Five years is a long time in the life of a community in which there are so many, many needs. On my first trip to Zambia, at the same time of year, the country was new to me. So, too, were the kinds of poverty and vulnerability that I would witness as I walked through a community I had only read about and known from a distance.
Distance is tricky. It can still stir empathy and compassion, but when you walk the uneven paths, strewn with garbage and sewage, carefully placing each step one in front of the other, you get a different perspective. The smells and the sounds of a community deepen the understanding of the type of lives that you can possibly live here. A good roof. A lock on the door. Some piece work to provide an income for the day's meal. Those are the things that people strive for in a place such as this. It's not an easy setting but the first time I stepped into those streets and the homes of children and their care givers living there, I knew I was being called to something.
Over the years, there is no less sense of calling when I walk through Mulenga. Though there are so many hopeful and amazing stories of lives being absolutely transformed by the love and selflessness of a group of men and women who have chosen to serve those who need it the most, Mulenga remains a very challenging place to live and grow and survive. While the economy of Zambia and the stability of government have brought improvement to many lives in Zambia, it has yet to trickle down to the poorest, living still in communities such as this, communities that lack infrastructure and services to make living a lot healthier and more sustainable. It's when I return that I become increasingly aware of what sacrifice and commitment the care workers who volunteer in this community have. It's so humbling. I have nothing that compares - even to those I love the most - that would match the kind of love they are living out daily - every day of the five years since I first met them and beyond.
I'm often humbled by their friendship and their love for me. It feels undeserved and somewhat wrong that they would assume that I too, exhibit that type of selflessness and love to others. That's what challenged me the most on this particular trip. That Elizabeth and Sylvia and Beauty are daily making nshima, no small feat in itself, for 150 kids while I'm here, in an office and coming and going to my comfortable home, knowing the homes they sleep in are no better than the ones of the children they serve. I know too, that often their own homes provide shelter for children in need of security, or comfort when they are lonely or sick. How often do I provide that sort of shelter though there are many in my community that could use it? I know that we live in a different economy but it's not an excuse. I'm not going to be a martyr here and beat myself black and blue, but I am going to sit in this discomfort for at long as I can, until I find the calling in the challenges and can see a way to act on it.
Regardless of the beauty of our friendship, I want to stand with my friends and know that I have not only learned from them, but acted upon it. Not that they need that for them to love me as they do...but it will allow me to accept that type of unconditional love that they so generously give to me.
|Dorothea and Joyce|
|Immanuel and Esther|
|The teachers in Mulenga - (l-r) Catherine, Jacqueline, Immanel, Alice and Reuben (front)|