I felt really expectant as I jumped in the car with Reuben on Thursday to head out to Chibuli community for the day. Each time I am heading out to the community I do try to prepare my heart and pray that God will lead and guide the day, and that I will be open to see what he has for me to walk in on that day. Some days this feels more evident that others, and our day in Chibuli this week was particularly special. I want to share with you 3 stories, or rather what I believe were 3 God moments we had on this particular day:
Walking with Care Worker Terri*
As we arrived in Chibuli community, Terri approached our vehicle smiling and ready to greet us. She is a Care Worker I know well, and I was excited that we were going to be spending the day together. She is always such a delight in this community. Always smiling, always ready to give me a big embrace on arrival, and she welcomes all visitors with the same enthusiasm.
We greeted the cooks who had finished preparing the children’s meal for the day, and were just waiting for the kids to finish school and come and eat, and then we were off to visit 2 families that were burning on my heart to see that day (we will get to one of these families stories below).
But it was in the walking with Terri, that I found such encouragement. As we started to walk we started to chat. Terri’s English is pretty good, so we can converse fairly well (and Reuben helped to translate any gaps). 12 months ago we launched an initiative with our Care Workers in Chibuli called VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association). It has been a new initiative for us as Hands at Work that we have only really started to implement in the last 2 years, and we are learning as we go! So Chibuli was the second community for us to launch this initiative in.
Our Care Workers give of themselves tirelessly, as volunteers (not receiving anything), to care for and serve our children and their families. But in most cases our Care Workers themselves are widows, caring for many children and grandchildren themselves, doing their best to provide for their own families and get by, but also struggling to do that. It has always been our heart as Hands at Work to find ways to effectively care for and support our Care Workers. But finding the best way to do this in a way that empowers the Care Workers, and not to distract or even attract people with the wrong motivations – let’s just say it’s a difficult thing to do well!
So VSLA has come as a breath of fresh air, a model that works very well particularly in the rural communities that we work in. One of the aspects I love about it is that it requires no outside capital or investment. But rather is quite a simple concept that encourages a group of 20-25 people to come together. To save a small amount of money on a weekly basis as they meet together, and then from the money saved into this pool of funds, people in the group request and take loans to fund small entrepreneurial business ventures. The group obviously have vested interest that these business ventures are successful, so in that, advise one another on their business plans, and the loans are paid back into the group with an agreed amount of interest (usually around the 10% mark), which grows the invested funds. This process of saving and loans goes on for a 12 month period, at the end of which, based in proportion to the amount each individual has saved, the total accumulated funds are shared out to each of the group members. The group is then free to re-commence for another 12 month cycle. That’s quite a simple explanation of the process, there are lots more ins and outs, but I trust you get the gist. So Chibuli community have just completed the first year of this initiative, and had their first share out. I say all this to give the background of what comes next.
So I was asking Terri about how she did in the share out from VSLA. She was almost dancing with joy as she began to tell me that from the share out she received almost K1000 (Approx. $130 AUD, which for our communities is a HUGE amount of money, and an amount Terri has never seen in her life before!) This money has enabled her to purchase 8 bags of fertiliser from her local agriculture co-op in a very timely manner for the upcoming farming season (for most families, to even buy fertiliser is completely out of reach). It will enable her to fertilise her whole 1 hectare of Maize field she will plant in the next month. Just this simple act of her being able to fertilise her crop, should see her harvest yield this coming year increase from 30-40 X 50Kg bags of Maize, to 50-60 x 50kg bags of maize. Terri expressed multiple times, that VSLA has really lifted her life to another level. One she didn’t think or dream was actually possible.
(On a side note – we are continuing to pray and believe that the rains will come this year, timely and in abundance to break this drought we have been experiencing. As Hands at Work, we held a global day of prayer and fasting for the drought this past Friday. Continue to stand in prayer with us. We hope the rains will come here in Zambia around mid-November)
Daniel is one of the children we care for who is very sick. He was a normal healthy young boy until around age 5yrs, where he was struck with an unknown illness that, 6yrs on has left him wasting away, basically unable to move aside from slightly lifting his head. It’s a really difficult, painful and heartbreaking situation to step into. One of the hardest homes to visit. But we went knowing we wanted to spend good quality time with Daniel and his mother. Daniel really is a special little boy, and despite the disease completely ravaging his body, he such is a handsome little boy. Despite his suffering, he is able to smile one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen on a child.
As we arrived with Terri for the visit, Terri climbs in close to where Daniel is lying and sits right beside his face. She leans down close to whisper his name, and immediately Daniels face lights up with the biggest smile, and he starts to laugh. He is so happy to see his care worker and friend Terri. The bond they have is so evident. And it was such a joy to watch and be a part of this special moment they shared as we arrived. Throughout the whole visit, even when Daniel was turned on his side to face away from Terri, he was constantly trying to lift his head and check she was still right there beside him. For me, I feel deeply encouraged, that although medically there is really nothing more that can be done for Daniel, knowing how Terri and some of the other care workers are committed to visiting Daniel and showing love on him, which he so delights in, is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise very bleak and overwhelming situation.
We spent around 2.5hours sitting, chatting and spending time with Daniel and his mother. We had deep chats with his mother. Her and I are probably not too dissimilar in age, in fact she is probably younger than me, and is carrying this huge burden of not only caring for Daniel, but also for her other 4 or 5 children and also a grandchild. She expressed her fears. She expressed the things that break her heart. She shared of her husband abandoning her when Daniel first got sick. She allowed us to pray for her, and thanked me deeply when I did. Which I don’t feel worthy of. She is so strong, so resilient. She can get out of bed each day driven by the encouragement she receives from the Care Workers that she needs to continue to care and provide for her other children. She built the house the family now stays in, she is busy building another room for visitors to stay in. She is preparing to cultivate 2 fields for the next farming season. It’s hard to know how to support this family well, I don’t have answers to know how to better help Daniel, I feel completely helpless in that sense. But I take courage in the way the care workers have come alongside this family, the way they pour out love on them, they bring peace and hope when they visit and they bestow dignity on Daniel. It’s a reminder of the reality of what it means to be serving the most vulnerable.
A roadside encounter with Bupe*
Walking back to the Care Point after our home visits, we ran into 3 of our young boys walking along the roadside back to their homes. We stopped to greet them. The next minute, and in a very animated manner, one of the boys Bupe started having a very loud and enthusiastic conversation with Reuben in Bemba (the local language). I could only pick a few words, and so wondered what their conversation was about. But it was clearly something Bupe was very passionate about!
Turns out Bupe is one of the younger youth leaders we have identified in Chibuli community. He is probably 10-12 years old. He has had the opportunity to come to Kachele Farm for one of our week long Youth Leaders camps. What he had stopped to ask us for was a Children’s bible, because he said he needed it for when he goes to do Holy Home Visits!
Holy Home Visits are a foundational part of our model as Hands at Work. But usually it is our Care Workers who are visiting our children. Through our Youth Camps we have been encouraging our children around these Holy Home Visits, to encourage them to visit one another. This is clearly something that Bupe has caught a hold onto and is passionate about. Not only visiting is fellow children but also visiting and encouraging Care Workers! And wants a bible to be able to do so even better!
I was reminded of the scripture in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals