Sunday, May 13, 2012

Zimba - May 11, 2012

Zimba - 2012-05-11 We’ve begun to observe that working with the poorest of the poor, often means working beyond where the pavement ends. Today was no exception. We drove to Mufilira on the D.R.C. border and when the pavement ended, drove on some more until we reached the community of Zimba. I first visited Zimba in 2010 with George Snyman, Lynn Chotowetz, James Tembo, Blessings and Towela. Today, Blessings and Towela brought Cathy, Jason, the boys and I to Zimba and it is a community that is undergoing incredible transformation. On my first visit, Hildah, the “Mother Theresa” of Zimba, met us in her yard. She was tired but excited about the possibilities of partnering with Hands at Work to recruit and train volunteers to help her care for the orphaned and vulnerable children in her community. Even at first glance around the community, we could see that it was an immeasurable need. There were children everywhere but most were afraid to come out to greet us. Many were dressed in threadbare clothing, most were unkempt and dishevelled and looked liked they lacked a caregiver. Some were sporting the large swollen bellies of hunger and/or worms. Many were curious but lacked the energy to come out to see what was happening. It was an unusual response as in most communities, the children gather to see any visitors and follow along looking for adventure. As we walked in the community, back in 2010, we passed a small building that advertised itself as a child rearing advice centre with an open door for those who wished to ask questions on rearing children. We heard from Hildah as we passed that the building had stood empty for years, no one could ever remember anyone manning the post or accepting parents and children to ask questions. Across the large yard of this small building stood a decaying brick building that once housed the police court proceedings. Again, the building was standing empty except for the left behind furniture of the court. We carried on and visited a small girl named Charity, who was three at the time, and her grandmother, also named Charity, who was her namesake’s only caregiver. Little Charity was listless and detached and incredibly tired for a child of three. George sat with her on his knee for the length of the visit and she was pretty unresponsive to his voice or gestures. While we visited with these two, a group of children began to timidly gather around us and after a long while, we were finally able to engage with them, finding that many of them didn’t know their ages, didn’t attend school and were often unsure of when their parents would come back from the fields or the cities to care for them. Fast forward to today’s visit – we arrived in Zimba and find Hildah and several care workers in the building that formerly claimed to house the child rearing advice centre. They are cooking for 63 + kids and those same children are in the courthouse turned schoolhouse across the yard. We peek into the dark building and see benches of children, row on row, and children sitting on mats on the floor. There are two simple blackboards, three teachers and the kids are engaged in the lessons they are learning. In the kitchen, several small children, mostly toddlers, sit around on a mat while the care workers make the noon meal. They do this seven days a week, not stopping on the weekends, knowing that they often supply the only meal these children eat. Today it is nshima, cabbage and sausages. The small children are fed first while the older ones are in school and then round two is to feed the school aged ones next. While we are there, we play with the kids as they get out of school. There are skipping ropes pulled out, a soccer ball and a couple of Frisbees. The kids are energetic and curious and even though many of them still are in questionable health and various states of dress, they are happy and seem to be thriving. The children’s faces tell the stories of lives transformed by the love of the care workers. Small children clamber to be held, to sit on a knee, to just be talked to, while the older children laugh and play games, run and shout, dance and jump. What a difference from my last visit. I was so afraid for the children of this community when I was here last, I knew objectively that rallying volunteers, raising support, developing a care plan and then motivating care workers to feed children and provide schooling can all take a lot of time. Hildah apparently felt the same urgency and put her mind to get it done. Today, Charity is a thriving five year old. She is tall and her eyes are bright, she has weight on her frame again and she’s mischievous and playful. She runs from Blessings to Towela, to Aidan and to Cathy...hugging, laughing, pulling, playing. Then on to me and Easton and whoever else catches her eye. She’s proof of a life transformed. She now lives just down the road with Hildah as her grandmother was unable to keep caring for her. Hildah asks me to take Charity’s photo so she can have a picture of her. I am happy to comply. The girl in today’s photo doesn’t bear much resemblance to the limp, listless girl in my first photo of her. Thank God for Hildah, for Hildah is how God transformed Charity’s life from lacking to loved.

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