Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Little More Now and Then

Little did I know that the children that I met in 2009 would become such an important part of my daily life years later.  The numbers we hear about statistically have become "our" kids and our life includes their lives. Removed as we are, an ocean and a continent away, it's not always easy to keep these friends and loved ones in the forefront of our day to day lives and yet, that is exactly where they belong.

In the past few years, friends, family and acquaintances in Saskatoon have supported the care workers in Mulenga by funding 80 children to receive the three essential services that Hands at Work trains care workers to provide. Together, we have built a school which now provides free schooling to 120 students that would not have access to an education. We have also bought a hammer mill which grinds maize into the mealie meal that provides a daily meal for the children and also generates a small income for the care workers and their organization. The hammer mill sits on a piece of land owned by one of the care workers. It will not only bring some sustainable income to the community based organization, but also provide a valuable service to an area of Mulenga that found young children and old women carrying heavy bags of maize a long way to have it ground into useful mealie meal, and then carrying the heavy bags back again. 

This year, it's our goal as Hands at Work here in Saskatoon, to provide the funding for 120 children to receive the three essential services. It costs $20 a month to provide one child with access to education through the community school, home visits in which they receive caring visits, parental guidance and medical support when needed, and a meal a day at the care point, where they are able to eat, play and get homework and other support from their care workers. If you want to get involved, just send a cheque to the Hands at Work Canada or USA addressed on the sidebar and write "Mulenga, Zambia" in your memo line and they will send you more info on direct deposits, etc.

Here are a few pics of some of the children that we are currently supporting...from 2009 until 2012. We're watching them grow and develop and flourish...and that is something I literally can't put a price on. I love these kids. I wish each of you would be able to come with me and walk with these kids, see where they live, what they endure and how they thrive with  love and education and food.

I met Natasha in 2009 when I first arrived in Mulenga. She was friendly and cheerful - wearing a dirty green dress and playing in the clay with her friends. At the end of one of our first days, she and her friends showed off their dollies that they had fashioned out of the clay they sat in. Bits of yarn and sticks, small fragments of fabric formed the babies that they carried around proudly, sometimes even tying them to their backs with a small piece of fabric, shitenga style, just like the mothers of Mulenga. 

I found out on this trip that my friend, Natasha, is actually the eldest sister of my dear little friend, Eva. Why I had never seen the resemblance, I have no idea! They are very alike physically. On this last trip, Natasha took me to see Eva in her new school setting. As we walked, we talked a little about how quiet Eva is and she said that Eva is the quietest in their household. Natasha said that little Josh is the noisiest and even the new baby, Calibo, was noisy at home, but Eva, she rarely said anything. I asked Natasha if she remembered me taking this first photo (below) and she laughed and said somewhat shyly, "Yes".
I told her that I would send her a copy of both of these photos so she could see how she's grown. What she may not see is how I see her, changed from a small laughing girl playing in the clay, to a young almost-woman walking with the poise and stride of a woman twice her age. She's beautiful and vulnerable which is both encouraging and frightening. The care worker I walked with alongside Natasha told me later that they are building strong relationships with Natasha and her mother in an effort to protect Natasha from having to leave school and work around the home, circumstances that would increase her vulnerability in the coming years as she grows into womanhood. The care workers know that educating the girls and teaching them basic health about their changing bodies, will give them a chance to bypass the incredible odds that challenge young women in communities like Mulenga.

Natasha and her friends show us their clay dolls in 2009
Natasha in 2010
When I first met Emmanuel in 2009, we were crouched on a small, low bench in a dark shanty. Emmanuel was tall and quiet, with his knees nearly touching his chin as he sat with us on the bench inside the doorway of the small home he shared with his aunty, her husband and their children. He sat next to me by chance and I could see him surreptitiously glancing at me from the corner of his eye. He would look away if I caught his eye but again and again, I could see him sizing us up. We spoke for a while with his aunty, just young herself, as she told us the story of how she had convinced her husband to take in Emmanuel when his mother, her sister, passed away. Her husband agreed but he did not provide much for Emmanuel other than leftover food and a place to sleep on the floor. Emmanuel's aunty wept as she spoke with us, unable to provide for Emmanuel to go to school because she could not afford to buy him shoes which were necessary for attendance at the government school. She wept with gratitude that he was able to attend the new community school because, on her own, she felt that she was not providing Emmanuel with the life she felt he deserved. She was also grieving the recent loss of her own six month old baby just weeks before.  She was grateful for the chance to talk about it with the care workers who came to visit the family. The home was physically dark but it was also really an emotionally heavy place - grief lived in the walls and permeated the silence in between the limited conversations. When the care workers visit, there is conversation and even smiles, however timid.  I asked Emmanuel what he liked to do everyday, he said he liked being with his friends. When I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he told me he wanted very much to be a doctor. Something in me believes that he will be, regardless of his circumstances.  I snapped this first photo of Emmanuel and his buddy, Christopher, at the community school in Mulenga, where they now attend school.   On our most recent visit to Mulenga, Emmanuel saw us and came to greet us right away as we arrived at the care point. He is a head taller than he was just a year ago and he smiles readily. I watch him on our numerous visits to the community and I see a young man who has confidence and cares for those around him. He is a quiet leader with a warm smile, that the little guys in this community look to for guidance. I watch him wrangle small boys into a quivering line waiting for their meal at the care point. I watch as he leads Nkosi, the eldest care worker who is blind, around the care point and through the streets of Mulenga. I watch him eating his meal and chatting with the group of friends around him, the same boys that have been sharing meals and living life together for the three years that I've known him. I'm not sure Emmanuel realizes that it's now me being sneaky and watching him closely. I'm not sizing him up as he was me...every glance confirms to me the power of love and attention and education in the lives of these kids. I see a boy growing into a gracious man - a beautiful thing in a country that has lost a generation of men. When I look at Emmanuel, I see hope for a future. 

Emmanuel and Christopher - in 2009
David and Emmanuel in 2011

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