t h i s. i s .a f r i c a
( . . . a n d . i t ‘ s . m a g i c a l)
It’s been four weeks since I’ve returned from my journey to Africa and I’ve been trying to write this blog since – I’m still struggling to even talk about my trip. I so appreciate all my family and friends who have asked about this trip and I’m sorry my response is “it was amazing” without much explanation. Truth is – it was indescribable and to even try to explain it seems an injustice so I give up even before I start. On my return flight, I wrote for about 3 hours straight – wrote about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences on my 8 day journey. So I wanted to share some of those thoughts below (along with some pretty amazing sights). Thanks for all of those who prayed for safe travels – it meant more than you know. Here goes…this is africa…
b o t t o m . l i n e
I will start with the bottom line because I could say “long story short” about 10 times in this blog and I would still be writing for days. My faith in humanity has been restored… not that it was ever totally broken but living in a world (country) where we mostly hear bad news (I can say that with experience as a former TV journalist), there are so many things that consume my thoughts daily. My family would tell you I am a walking “worst case” scenario. From mass shootings at our schools, malls and movie theaters to bullying – it’s scary out there and I want to protect my children from a world full of evil people. Flying 16 hours to Zambia, Africa as renewed my faith in people. I know the majority of people are good and I sometimes focus on the few bad seeds.
b a c k . s t o r y
I was blessed to meet Greg Buzek who heads up the Retail Orphan Initiative a few years ago – this non profit organization partners with other non profits to help orphans and other needy children around the world. The BEST part – ROI gives over 93% of donations back to the kids – that means very little overhead, so nearly all funds go straight to kids in need. They needed marketing/video production help so I jumped on board and it’s been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Two years ago, I led a trip to the Dominican Republic where we installed 3 computer labs in 3 different orphanages. After that trip, I vowed to go on a trip once a year. Life got in the way and 12 months flew by so I was ready to lead another trip and Zambia landed in my lap. So for months, about 20 strangers planned, prepped then hopped on flight after flight to meet for the first time in Zambia, Africa.
My family was “supportive” but not exactly excited that I was going to Africa solo. To say I was nervous when I boarded that 16 hours flight from JFK to Johannasburg is an understatement. God and I had a heart to heart as I tried to get it together in the bathroom of the airplane before take off. God won and I walked out of that stall calmer than ever. And once I met my travel buddies, it was the first of many blessings this trip would provide.
l a n d i n g . i n . l i v i n g s t o n e
After 4 flights and hours of travel, we landed in Livingstone. Here we had the luxury of seeing what I would describe as “America’s” version of Africa – animals galore. We met up with the rest of the group we’d travel with, checked into our hotel and prepared for the next 48 hours of sightseeing. Day 2 was a safari, both by water and land. Incredible – we saw pretty much all of the “bucket list” items…zebra, giraffe ,monkeys, crocodile, lions.
Pictures don’t do it justice. For example: I was walking back to my room on that first night and people kept telling me they saw random Zebra’s on property. Well, my new travel buddy asked me to stop so he could grab a picture. He told me not to move so I just stood there having an eery sense something was behind me…well there it was, a freaking zebra – really!?!
We also got to see Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall and one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It was the dry season so the water wasn’t flowing as you see in many of the marketing pictures however, it was still quite a site. In 48 hours, we were in Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabe, and Nibiah.
t h e . r e a s o n
Day 3 – the reason we are here…
We wake up and start our day of travel with two more in-country flights to the city of Ndola. Then an hour and a half bus ride to our final destination, the Lifesong school. Again, ROI partners with other organizations and for this particular trip – Lifesong, an organization devoted to uplifting needy children, invited us to embark on this Vision trip – Vision trips are when you observe, tour – enjoy the school…then brainstorm, make connections, review business plans – on how to make the school better, more effective.
Day 4 – the kids
The Lifesong school started out with 20 or so street kids in a shack and has grown into a full fledged school with just about 300 kids. These kids are single or double orphaned and would otherwise have no access to education or food. They eat two meals a day here before they are done with school and head back to the compound (their village). To compare where the school started to where it is today is massively impressive…still there is so much more that needs to be done. We start with a tour of the school and then get to interact with some of the kids during their morning break. These kids are amazing…truly amazing.
It’s funny, we came here to help them but I feel like I walked away with the most out of the deal.
t h e . c o m p o u n d
The school has brilliantly come along side the Zambian people here, helping a whole community learn to properly take care of themselves. They now have a farm that helps employ the student’s caretakers and the fruit sales help to fund the school. They’ve created micro loan programs that help people start their own business. When I say businesses…let me explain. It may be loaning an applicant $60 so he/she can walk 2-3 hours to buy a couple of chickens – to then walk back to the village and re-sell. On this day, we spoke with a gentleman who was having success with his business and this conversation led us to the “compound”. Again, this is where the families in this area live – they are shacks with no electricity, no water… nothing.
We were told to stick close together, keep your valuables in your front pockets and don’t take pictures. Most of our group left after the micro loan discussion but about 5 of us went deeper into the compound to speak with another family. Part of my responsibility on my visit was to document as much as possible as I am tasked with creating a video about the trip. For this reason, I was included in this small group. This was an incredible experience. Walking through the dirt roads, the street kids continued to show up – holding my hands, dancing with me, trying to speak English. We visited the home of one boy who lives with 7 others in a small room, one twin mattress on the floor – they are all orphaned. Traditionally boys in this culture are on their own around the age of 11, 12, 13. It’s common to see the younger kids with even younger kids on their backs. Babies carrying babies really. The girls here become prey around 12, 13 to the older men in the compound – when you go to the Lifesong school, you only see a few older girls there b/c most of the girls end up getting pregnant and living out their lives in the compound. Getting girls out of the compound early is key to this community.
t h e . k i d s
The kids – ahhh, the kids. It’s hard to write this without emotion. But not for the reasons many would think. With a few people, we walked through the compound – shacks, tents, brick boxes, no bathrooms, no electricy, no running water, kids without clothes, shoes, you name it. Here is the kicker – I have never felt so much love, seen so much love from people that have so little. Can you image your child going up to complete stranger, grabbing their hand and walking with them for blocks without saying a word. Yes, America is different but the organic, pure joy and love cannot be denied here.
t h e . v o l u n t e e r s
The American families that have left everything they know to come down here and dedicate their lives to changing this community – helping these kids – AMAZING. I could go on for days about the awesome things they are doing to not only help the kids but to change a way of thinking.
h e l e n
I was at the Lifesong school in Zambia for 3 days – during my first couple hours there, I met Helen – we just clicked. We didn’t say much to each other but we didn’t stray far from each other either. She asked about my kids – I showed her pictures and she was partically enchanted with my daughter Ella’s picture. She liked her hair color – blonde hair and blue eyes is forgien to this world. Over the course of the next two days – I looked for Helen during our visit – but didn’t see her. Before we knew it – our time was up and we were preparing to get on the bus to make the hour drive back to the Ndola airport Before we left, we witnessed this amazing parade by these kids as it was Zambia’s Independence day. Following the celebration – each class put on a presentation atop of their make shift stage. I searched for Helen wondering if she remembered me from the days prior but I couldn’t spot her out of the crowd. So it was 9:30 – we boarded the bus while the presentations were still underway. As we situated our luggage on the bus – windows wide open – many of the children began to run over to us.
That is when I saw Helen running and she ran directly to me – through the window she handed me a balled up object and said – I made this for you. It was a traditional Zambian crocheted purse.
I had controlled my emotions for most of the trip but that broke me. Under my sunglasses the tears began to flow b/c this little girl who had nothing compared to American standards – gave me something. I tried to gather my composure and made my way through the people trying to get on the bus – so I could get off. I found Helen and told her thank you again, gave her a hug – she was so sweet – such a peaceful smile, very calm as the other kids were excitedly waving and singing to us as we were getting ready to pull away. I had one of the Lifesong workers take a picture of Helen and I b/c it was a moment I wanted to capture and keep forever. I hugged her again and asked her last name – no one knew but I knew that if I could get enough information about her – I could, through Lifesong, sponsor her each month and communicate with her.
As we slowly pulled away and the kids were shaking our hands through the bus windows – Helen stood back calming, just waving and smiling – When we had taken the picture together she softly said to me – you can gift this to your daughter.
As you can imagine the bus ride back was very somber, not a lot of talking and for me, lots of tears. The emotion doesn’t come from a place of pity, but from inspiration. These kids, many living in unimaginable conditions, showing so much love. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed.
w h a t . n o w ?
I come back saying – I have to get back to the basics, simpifly my life and that of my kids. It’s a journey – to raise your kids this way in our American world but I am going to give it my best shot. I am still trying to process my time in Africa but I can tell you without a doubt, it is one of the most special places I have ever been. I am grateful to God for where I live, where I was born – but this other prespective was partically important for me. God brought me here not only to break me of my own control issues and surrender to him but to bring support and love to people who rarely see it. It was magical.
It’s cliché – oh I never want to forget this experience..blah, blah blah and then in a couple weeks I am back at it, living my over committed life and running around not breathing in each moment and taking common things for granted. Yes my Charlotte, NC life is much different than Zambia but I vow not to forget – to slow down my pace, simplify my lifestyle, enjoy my children who I’ve been blessed with, thank God for choosing me to be their mom and wife to my husband, and by little things here and there – trying to make a difference in this world. It really is the one factor – one person can make a difference and that is what creates positive change in others, in a small community, in a state, in a country, in the world. I want to be that one!
“B e t h e c h a n g e y o u w a n t t o s e e i n t h e w o r l d”
(this quote has become so cliche but I will own it – it’s a great reminder)
p.s. – I was able to connect with Helen and hope to communicate with her soon:) Our family is sponsoring her each month. So incredibly grateful this Thanksgiving!