Before we left the United States, I had serious doubts about what our group of nine teenagers and nine adults could accomplish in just over two weeks.
We would be working with small groups of women in the slum districts of Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. Groups such as SWAAZ (Society of Women Against Aids in Zambia) and similar NGOs hold classes for orphaned and vulnerable children and their care-takers and provide food.
Lusaka is divided into districts, called “compounds,” and the living conditions are heart-breaking. Lacking garbage collection, they are awash in plastic trash. In at least one compound, residents cannot afford water from the well where a private corporation from an industrialized country sells water by the container, so they dig their own water holes that have no protection from the dust, dirt and sewage residue.
We worked in several of these compounds. At Garden Compound we installed a security gate and secured doorways and windows, painted the building inside and out, and financed a simple pipe system for access to water. At Chawama Compound, we made an excellent start on digging a latrine, and at Linda Compound, we launched construction of a shelter for their meal program. We also purchased two foot-powered sewing machines so the women could learn to sew and make a little income.
In several compounds we worked with small classes of young children, teaching them some basic English or adding to what they already knew. We made the lessons fun – singing “The Alphabet Song” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” much to their delight. I will never forget how beautiful the children are, and how intently they focused on us and on the lesson. Sitting on concrete floors in rooms with no blackboard or materials, they never squirmed or lost their concentration. They loved our suitcases full of colorful teaching supplies. This was satisfying work for us because in the classrooms, we were no longer exotic visitors, just teachers.