by Mama Virgo
Most American school children, OK and some adults, would have a difficult time finding Zambia on a map of Africa. Hopefully, most would be able to point to Africa – “you know, kids, it’s the really big one between two big oceans”. Depending on their age and interests, they might have heard of Dr. David Livingstone who has a large town (pop. about 90,000) named for him in southern Zambia. But the vast majority of the world population has never heard of the Kazungula District of Zambia. And only a handful of people, including you folks who frequent this blog, have ever ever heard of a remote forest village called Namapande (you won’t find it on Google Earth). This geography lesson is intended as a reminder of how special you are! Not only are you aware of this village but some of you sent contributions to help put a roof on their school before the fragile bricks were destroyed by the rainy season. So settle in, grab the drink of your choice and listen to the Christmas story about Namapande and how a few good folks made a difference just by caring about people you will never meet; people who want their kids to have an education; people who are on the margins of the marginalized; people who can never repay you or do anything for you – except of course make you feel warm all over because of your generosity.
Many villages in Zambia were flooded during the rainy season several years ago. This season can last from about October until April with an average of nearly 40 inches of rain. Unable to rebuild their community after another flood, the government advised about 400 villagers that they would be relocated to a new area, Namapande, virtually flood proof as there is no water in sight. The villagers were allowed to take minimal possessions to their new land. One gift that they did not realize at the time was that they were placed in a part of the Kazungula District which is an area loved and served by two Kentuckians, Lonnie and Fran Turner. There is some discussion/debate about why the government chose land that was isolated; had no readily available water source; was at least 10 miles from a main road; was covered with bush and vegetation; and had no visible means of obtaining food. I prefer to think that they did not intend harm or hardship.
But these villagers are tough. They did not whine and complain (which is the American way…why did the government do this to me…nobody likes me…blah, blah,blah). Nope, they dusted off their machetes and started clearing the land by hand. Keep in mind, this is an area about the distance from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial if you squared it up. And if you think that’s not far, try walking it sometime in July or January and imagine clearing your way with a machete. For housing, the government gave them military style tents, which when we saw them were fairly tattered. These villagers, being more comfortable in thatch huts, started building their homes quickly. Soon, the government installed a well about mid range of the property. Helpful, but not sufficient for all these folks. Onto the scene arrived Lonnie and Fran, having heard about this remote cache of people who had few resources, a village now called Namapande Resettlement. Who knows how these things become known in a forest of no computers, no phones, a community not visible from the highway. Nonetheless, Lonnie and Fran’s humanitarian organization, Partners in Development, went to work and put in another well and started visiting the village on a regular basis, providing some resources, and developing a relationship with the people and the village president, Billy. Guess what, you must have a relationship with people before you can help them! Sweeping in, destroying their village, setting up a democracy, and arranging the village American style does not work.
Our group, who was visiting with Lonnie and Fran, arrived at Namapande on Sunday, August 1, 2010 to an unbelievable welcome. The only indication from the main road (a two lane highway through the bush country) that a village is near is a road sign made from a log with Namapande carved its length.
The road that traverses about 10 miles back to the village is composed of packed and loose sand, one lane and barely passable in places. Its’ condition in the rainy season is unimaginable.
The road ends in a clearing where many villagers were gathering, cooking fires were burning and two large tents stood as the centerpiece with UNICEF stenciled across them.
These were the tents, equipped only with small wooden benches, which served as the school buildings for what appeared to be several 100 children of all ages. Behind the tents was a newly constructed brick building, a skeleton of a structure with no roof, made from homemade bricks and mortared with local material (not your Daddy’s bricks and mortar).
As we unloaded, we were surrounded by smiling, eager children who are unaccustomed to seeing pale skinned, pale eyed people. As we began to take their pictures with our legion of digital cameras, feeling so paparazzi-like, and then show it to them, they were aghast. Many, if not all, had never seen a picture of themselves. They pushed, crowded, all wanting more photos taken. That afternoon evolved into music, the performing of plays which they had written for us, dancing, laughing, eating familiar as well as new foods, and sharing, although we did not speak a common verbal language. The Turner’s brought $5000.00 worth of donated textbooks from the U.S. and presented these to the headmaster of the school and her two assistants.
Some of the children were allowed to hold the books and were visibly upset when it was time to return them to the teachers for safe keeping. As we toured the school shell, we were told how the funds had been exhausted and the danger of the bricks crumbling when the rains came if no roof was in place. There was no question that we had been placed there at that moment in time to serve a purpose. We could be the feet to make sure that school was protected; knowing in our hearts that Americans are generous and that we would not be alone in our commitment.
In many African countries, children complete Basic School which is comparable to our elementary education. If they are to go further, then families must pay for them to leave home and live in boarding schools. Understandably, few are able to further their education due to finances and the need to stay and help the family. At a minimum, children need that basic education and hope that they can go further. The intellect of these children is quite amazing. We were saddened to know that many will not be able to attend high school. But the building in Namapande is the beginning and prayerfully not the end for many of these children. The roof is now on and the building is protected. Plans are underway for finishing the building when weather permits.
If anyone dares to tell you that a few people really cannot make a difference, especially halfway around the world, tell them the story of Namapande. If anyone asks why you are here, what is your purpose in life, tell them the story of Namapande.
Writer’s note: This about the 4th draft of this blog. I started out trying to be cute, caustic and comical, and a bit critical of the government. Entertaining, but stupid. It dawned on me, Duh, that this will be posted on the internet which means the government can see it which could result in consequences impeding the work of the Turner’s. So, a word of warning, if you care to comment on this piece, please be aware that if you Google Namapande, this blog will likely be there, as it was when I did so in preparing this post. Please be mindful of how your comments could be taken. It’s preferable to believe that everyone is doing their best to help these folks.