Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Back to Amulo

This morning, Blessings and Towela picked us up and brought us to Amulo. Amulo is a community on the outskirts of Kitwe with a high population of vulnerable children. Amulo is in the shadow of a large copper mine, tucked into the backyard of mining houses and the working poor. Once again, you leave the tar roads to get to Amulo, wind through rough roads that we call "dancing roads" as they make you dance around the vehicle whether the music is on or not. I joke with Blessings that I'll be dancing like an African after all the dancing lessons I've had on these roads. We arrive in Amulo and make our way to the building that now houses the care point. In August of 2010, when I first visited Amulo, this building stood empty but it held promise. It was cement blocks with a tin roof and was divided into several rooms inside that could be transformed into classrooms. Today, I saw the fulfillment of that promise. The front steps were covered in plants and were the first evidence of life within. As we entered the first small room, adjoining it was another small room lined with benches and filled with children and their notebooks, waiting for their teacher to arrive. Imagine children coming early to school and waiting for their teachers! Another room housed the brazier and charcoal on which a few of the care workers cook, under the watchful eye of Maggie, the woman who supervises that the meals are enough for the 50 children but also that they provide good nutrition. Maggie and the care workers are well aware that the meal they provide each day is often the only meal that the children can rely on. Down a dark hallway, another small room is lined with benches and has a chalkboard and it is in this room that the older children are taught. We are welcomed by Godfried, who is standing in as the community based organization's coordinator while Pastor Boyd, who usually leads it, is away at seminary training. Godfried and I walked the community together in 2010 and he is a grandfather to all the children of Amulo and a friend of all. He is friendly and wise, he speaks with great care for all those he visits, whether a patient or child. Today, he leads the care workers in a Bemba song that he has adapted the words to welcome us to Amulo to walk with him. It's the sweetest thing to be sung to by this man. I know he is so sincerely thankful for the visit and considers it an honour to have us, though we see it as the same for us to be with him. Introductions are made and we leave the boys at the school to join in with the teachers there, knowing full well that they will be safe and looked after. Jason and I join several care workers and we walk through the community and hear the challenges and accomplishments of the area from those we consider the experts on what is happening here. Our first visit is to the home of 13 year old Memory, and her mother, Precious. Memory is home but is bathing when we arrive so we sit with her mother for a while. She tells us that it is just she and Memory, as her husband has passed away. Having been widowed, with a child, she is incredibly vulnerable. Two women on their own are targets for those who would abuse and exploit them. Precious' mother lives relatively nearby but as they own their home, it is important for them to stay in it and keep their small plot. Precious' mother provides some food for the two of them but it is not enough to sustain them. Memory joins us in the small living room and she is shy. She speaks quietly and acknowledges the care workers when they tell her that she is supposed to be in school. She explains that she is not feeling well but they challenge her to go to school as often as she can and also to attend the meal. She nods although I am not sure she would go today. We stay for awhile and pray with Precious and Memory as we leave. They ask us to pray for provision of food and safety for them both, and for good health. From here, we walk to the home of a small 7 year old boy named Gift. Godfried sweeps Gift into his arms and although Gift is blind, it is clear that he responds to Godfried's voice, he is smiling. Godfried explains that Gift became very sick when he was about 2 years old and became paralyzed and blind. Now, he has trouble controlling the movements of his limbs and head and he grinds his teeth so violently that they are jagged and broken. We sit with Gift and his father, who also cares for three other siblings in the house. The father is kind and gentle with Gift but he expresses his worry for this son who can not eat well, doesn't walk and needs a lot of care. When we ask if they do exercises with Gift, the care workers and father both explain that they spend time working Gift's limbs and it seems to be having a positive effect on his abilities to move them. In this home, the care workers come and offer beautiful respite to a father raising four children on his own.
We visit just a few more houses, the one that stands out to me was the home of Kelvin and George. Kelvin is five and he meets us in his yard. He is the size of a small toddler and I ask several times about his age, he is so small. I lift him into my lap and he is light as a feather, despite his distended belly. His belly is hard and his limbs are small and thin. His younger brother, George, is three and small as well. He is unwilling to look at us, hiding his eyes in the care workers' arms and crying. Kelvin is quiet in my lap but as I take photos of other children, he is smiling, being privy to their pictures displayed in the back of my camera. He smiles and it only affects his lips. His eyes are wide and his lashes are curled right into themselves, they are so long. His body is covered in the downy hair of one malnourished. He holds one of my hands in his and his grip is strong for such a small appendage. We sit together for a while, as care workers listen to the grandmother tell of the boys' mother who disappears when we arrive, as she has spent the morning making and drinking a local home brew. The boys come to the feeding program though they don't attend the school yet. Again, these are some of the children that reinforce the urgency of such a feeding program - they may not eat in a day if not for the care workers preparing them a meal.
On our way back to the care point, we pass a house that I recognize. In 2010, I sat with Godfried and a grandmother here who was caring for her 10 month old grandson, as his mother had passed away when he was just 10 days old. When we visited them, I was so affected by the grandmother, herself only 35, having to care for the baby of her own young daughter. I couldn't imagine the grief she was feeling although it was evident in her very movements and expressions. The father of the child only came once to see the baby but he did not offer any help and never reappeared. Today, Daliso is a beautiful, healthy looking boy of almost three. He is walking around in his little polo shirt and shorts and chattering away when we arrive. Since that day in 2010, when I sat with little hope to offer this grandmother, I have often thought that perhaps Daliso had passed away, so small was he and undernourished when I was with them. I remember feeling sick and sad that I couldn't make their lives any better for them. There was no food, no money and not a lot of hope. Even then, the grandmother said that she was grateful for Godfried's visits and that she was interested in becoming a volunteer with him as they began their community based organization. Today, she is just as lovely and she was smiling and she told me that she has been volunteering as a care worker since 2010. This is the change that we hope to see in Zambia...one of the many examples that gives us hope that the beautiful work of the care workers is substantially changing lives, one by one, just by sheer love. As we drove out of Amulo today, I honestly felt so much joy. I am so proud of the work that is being done by Blessings and Towela as part of Hands at Work, training and recruiting care workers, providing training and then guiding and supporting community leaders to serve their own communities in such humble and beautiful ways. I feel proud to say that the care workers of Amulo see our family as friends now and that we are connected in such a way that I know that when we return we will be welcomed back to our home away from home in Amulo, Zambia. I'm not sure that Amulo is even recorded on a map, but I do know that it is forever imprinted on our lives.

No comments: