Updates from Our Zambia Programme

Matt Parker gives updates on his visit to Kids Alive Zambia...

Sunday 23rd September

Meeting with our Zambian Board

Saturday was my final day in Mongu before returning to Lusaka.

One of our goals has been to develop a local Zambian Board that can advise, support and assist with overseeing our programmes. I met with this Board on Saturday morning, and we had a good time together. It is encouraging to see them so enthusiastic about providing care to orphans and vulnerable children in their country.

Cutting a cake to celebrate the opening of the new Home

On Saturday afternoon we celebrated the opening of the third Children’s Home at the Lilato Children’s Village. The new Home means that we can now provide a home to 54 children on this site. The children had prepared songs – they have amazing voices! – and sketches; there were speeches from staff, children and Board members; a ribbon at the entrance of the new house was cut; and there were plenty of cakes, popcorn and fizzy drinks consumed! The theme of the celebration was ‘thankfulness’ – for the commitment of the staff; for the support of our sponsors and other partners around the world; and thankfulness to God for his provision for this ministry.

At the entrance of their new home...

It was encouraging to hear about the positive impact that this Children’s Village is having in the surrounding community. One government official said: “Without the work of Kids Alive in this town, we would face a huge crisis as these children would have simply nowhere to go”.  A local pastor told me: “It is an honour to support this work and see what God is doing in the lives of these kids”.

We have come a long way. And there is a lot more to be done. My prayer is that this work will continue to improve, grow, and bring glory to God – and that through it many more children will be given hope and a future.

I am now back in Lusaka after a nine-hour drive. Tomorrow I have another journey – to Nairobi, where I will spend two days with the Kenyan leadership and Board members and our two missionaries that are currently serving there.

Saturday 22nd September

Having the opportunity to play is a critical part of every child’s development. In the west, children are presented with a wide range of games and activities to stimulate them. In deprived communities in poorer countries, the options are far more limited, although children are very creative in finding a wide variety of objects to play with. I remember well asking a child in Sudan what he enjoyed doing when he was not in school. He thought for a moment before replying: “I make things out of mud”.

The children that we work with at our Children’s Village and two schools in Zambia received an amazing blessing this summer, in the form of three refurbished playgrounds. From the US, these had been regarded as no longer fit for use there and discarded as a result. Instead they were refurbished, shipped on a container to Zambia, and installed by two short term teams and our local staff. The children had never seen anything like it and are thrilled! In fact, for the first couple of weeks after they were installed, many kids were waking up at three o’clock in the morning to go and play!

The three-day conference for our Zambian leadership team is now complete. An evaluation has been carried out of the residential programme, with an action plan to address some weaknesses developed and agreed. A strategic review has been undertaken. There have been seminars on communication and team development, plus discussions about developing in-country funding and cross-cultural management. Overall the conference has been a great success, with lots of positive debate, good discussion, and plenty of laughs as well!

Leaving at 5a.m. tomorrow morning, back to Lusaka....

Thursday 20th September

Imagine sending your child to study in a school classroom that is a windowless shack made out of wood poles, bamboo and metal sheets. A school that is located in the middle of a large expanse of sand and desolate wasteland. A school where there is no electricity and where water is pumped from a nearby borehole. Where children are crammed in, three to each desk but without the numbers of books and resources to match. Definitely not the kind of school that would satisfy an Ofsted inspector! Yet such conditions are the norm for families living in western Zambia.

We are working with two schools located just outside the town of Mongu. The four hundred children enrolled in these schools receive a basic education and, very importantly, a lunchtime meal – for many children this meal is the only food that they will have to eat all day. I observed several lessons in progress at both of the schools including a mathematics lesson being taught by one particularly enthusiastic teacher; in another class, lists of English words were being recited by the children, all engaged and eager to share their knowledge with me.

Soon some of these kids will have the opportunity to learn in ‘proper’ classrooms. A block of four rooms are being constructed on a piece of land we have purchased nearby, and should be completed ready for the start of the next school year in January. More classrooms will follow, funding permitting, over the next couple of years. We are looking to appoint new head teachers that will lead these schools forward.

And the kids? They are delightful: beaming, talkative and playful. And just needing help to reach their potential and have hope for the future.

One of the current classrooms...
...and new classrooms under construction!

Wednesday 19th September

This morning was spent with our Zambian Leadership Team visiting our Children’s Homes in Mongu. Three years ago we opened a “Children’s Village” in Mongu on land that was donated to us by the government. We now have three Homes constructed on this piece of land, and a kitchen and large dining room is also almost completed. In total, there are almost 50 orphans and vulnerable children – all of whom have come from the most desperate of circumstances - living in the current three Homes, and we discussed plans to add six more in the near future. The number of children will continue to increase as we add further Homes, with four more scheduled to be constructed during the next few years.

One of my goals during this week is to facilitate the Zambian leadership team in carrying out an evaluation of the residential program. Following this morning’s visits, we met for three hours this afternoon to review the standards of care that are currently provided to the children and develop an Action Plan for further progress. This was a really positive time, with lots of good discussion that will continue tomorrow morning.

It was rice and fish for supper tonight! Mongu has what are widely regarded as the best fish in the country, and it is also one of the major rice growing areas in the country.

Tomorrow’s report will include pictures from our two school programmes in the area…

Tuesday 18th September

Today saw Jim and I go west, making the nine-hour drive from Lusaka to the town of Mongu, where Kids Alive Zambia has four Children’s Homes and two school programmes that care for almost 400 children.

Having left Lusaka, with its well-maintained roads, shopping centres and smart buildings, we soon faced a very different picture as we passed by one small village after another, each with an assortment of tiny huts and shacks. Women walked along the road carrying water or baskets on their head; gaggles of children made their way to or from school; and people stood by the side of the road clasping bags of charcoal or baskets of fruit and imploring us to stop and purchase their wares. The poverty was obvious. A large proportion of people in Zambia live on less than $1 a day, and it is estimated that there are 1.6 million orphans and vulnerable children around the country.

The road to Mongu is very straight for long stretches, although a constant succession of potholes meant that we were constantly swerving in one direction or the other. One of the highlights of the journey was passing through one of Zambia’s National Parks, where we were fortunate enough to see a couple of elephants by the side of the road (see right), as well as numerous antelope and warthogs. The lions didn’t make an appearance today though!

Following the Park we came to the only petrol station on the entire journey. There was also a toilet located here. I will leave the description to your imagination.

We finally arrived in Mongu as the sun was setting and were greeted by waving children from one of our Homes. Tomorrow will be busy….a tour of all of our facilities in the morning, followed by discussions with the Zambian Leadership Team. It should be a good day!

Monday 17th September

Dawn was fast approaching as my plane touched down in Zambia this morning – and after an almost sleepless night stuck in a rather uncomfortable British Airways seat!

After obtaining my visa (having once again picked the slowest-moving queue!), I was greeted by Jim Kongwa, the Director of Kids Alive Zambia. Jim has been in this role for more than ten years now, and he and his wife, Ivy, have worked tirelessly to develop this vital work among orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia.

The morning was spent visiting our two Children’s Homes in Lusaka – one of them for boys and the other for girls. Here orphaned and abandoned children have the opportunity to grow up in a caring environment – having a bed to sleep in (often for the first time in their lives), nutritious food, medical care and a quality education. Providing spiritual nurture is also a key part of our work, and all of the children are actively engaged in the lives of local churches.

One of the kids cared for is called Blessings (pictured right). Her friendly, gentle manner and warm smile makes her just that – a blessing to others. But life has been incredibly tough for her. She suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her stepfather at an early age. He later committed suicide – and her mother also died. With no-one else in her family interested in caring for her, Blessings came to us, quiet and withdrawn. Over time, as she has settled in to the home, we have seen an amazing change in her to become the bright, bubbly, happy little girl that she is today.

Following time spent at the two Homes, we headed for Misisi. Much of Lusaka gives the impression that it is a very modern city – with wide, tree-lined roads, big houses and large shopping malls. Misisi is not like that. Misisi is a place where tens of thousands of people live in abject squalor. The stench, caused by ‘lakes’ of human waste and the litter that is piled high, is overpowering, especially in the heat of the day. There are few jobs, few educational opportunities, and little hope, in Misisi.

(For more about Misisi, read some earlier reflections of mine by clicking here….)

The Kids Alive Misisi Care Center is run by a wonderful, godly man called Wesley. He lives with his family in the slums, selflessly caring for the needs of others around him. He introduced us to some of the 25 children in the programme, updating us on their academic progress, their interests and their backgrounds. His eyes shone as he talked about these kids, patted them on the shoulders, and sang their praises. This is a place where, away from the filth and the suffering, children have a chance to shine. I asked them what they enjoyed about most at the Center and got a range of replies - playing; eating; studying; laughing - before one of the older girls, with a big smile, said: “Having some hope”.

Giving hope to kids like these. Bringing the love of Jesus into their lives. That’s what the work of Kids Alive International is all about.

Some of the Children in the Misisi Care Centre

Sunday 16th September

Terminal Five of Heathrow Airport is as busy as ever! Why do I always seem to find myself standing in the longest check-in queue?!

In just over ten hours, I will be landing in Lusaka, Zambia. It promises to be a busy week. I will be visiting each of our six homes, two schools and care centre programme and spending time with the staff and 500 children that we care for in this poverty-stricken land. I will see some of the ongoing construction projects and plans that will enable us to expand our programme further and help more orphans and vulnerable children. And I will also be working with the Zambian Leadership Team and local Board to carry out an evaluation of its residential programmes, identifying what is going well and helping them develop a plan for development.

During the coming week – internet permitting! - I plan to share some of the highlights….news on how the programme is growing, stories of children’s lives changed, and some pictures showing what we are doing.

Before that, the information screen is telling me that my flight is ready to board. Must fly….

Posted on September 20th 2012

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