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AHB Dispatches: Celebrating Hope in Zambia

 

Aunt Betty

This issue marks the debut of a new semi-regular feature, "AHB Dispatches." Our readers tell stories of things that gladden the heart – friends, quiet moments, challenging work, memories, grandchildren, dreams – to mention only a few. So please put your story into a dispatch and send it to us. We look forward to hearing from you.

Our first dispatch comes from Elizabeth Lamarche in Ottawa. In 2007, Lamarche surprised herself by volunteering in Africa.

Why would a 62-year-old, semi-retired woman want to volunteer in Zambia?

For one thing, I had been reading the newspapers and listening to Stephen Lewis (UN’s former Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa) recount how the disease was devastating families. And, like many people, I had been sending bits of money to various relief organizations to help alleviate both their distress and mine. I was also working with a group to raise money for a number of hospices and orphanages in Zambia and South Africa.

At the same time, I was reading Dreams Have No Expiry Date (Random House Canada) – on the reading list for a course I was taking. That’s when I started to dream. It dawned on me that I had time and energy to share. Perhaps, I could offer assistance to one of the organizations I was already working for indirectly. As a qualified teacher, I decided to send a letter to Kasisi Children’s Home in Zambia, offering my services for one semester. When I received the reply a little while later, it said: "Come."

Kasisi Children’s Home

Kasisi Children’s Home is a place of love and kindness in the heart of Zambia. The children are cared for by the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic religious order from Poland, some local housemothers ("mummies") and volunteers.

While I was there, there were 227 children in residence. There were 110 under the age of two and 117 of school age. The sisters work extremely hard to ensure the home runs smoothly and to maintain the support of local and international donors.

Some of the children are ill. They have tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or other health problems. Some have lost one or both parents. Despite this, the children dance when the rains come, and joy is what you see on their faces.

My working orders were simple and straightforward: "This is the children’s home and we are one big family. So if you wonder what you should do, in any given circumstance, just think: How would I deal with this as a good mother?"

I arose around six each morning to prepare a variety of learning activities. The children came for lessons in small groups. As they waited outside the classroom window for their turn, I could hear their happy whispers and occasionally shouts of anticipation, as they hollered, "What are we going to learn today?"

In the early evening, I helped the mummies bathe and put the little ones to bed. My task was to give the babies their last bottle of the day. They were a delight as they smiled and lifted their arms for a hug.

The children lined up outside the dispensary to receive their antiretroviral treatments in the morning and again, in the evening. The sisters cuddled and cajoled them, calming their fears. When a child became ill, the home quickly mobilized its resources. This could mean a trip to the Coptic hospital in Lusaka or rounding up funds for surgery.

Enriched by hope

Kasisi is like any family, it has its good days and it has some difficult days. It is a human place, a place where people do their best with the resources available. I was blessed to be able to lend a hand.

Back in Canada now, I realize how greatly this experience has enriched my life and broadened my horizons – the children, the people, the natural beauty of Africa.

I am glad I dared to dream.