Africa,” we witnessed incredible poverty and heartbreaking hardships. But with the pain, there was joy and hope like none I have ever encountered.
While they have so little, the people we met did not complain and have learned to survive life circumstances that would break many of us. They are not looking for a handout but a hand-up. There is no way they can dig a deep water well by hand, but would if it meant they could bring clean water to their children.
I have been thanked so much, but I should be the one thanking them. The death of my husband broke my heart and healing has been a slow process.
Ironically, by joining World Vision‘s rescue mission, I have been rescued with a deep joy only felt by extending my own hand to help others.
Giving back has been the best medicine for my soul.
While this trip has resulted in a deep love for Africa and its people, I also have gained an incredible respect and affection for the Zambian World Vision field staff and our U.S. World Vision guides.
After being on the front lines visiting the poorest of the poor, I have seen World Vision in action. I realized that all the research I had done on World Vision, prior to my trip, did not even come close to conveying the effectiveness of the organization. It is a well-oiled machine with business practices that demand accountability and results for sustainability.
But this is not the real reason for its success in changing lives, it’s the people who give 110 percent when no one is looking. I gained a wonderful insight from the two U.S. World Vision staff members who traveled with us, Christine Connolly Bell and Cheryl Jereczek. One night over dinner I asked Cheryl, “So tell me what makes you tick. Why do you give up the comforts of home, take reduced pay and make so many sacrifices for people you don’t know?”
Cheryl, the ultimate professional and former telecom executive, looked away and her eyes welled up with tears. She apologized for her reaction and said, “Sorry, I didn’t expect to get so emotional with that question. This is just what I am called to do.”
I thank God that there are people in this world who will go where no one else wants to venture, serving the most vulnerable and neglected. The world is truly a better place for it.
It’s hard not to appreciate all we have after spending time in the remote villages of Africa. But, I am incredibly impressed with my www.IfYouKnew.org teammate, Jennifer Smith, and her husband, Mark, who really put their money where their mouth is.
In addition to having an incredible love affair, they are very talented in business, owning Fort Worth Harley-Davidson, ranked one of the top 10 most successful dealerships in the world.
Jennifer has been my roommate and we have grown incredibly close through our journey. But I have especially enjoyed understanding why they donate so much of their personal income to help those in need.
In addition to their financial contributions, they are always trying to spark a spirit of philanthropy within others. On Saturday, October 1, they will lead the way for an “If You Knew” fundraising event called the “Water for Life Ride” in which 300 Harley riders will take to the streets to bring awareness to the horrific reality that a child is dying every 15 seconds due to a lack of clean water.
When I asked Jennifer what motivates them to give so much away, she just humbly replied, “Mark and I have been so blessed that it is time to move from success to significance.”
“No words were needed to understand her pain.” These were my thoughts as I looked at Mercy Juwa sitting under the tree with her four boys. But this family portrait was incomplete because her five-year-old little girl, Elin, was not there. She tragically died two months eariler from diarrhea caused by drinking unclean water gathered from a river.
Sitting in a circle in front of their thatched hut, the father explained how they tried to save her by taking her to two clinics, but the waterborne disease struck fast and she was dead in less than 24 hours.
This is exactly why our group www.IfYouKnew.org is working so hard to bring access to clean water and educate people about these needless deaths.
This family is now full of fear that the other children could also die. They don’t want to drink unsafe water, but have no other options.
As we were leaving, I approached the mother, put my hand on my heart and extended my arm towards her. She knew I was very sorry for her loss and nodded in acknowledgement of my condolence.
If your heart is moved to help, it’s very simple. Please text 2LIFE to 20222 — your $10 donation will provide a child access to clean water for five years.
If life was a painting, I just received the pleasure of viewing one of the world’s greatest masterpieces. The artists were a dozen school children, ages 7-11, in the remote African village of Kanchomba.
Because of World Vision‘s extensive work in the area of education, we were able to visit this rural school and see how education is changing the lives of these children and the older generations who are learning from them.
Since we knew about this opportunity prior to our trip, we thought it would be a good idea to bring along canvases, paints and brushes for the children. Aligning with World Vision’s practice to empower people to address their own needs, we told the children we would auction off their art in a special fundraising event called, “Art for Clean Water” that our www.ifyouknew.org group is planning for the fall. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go directly back to help these children.
The children eagerly agreed to participate and we were so excited. Then something happened, or should I say, didn’t happen. After we handed out all the supplies and said, “OK, paint anything you want,” the children and teachers just stared at us.
I am a bit embarrassed to say that it took me much longer than it should have to figure out what was wrong, but finally I got it. These children had never painted before, and art supplies were as foreign to them as I was standing at the head of the class.
I was then given the opportunity to show them what to do and to able to see one of the most beautiful visions form before my eyes. With the dedication of Michelangelo and interpretation of Picasso, they eagerly produced works of art that we can’t wait to share.
It was a good day at school.
The village had recently passed World Vision‘s accountability and sustainability test. This meant they were ready to assume the responsibility of a clean water hand pump, but first a drilling rig had to hit water.
When we arrived at the drilling site, villagers were already waiting in anticipation. I was feeling quite anxious because drilling success was not a guarantee, and I dreaded the possibility of failure. This is really a matter of life and death and these people desperately needed a break. But, I took comfort knowing that 80 percent of World Vision site selections are successful on the first try.
As we waited hour after hour in the hot African sun, I could see the drilling crew becoming more optimistic … until, some seven hours into the effort, it happened!
Suddenly, water started spraying from the ground. The village erupted in celebration. Jennifer and I quickly joined in, dancing and singing with the villagers. The feeling of being sprayed with the brown water gushing from the earth was pure joy.
As we listened to the children’s song, the interpreter told us they were singing: “This is ours!” It was hard to contain the tears as the reality sank into my head and heart: “Because of this water, the children dancing in front of me today have a greater chance of living tomorrow.”
When planning our trip, we thought it would be a great idea to join a group of African women as they carried heavy water containers the long distance back to their village. We believed this might be a good way to show the burden they must endure by traveling miles a day, multiple times to fetch water.
But when it came time, it was much different than I could have ever anticipated.
When we joined the women outside their village they danced around us, making high pitched vibration sounds with their tongues. They had been told we were here to help and learn about their water crisis.
Jennifer and I were guided by a widow named Idah who led us to their water source, a contaminated stream, where we filled up our 20-liter containers, weighing close to 60 pounds.
As I tried to pick up my full container, I could barely lift it. Quickly the women surrounded me to help, telling me to pour out some of the water so I could carry it. And that’s when it hit me. I was ashamed of myself that I had thought that I could actually come close to experiencing their daily hardship.
I realized the water containers were just as heavy for these women, but they have learned not to complain. They shoulder the burden and endure the pain because their families’ survival depends on it.
Very happy that we had shown up, the women put the containers on their heads and gratefully waved goodbye.
As I watched them leave, it was so clear to me that I was not worthy to walk in their shoes.
Sometimes life brings moments that are so extraordinary, you instinctively know that you are in the perfect place at the perfect time, and the timing is no accident. This is exactly how I felt when I met my four-year-old little girl named Abgirl, whom I sponsor through World Vision.
I imagined getting to meet Abgirl and her family would be a highlight of my trip, but I never dreamt it would keep me bonded to Africa forever.
Approaching the village, we learned that Jennifer and I were the first sponsors to ever meet their children in this village. World Vision has only been working in this village for eight months, so our visit was also important to World Vision staff because many villagers were skeptical that sponsors really even exist or that anyone living so far away really cares.
As the World Vision truck pulled up, we could see our families and curious onlookers waiting to meet us. Greeted by huge smiles and hugs, I was immediately comfortable with Abgirl’s parents and had to choke back tears as her father explained, through a translator, that he “had been praying to God for him to send another parent to help him.”
As I kneeled down to greet Abgirl, she shyly hid behind her mother’s skirt, which I thought was perfectly appropriate since I was the first mugunzu or white person she had ever seen and I’m sure I must look very strange to her. But like most kids, it didn’t take long, thanks to the candy and backpack full of toys, for her to open up. When the family started asking me questions about my life in the U.S., I began sharing pictures of family and friends. Then an emotional tidal wave swept over me as I remembered Abgirl was born on the day rescue workers found my husband, Kelly James, frozen to death in a snow cave on Mount Hood. As I started to cry, I could tell those gathered around were becoming concerned, so I asked the translator to tell them: “These are happy tears.”
I went on to explain that, “While we were unable to rescue Kelly in time, I now had the opportunity to help rescue Abgirl from hardship, and this warms my heart.” The interpreter started telling the crowd details about my story. Not understanding his words, it became awkward as they all started staring at me and talking amongst themselves, obviously about me. Then, the interpreter turned to me and said, “They want to pray for you and now bless you.”
So there in the middle of Africa we all kneeled down, held hands and prayed together as one family.
I know this is the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship. In fact, while they don’t know it yet, my family will soon grow next month when I also sponsor Abgirl’s twin nine-year-old brothers. I have never been so blessed!
It is impossible to be in remote Africa without falling in love with the children. When you visit a village they run and surround you, eagerly communicating their excitement with smiles and laughter.
Ensuring every child survives and thrives is the mission of World Vision and that’s why they launched Zambia Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (ZWASH).
Providing access to clean water is only half the battle. The villagers must also be taught the importance of washing their hands, where to construct latrines, and how to protect clean water supplies, seen demonstrated by villagers as they purified their water with chlorine.
The future of Zambia lies with these precious children and World Vision has already seen these little souls transform into big teachers as they educate their parents and break the vicious cycles of the past.
For the chronically ill, living in the remotest parts of Africa, their only hope is a group of native Zambians called the “caregivers.” They are the first line of defense for care and education in a country plagued by malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Christopher Nseemani is one of these caregivers and we joined him on bicycle, their only form of transportation, to reach a remote village.
At the hut village we were greeted by what seemed like hundreds of children and adults who gathered to hear Christopher explain how to help prevent malaria and use a mosquito net.
Watching the demonstration closely was a widow, who already had malaria. Determined to protect her children she gratefully accepted the nets, provided by World Vision donors. She told us with a big smile, “I feel I have chased malaria away.”
If you knew a mosquito net cost less than $10 … what would you do?