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Saturday, 01 July 2006

A Communities Without Borders€™ Trip to Zambia

Written by Sharon Henderson Ellis
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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.

zambiaWe 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.

paintingWe 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. childrenSitting 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.

In addition, the Zambian women who help tutor vulnerable kids were able to observe us and pick up new teaching techniques, whereas their English lessons had previously meant having the children recite in unison from rote memory. The government does not have schools in many communities, and many teachers have been wiped out by the AIDS epidemic.  To the few teachers left, the government pays only meager salaries.

In addition to the urban compounds, we also slept on the school floor at a remote village we visited in the Southern Province where many people had never before seen white people.  The province has been suffering a bad drought and people and animals were literally starving in some instances.  We contributed 5 goats to the community.


Despite the desperate situation, we did meet some extraordinary people who gave us reason to hope: the wonderful women of SWAAZ and ZANCOB; the Executive Director of the Zambian program that receives funds from the Global Fund; and the doctor and founder of Our Lady’s Hospice, the best (and one of the very few) health care facilities in Zambia.


I will always carry the memory of the beautiful Zambian people -- their physical beauty, as well as their warmth and and grace.  And, despite my early doubts, I believe we made a meaningful contribution.


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©Sharon Henderson Ellis

Photos by Judy Friedman


Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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