Zambians from the village of Mbayi and Canadians from Ontario worked side by side making blocks (bricks) from ant hill soil to construct a Health Post. It was a community experience with women hauling well water from a distance and men shovelling earth and pounding soil into moulds to make blocks. After 8 days over 3,000 were formed—hard, physical labour that our Zambian colleagues were better adapted to than the softer Canadians. The sense of camaraderie and fellowship while working together was an exhilarating experience and each day we walked back to our accommodation in Mbayi tired but grateful for the opportunity to work together.
It was the eve of our departure to Mbayi and I felt droplets of rain, almost as if the sky was sending us a warning of more to come. We all felt it—a light sprinkling—to which Wendy stated flatly, “Rain means poverty.”
As those words sank in, I began to realize, I’m entering a world very different from the one I left. Rain, which was normally a symbol for life and growth, is a harbinger for loss and poverty at this time year in Zambia. The maize (corn), soon to be harvested, is drying on the stalks in the fields. I have never forgotten those words, nor the image of Wendy looking intensely off into the distance, like she could see the suffering of the villagers.
One of the most noticeable features of Mbayi are its anthills. They’re huge—a few meters tall and many meters wide. They’re ancient. A villager said, “My grandfather’s grandfather saw these same anthills. No one alive has seen them grow from the ground.” They’re life-giving. Different species of ants, in addition to reptiles and snakes, can be found in them or call them home. Groves of bamboo trees only grow on or in the immediate vicinity of these anthills; it’s almost as if they could sense something unique about these hills, marking them as a place of shelter and growth.
These anthills are special. They are the source of life in the village of Mbayi. The villagers plant millet near the anthills as it has the most fertile soil; the excrements from the ants fertilize the soil around it. Wells, to provide water, are built adjacent to the anthills as the earth that is packed and processed by the ants is structurally the strongest and most sound. The anthill also provides the bricks to build housing and shelter. These same bricks are the ones we are using to build the Health Post—a building which will be used to save lives and promote health.
Excavating the soil of the anthill for bricks destroys the portion of the anthill in which the soil was taken. Yet even in its destruction the anthill continually gives life . . .
Stay tuned as the Canadian Team launches the construction of a Health Post in Mbayi.
Watch us mould bricks from giant ant hills!!!
Golden, a 54 year old volunteer teacher in Mbayi, was involved in a road traffic accident in 1978. He had just finished high school and was in the Zambian National Service. They took him to a hospital where the doctors performed a below the knee amputation. Then the hospital administration told him he would have to raise $300.00 (Canadian) for an artificial limb!!! Over the years he has managed, bit by bit, to pay money towards the new leg waiting for him in a storage room at the hospital. I have known Golden for almost 3 years now, since first arriving in Mbayi, and have watched him painfully moving about, one leg much shorter than the other. As we were chatting just a few weeks ago, I found out about the existence of this prosthesis and that there was only $60.00 remaining to be paid! For this father of five, who has struggled over the years just to feed his family ( I recently gave him some seeds and fertilizer for a vegetable garden), reaching that goal had become a rather impossible dream. As he said to me—“I am financially crippled.” Now, due to your giving, he is once again walking tall with less pain as his body makes the adjustment and, I have noticed, increased dignity. He is very grateful to you all for this wonderful gift and sends this message—God bless you!!!!
Mid December 2012 I received a text from my friend Presley which simply said “Good news—we have been given a community school to run” ( the owner had moved to Lusaka). He knew it would be good news to me because for quite some time I have been very concerned about the plight of street children and how to help them. We met in Chingola town, grabbed a taxi and took the short trip, about 20 minutes, to Chabanyama. The school was dirty, many of the classroom windows broken, but the structure appeared to be solid, nothing a good scrubbing and a few coats of paint couldn’t fix. We wandered through a community of deprivation and obvious poverty, arousing much curiosity since this is a place where whites are not seen. Naturally, people were wondering what was going on and when we explained that we were considering improving and reopening Agape Land School in January (schools are closed for the month of Dec.) they became very interested.
Chabanyama is an area where parents and caregivers struggle just to feed their children on a daily basis, where many of the street children we see in town come from, where there are many orphans and vulnerable children. Yet they need to pay for uniforms, school books, examination fees, and contributions to the PTA, all required in the Zambian school system. Word spread quickly about our visit and a few days later as I was familiarizing myself with the area surrounding the school, a man beckoned me into his small shop in the market. He wanted to chat about our intentions for the school and give me some suggestions. I was astonished to hear that parents here value learning so much that they are willing to sacrifice from what little they have so that their children can receive a good education. A community minded individual, this man stressed the need for a local school which would offer a high standard of quality education. He told me that many parents are currently going without food in order to pay the transportation costs of sending their children into town for their schooling. He had many excellent ideas as to how to proceed, I invited him to meet with us and he’s now our chief advisor, a vital part of the management team.
Now, it’s a mere two months later, and this school has been changed dramatically!!! Due to a generous donation from a friend in Canada our teachers now have all the text books required to meet the learning requirements of the Zambian educational system for grades one to seven. Not only that but I was able to travel to Kitwe and purchase the building blocks and educational toys recommended by a friend trained in early childhood education as well as mats for the classroom floors of the little ones nursery school age. Presley and I went to the local Awana (www.awana.org) office, registered with them and bought a game kit for sports. They sent a representative on Friday last and we had a super morning of fun and competition, learning games such as Beanbag Head, Days of the Week, Relays—just a few from the many in our new game book. The kids had a great time and many children and adults from the community gathered to watch. Some day we will be ready to compete against other schools and churches! Laptops are coming from Canada in May which will mean we can begin computer classes—awesome!!!!
Our dream is to purchase the school and develop it into an excellent learning facility which can also offer help to the street children, orphans in the area, as well as the community as a whole. We just started, a few weeks ago, a Literacy Class for adults which is proving to be very popular. And some Saturday very soon we will invite the children who were peering through the gate and sitting on the fence to participate in a Sports Day just like the one they observed last week.
As the first term is coming to a close on April 5th, the break is for a month, we are pleased with the progress and looking forward to welcoming more students in May. These parents want a better future for their children, a way out of poverty through a good education. Those of you who know me well understand the tears I am shedding as I write this, remembering the joy I’ve seen these past few months as children who never dreamed it was possible are building with blocks, having fun learning arithmetic from a talking phone and competing in a Sports Day—plus so much more!!!
May God bless all of you who are helping make the seemingly impossible possible.
Last week Mbayi community experienced the loss of two of our seniors. They were neighbours and good friends, often found together relaxing and chatting in the shade after early morning chores. Lucy, 83, was the first to pass away, peacefully on Sunday morning, and Fly, 92, after hearing this followed her the very next day.
Lucy and Fly were part of a group of elderly, all about the same age, who gathered to ask for my help back in 2010 when I first arrived in Mbayi. They said they were cold and Canadians sent warm sweaters and blankets. They requested maize seed and we provided. Imagine—planting and harvesting at that age! Weary from a lifetime of physical toil, arthritic and often hungry, they persevere, eking out sustenance from the soil for survival. I thank God that through your sharing we are able to sustain them with regular deliveries of legumes, fish and mealie meal. When they are sick I can take them to the clinic. When their thatch roofs are leaking I bring them sheets of plastic for patching. Fly was going blind and with donations I managed to get him cataract surgery. So many of them are alone in the world having outlived their children. Alone, Lucy raised her grandson, an orphan, from infancy.
As I sat on the earthen floor of Fly’s hut mourning, with his niece and some neighbours, his passing, glancing at his body covered with that warm blanket from Canada and noticing the sparseness, the bare essentials—just a few pots and pans . . . I was so grateful for the privilege of bringing to his last years, and Lucy’s, some comfort, an easing of suffering. They no longer had to worry about starvation or undergoing sickness without treatment. They knew the love of God expressed through others in a community so very far away. And Lucy, after being without since the early years of her marriage, had a mattress to sleep on! As is the custom, Lucy’s grandson will now travel to the village where she was born to announce her passing. We talked about missing her lovely smile and I remembered how she prostrated herself on the ground, thanking God, the first time I brought her a small bag of seed. Their huts sit empty now but, thanks to contributions from some of you, are surrounded by fields of very healthy looking maize, a reminder of the hope they had, that this year they would not go hungry.
Thank you for caring and sharing. Many are benefitting from your generosity!
Many of you have heard of Mrs. Bubala . She’s the manager of the Mbayi poultry business (originally funded by Canadians) and known throughout the district for the plump and tasty chickens she raises. Born in Southern Province, Mrs. Bubala married in 1975 and has 9 children, 3 boys and 6 girls. She moved to Mbayi in 2003 and since she was brought up by a father who insisted his children be at work in the fields by 5am, she’s very disciplined indeed! A hard worker, Mrs. Bubala has also made the most of seeds and fertilizer given to her by us for gardening. She now has a thriving vegetable business, her maize (corn) so sweet that it’s a delight to eat and much in demand, as well as carrots, tomatoes, rape, cabbage, onions… Mrs Bubala and her husband received 2 goats, a male and female in March 2011 and they are now into breeding the 4th generation!
Mrs. Bubala is very grateful to Canadians who have empowered her through donations. She is a woman with sustainable businesses! Now she is able to pay school fees for her children and buy them uniforms and books plus supply and purchase food for her family. She’s a great role model for the youth in Mbayi whom she is currently teaching how to grow their own vegetable gardens (also funded by Canadian givers).
She’s also a very caring woman who often brings me to the sick in the community and accompanies us to the clinic and/or hospital. This compassion, she says, is a gift from God.
Mrs. Bubala is a remarkable woman. When I asked her what she would like to say to Canadians she replied – ” Thank them and tell them to please keep helping us in Mbayi so we can continue to move forward.”
God bless you all for helping – you are making a huge difference!
On Thursday night of this past week something unusual was happening in Mbayi. Little children were cuddling teddy bears, tummies satisfied, their mothers watching the cooking fire burning low while remembering a chicken in the pot. That’s because a group of mothers in Canada raised funds to sponsor a Christmas party (again this year!) for Mbayi mamies. About eight months ago a container arrived with many gifts from these mothers for mothers here but it was the four boxes of teddy bears in various sizes & colours that caught my heart. I set them aside with Christmas in mind and I’m so glad that I did! Oh how my heart was bursting with mixed emotions each time I handed a toy into the outstretched arms of a child unfamiliar with receiving a gift.
The party was a huge success!!! As I arrived in a vehicle laden with goodies the women began to dance & sing ‘We are going to a better place and that’s called heaven’. Eventually we settled down in a dark,thatched building to watch the first part of The Jesus Film (on my laptop) which I narrated from the Gospel of Luke as it was then translated into bemba. The women and children watched and listened with rapt attention, a baby’s cries hushed, nothing allowed to interrupt this special presentation.
Then it was back out into the sunshine for cake (a treat so rare that some had never had it!), lemonade, snacks and lollipops. Once the food was finished and the children happily playing with toys, I guess it seemed as though the festivities had come to a close. But I’d saved a surprise so huge that at first there was just stunned silence. Then a chorus of cheers erupted. There was a chicken for everyone!!!! The impossible was happening- families were going to have a chicken dinner! One young mom excitedly confided there was no food at home.
Today in church our Bishop said – if you don’t have chicken on Christmas day just thank Jesus that He came for you. And that’s what most in Mbayi will be content with on the 25th. There won’t be a table heavy with delicious food, brightly wrapped presents under the twinkling lights of a gayly decorated tree or stockings filled with goodies from Santa, like I was accustomed to. But many will remember with gratitude- December 20th – the day of teddy bears, cake, chickens and a film about the birth of Jesus.
First of all I want to thank many of you for your sympathies and offers of remedy as I was suffering through a recent bout of dysentery. It was a brutal experience – felt like I was dying but I was equally afraid that I wouldn’t! I know some of you can relate… Completely recovered, I’m hoping it will be a looong time (last was when I was here in 2006) before a similar affliction befalls me!!!!
Teaching… I am teaching a course on Care Giving at my church – Life Gospel Fellowship Ministries Church International – based on the Stephen Ministries series ( I am a Stephen Minister ) . What a privilege and joy it is to share with such an enthusiastic group, so eager to learn skills to better serve the needs of their community. In this ministry of compassion, they will journey with those who are hurting, suffering, distressed, offering a safe and loving place for them to work through difficulties. We meet for just an hour on Mondays so that the women (we also have 2 men in the course) have time to rush home and prepare dinner for their husbands/family. This is not a fast food society and they take their nshima very seriously!
Then Tuesday morning it is off to Mbayi where I lead a women’s bible study that has grown out of the mamies group originally formed in response to the calling of some Canadian moms ( at Caledonia Presbyterian Church ) to bless their Zambian sisters. Many people in this village have not had the opportunity to read or even hear teachings of the Scriptures so I take great pleasure in sharing the Word of God and knowledge of Jesus Christ to a group fascinated by Bible narrative. Soon school will be breaking for about a month and some of the youth have expressed interest in joining us. And just the other day one of the men suggested including them as well.
It has been extremely HOT here for about the last two months and with no relief like air conditioning anywhere or cool water in which to take a refreshing dip we are eagerly awaiting the cooling effect of the rains. Bring on the rainy season!!!!
Millet is one of the oldest foods known to mankind. In fact, it is mentioned in the Bible for making bread and, indigenous to Africa, has been used as a staple food for thousands of years. It is inexpensive, grows well in areas with poor soil fertility, has a short growing season and is highly nutritious.
Maize (corn) was introduced into Africa by the Portuguese in the 16th century and has since become the staple crop. However, the subsistence farmers in Mbayi struggle to produce maize in soil that is infertile and requires both D Compound and Urea, fertilizer that is very expensive. Commonly, they must proceed without and hence after much hard work end up with very poor crops.
About 78% of rural Zambians live below the poverty line suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition. In impoverished areas like Mbayi it seems to make sense to turn to a tasty grain like millet that doesn’t require fertilizer and is richer in protein, iron and calcium than maize, all sadly missing in the diets of these villagers. They often rely on vegetables like cassava and sweet potatoes that are easy to grow but poor sources of protein. Full of antioxidants, high amounts of fibre, B vitamins and considered a warm grain – helps to heat the body in the cold and rainy seasons- millet seems ideal for Mbyi where people are malnourished and often endure damp and cool evenings. Also, millet can be ground to make flour or meal which means that nshima, the traditional staple food can still be consumed. But change is often uncomfortable and slow even if it seems reasonable.
We have 40 kgs of maize seed left over, that didn’t get planted last year, so I’ll need to raise funds for fertilizer ($350.00 Canadian). For those who are interested, like Elias from Tanzania (where millet is more popular), finger millet will be distributed. Actually, after hearing about millet from Peter Van Straaten, Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph and an expert on soil productivity in Zambia, I gave seed to Elias once before and it flourished. This is a promising new initiative. I think it’s worth a try.