World Hope aids caregivers in Zambia

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January 2007

Lois and I just returned from a heartbreaking—yet hopeful—tour of the HIV/AIDS work in Zambia. Here are some journal notes from the trip. (Above, World Hope founder JoAnne Lyon distributes desperately needed supplies to HIV/AIDS caregivers.)


You are either infected or affected

Tuesday, January 16

Lois and I are sitting in Fort Wayne International Airport. There’s a customs agent at the freight terminal, so it’s “international,” even though you can’t fly out of the Midwest from here.

I’ll be reporting on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Zambia. Throughout the world, 24 million have died with one-fourth of those being children. An estimated 40 million people worldwide are currently living with AIDS. In Zambia alone, one in five is HIV/AIDS infected. One Zambian pastor explained, “In Zambia you are either infected or affected.” If that percentage was affecting the U.S., that would translate to 60 million people!

World Hope, which has paid my expenses to report on the crisis, has a unique strategy in addressing the pandemic. Rather than building and staffing hospitals and orphanages, the non-profit organization enables and empowers local people to give care to those in their own community. (In our mobile society where families can be scattered all over the country, the intense importance of family and community is sometimes hard for Westerners to appreciate.)

Bryant Meyers writes in Walking with the Poor, “The lion’s share of the task of development is at the grass roots level. Effective development leads to authentic empowering of the poor and results in sustainable change.”

So, World Hope caregivers receive training in gardening, raising pigs and broiler chickens, or tailoring. These home businesses, then fund the work of caring for HIV/AIDS patients as well as children made orphans because of the pandemic—in their homes.

Caregivers also receive community health training. Young adults are also trained as “peer educators” in World Hope’s AIDS prevention program.

It’s a creative and effective program.

Reporting on the work will be a bit of a challenge. Direct questions are considered rude, so there goes my tool book of who, what, where, when, why and how. You can say, “Please tell me about your work with orphans.”


FAA requires at least one screaming child per flight

Wednesday, January 17, Johannesburg Airport

Apparently, it’s not only an FAA regulation, but international law as well, that each flight must have at least one screaming child. We ended up across the aisle from four little ankle-biters under four who faithfully fulfilled their legal obligations!

I was able to get about six hours of sleep on the fifteen-hour flight—in five or six breaks from outbursts across the aisle. So, I’m actually feeling pretty alert after twelve hours—so far—of travel.

The highlight of the flight was watching a spectacular sunrise from a camera in the tail of the plane. A thin ribbon of light silhouetted the forward section of the plane and the curvature of the earth, then a tiny dot of light appeared on the horizon for a few minutes before firing bright red rays of light across the top of the plane and then exploded into a blinding light. Spectacular!


‘One can be killed two ways . . .’

Friday, January 19, Lusaka Zambia

No problems getting through customs other than having to pay an “entry fee” in cash, preferably with “a new American $100 bill.” We’ll have to pay $25 as an “exit fee,” also in cash. Hmmm? Sounds some government official(s) is living quite well off American tourism.

We were warmly greeted by nationals who make up the governing board of World Hope International
Zambia
—humorously, but affectionately referred to as “WHIZ.” (Gotta love a relief organization with those initials!)

We rode from the airport to the Abundant Life Guest House for a grateful night of sleeping—horizontally on a real bed. In the morning,
Jeff Johnson—International Director of Community Health—presented a two-hour orientation on what to do and not do to avoid coming across as loud, arrogant Americans: talk softly, never hand something to someone with your left hand, when shaking hands hold your right forearm with your left hand, and avoid displays of affection. (They apparently took the last caution very seriously since they’ve put Lois and me in separate rooms!)

Then, our mini-bus threaded its way through a maze of tiny roadside stands covered in black plastic and discarded plastic bags. Vendors offered fruits and vegetables, raw meat, cooking oil, and even cell phone services from their tiny booths. And, in Zambia, street vendors are actually in the street. Young men with arm loads of clothing, jumper cables, board games, newspapers—you name it—stand between lanes of traffic!

John Howard Trust is one of World Hope’s stations where over thirty caregivers have been trained in growing vegetables, raising chickens and sewing. The John Howard Wesleyan Church is a large concrete block building with the three wings providing childcare and elementary. The trust cares for over 30 orphans and over 60 “vulnerable” children in the large community.

Greetings are very important in Africa. There’s a wonderful desire among the people to show respect to others and so there are many “I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” and handshakes. During the program at the church the school children chanted, “Education, we need education.” How true!

In a small block outbuilding, women sewed shirts under the watchful eye of their teacher. Sitting outside in the grass, other women worked on needlecraft projects. These items are sold to provide support for caregivers in the surrounding community.

Jeff observed in our orientation that one can be killed two ways: murder and lack of hope. “I am weary of hearing about the horrors of AIDS. We bring a message of hope.”

And despite the obvious poverty—open sewers, no running water, tiny houses cobbled together with cast-off material—there was a sense of joy as we were greeted by a choir singing their wonderful acapella harmonies.

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One of the huge differences I found in the children of Lusaka and the children of India was a sense of joy. In India, children’s eyes desperately reached out as their begged for rupees. Here the children seem joyful and playful, with hands reached out for “high fives.” One boy had crafted a .35mm SLR camera out of clay with a piece of broken mirror for the flash. He was “taking pictures” of us as we were taking pictures of him. Too much fun! Meanwhile, some of the men took on a large group of boys in an impromptu soccer (“football”) game.

As mentioned, relationships are very important, so each person is greeted in Tonga with “Muli buti” (Hello. How are you?) to which one responds “Kabotu” (Fine). “Twalumba” is thank you.

Eight of the caregivers showed us their homes, which while surrounded by dirt paths, were remarkably clean. (We saw several women sweeping the dirt outside their homes.) Obviously, paint is an unaffordable luxury, but the stucco walls are decorated with art and, in one, a well-stocked bookshelf, TV and “Thomas the Tank Engine” sheet as a room divider.

We met a 34-year-old, who had lost her husband as well as a seven-month-old baby. She and her sister, who also has lost a child, share a three-room house along with a total of three children. Statistically, her husband probably died of AIDS, but the diseases’ stigma is still very strong, so the reason for deaths is usually attributed to malaria, typhoid or hepatitis. (“Thank you, Father, for all those shots we received before coming!”)

While we were waiting for the evening church service, a beautiful rainbow arched over the poverty-crippled community. Hopefully symbolic of a hope and promise in the midst of disease and despair.


Treated like The Beatles in New York City

Saturday, January 20, Choma, Zambia

We were on the bus by 7:00 AM and, after a flat-tire delay, arrived at Jembo Trust to a joyous welcome by the caregivers and children. Yikes, we’re treated like the Beatles in New York City! (Historical note for those under 50, the music group caused near riots of frenzied fans.) As our bus drove through neighborhoods, we would hear “Muzungu! Muzungu!” (White people! White people!) Coming out of John Howard, children chased the bus pounding on the sides and waving.

Church leaders and adults are moved that Americans would spend over two years income to come to visit them. (Many make just $2 per day!)

But it’s shocking that it is mostly women and children at the various trusts and churches (probably five to one). The men have died of AIDS! As one woman on our trip, Stephanie Barter, noted, “It’s heart-breaking. It puts a face on statistics.” So true!

At the Mochipappa Trust we were greeted, again, by an exuberant welcoming committee. Probably one hundred men, women and lots of children with drums and palm fronds. Several of the women would whoop and lunge at us with their palms and an occasional umbrella. That certainly didn’t seem very welcoming! We were assured it is indeed a welcome and that spears are usually used in the greeting. (So glad they chose palms and umbrellas for the welcome!) The trust is located near markets so that caregivers can easily sell their broiler chickens, pigs, vegetables and tailoring.

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There are currently 50 registered caregivers serving nearly 50 orphans and over 100 vulnerable children. Twenty-five caregivers have completed or enrolled in basic literacy classes, eight trained as AIDS educators and three to work with orphans and children at risk.

Vera Muloongo is a care-giver with the trust. “I care for five vulnerable children, three of whom are orphans. Before I became part of the Trust, my life was hard as I started receiving orphans from my deceased relatives. I did not have sustainable means of livelihood. I used to do handiwork in people’s homes to get some income to meet basic needs. I joined the Community Trust through my church. This project has helped me greatly in many ways. I work in the Trust garden, poultry and piggery projects, and I receive daily needs support from the proceeds from the projects. I have also learned essential skills like gardening, and chicken, and pig rearing. When the products from the projects are sold, foodstuffs like mealie meal, cooking oil and groceries are brought to us. The project has also given me a sense of belonging which I did not have before.”


‘Yesterday we had no food’

Sunday January 21, Choma, Zambia

Yesterday was a true African experience!

It began with the bus fording dirt roads flooded with the nearly continuous rain. (When they say “rainy season,” they mean rainy season!) At one especially threatening washout, our driver hesitated as he assessed the risks, then put the bus in second gear and plowed through as the bus tilted to the right and the panicked passengers leaned left. Then a loud CRUNCH, CLUNK as the bus staggered, regained its footing and stumbled to the other side.

Apparently, the radiator and fan didn’t fare as well as the passengers. We barely made it to Siachetema Trust before the bus started steaming.

Again, we were greeted with singing, dancing and branch waving. At each trust, the women prepare a traditional meal of nshima—mashed corn meal which one rolls into a ball and uses to pick up relishes and greens—and roasted chicken. I’m not sure what “secret recipe of herbs and spices” goes into the chicken, but it has KFC beat. Here, we were served chbwantu or “sweet beer,” a traditional drink made of maize and roots. All of the team agreed that “chew if you want to” is an acquired taste.

Frequent droughts and livestock diseases have left fields desolate. World Hope drilled a well to provide water for 190 families. Previously fresh water at a stream three miles away was often dried up.

All around the garden area, the ground is sandy, red dust. But WHIZ’s agricultural assistant, Derick Mubitelela, has used his creativity to transform it into rich brown top soil. His secret? Before planting green beans, maize and squash, plant ants! Yep, Mubitelela buried ants at intervals to allow them to bring up richer soil and work in the manure he had spread on the surface. Ingenious!

Currently, there are 55 caregivers serving 100 orphans and nearly 150 vulnerable children. By raising broiler chickens, growing vegetables and tailoring, the proceeds fund life-sustaining essentials.

Our task at this trust was to pack plastic shopping bags with bath soap, laundry detergent, cooking oil and smaller bags of beans, sugar and salt. Each member of the trust was also given a 50-pound bag of corn meal.

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As one of the official photographers, I was moved to see the looks of joy and gratitude through the view-finder as they were handed their precious commodities.

After the distribution, an elderly man named Stanley told us of how he was one-week-old when he was brought to this former orphanage run by Claudia Peyton. He then returned many years later to care for Payton as she was dying. What a wonderful irony: she cared for him when he was born, he cared for her when she died.

We then walked with Frevia Kolumbo, the national director of WHIZ, and Musa Bwacha, an elderly man who served as a care-giver, down a dirt road and then a footpath through tall grass to visit one of the homes served by caregivers. On the path, we saw several millipedes the size of snakes, which was just a bit disconcerting since we were told black mambas (more poisonous than typical cobras) are common in the area. Like Indiana Jones, I hate snakes!

We visited with a man and woman in their forties in an open-sided thatch-roofed “kitchen” as we sat around the fire on short tree trunks that had been carved into stools. Homes are actually clusters of small mud or block buildings with thatched rooms that serve as bedrooms and living areas. Two metal pots and a few metal dishes and a hatchet seemed to be the only kitchen utensils.

After introductions—Africa custom dictates everyone sits in silence for a few minutes—the woman hung her head and said, “I am sorry I have nothing to give you.” (Hospitality is very important in African culture and I could see the pain in her eyes that she was not being a good hostess. We learned that both the husband and wife had been in and out of the hospital with TB, which is often a euphemism for AIDS. Their son, a female cousin and an orphan girl, who were living with them, had not been able to attend school because of lack of money. While education in Zambia is free, parents must provide uniforms and school supplies. (One of World Hope’s projects is to provide supplies as well uniforms made at their sewing centers.)

The man stared at the fire in the middle of the hut. “We are hardworking people, but we have been sick. Our son had to plant the maize, but he will not be able to harvest all of it. It is hard to want to work our fields and to be sick and not able to. We are not lazy people. We were hardworking people” he assured us and I suspect himself.

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The woman expressed her gratitude for the day’s food distribution. “Yesterday, we had no food, so we thank God for His timing and World Hope for their help.”

I am amazed that despite the living conditions—no electricity, no running water, no sanitary facilitiesthe family’s Western clothing appeared to be freshly laundered and ironed.

Bwacha obviously loves his work and this family. “I come here every week and I am glad to see them and they are glad to see me,” he laughs. More amazing than clean clothes in mud huts is the joy expressed in the people’s welcoming ceremonies and church services.

Walking the mile back to the trust center, I wondered if the couple will live to see the maize harvest, if the children will be able to attend school, if they will be able to escape the unhealthy living conditions—and will the bus be repaired so we can get back to our guest house with electricity, running water and flush toilets. I am embarrassed how quickly I can shift from concern for a family ravaged by poverty and disease to my own creature comforts!

After a gallant effort in juryrigging repairs on the bus, it was still disabled. But Africans are inventive and creative people and so the director had commandeered an open cattle truck for the 40-minute trip back to the World Hope headquarters. Thankfully, the threatened rain held off and the lightning stayed a safe distance away.


‘Demons can be overcome’

Monday, January 22

The “distinguished visitors from America” are always asked to give greetings in church services. I was selected for this honor at the Mochipappa Wesleyan Church.

      Greetings in the wonderful name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Every African greeting to a church group begins this way.] It is a joy and honor to worship with you this morning.

      Revelation 7 reads, “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

          Amen!
          Praise and glory
          and wisdom and thanks and honor
          and power and strength
          be our God for ever and ever.
          Amen!

      We have enjoyed a taste of heaven with your wonderful singing and dancing. Maybe, when I get to heaven, God will teach this white man to dance. For now, it is not pretty.

      We have come from America to get to know our brothers and sisters with whom we will share eternity. We have also come to know how better to pray and support you.

      And for your warm welcome, twalumba [thank you in Tonga].

The message by Pastor Emmyson Siehikata seemed especially relevant to what we had seen and heard. The pastor spoke from Mark 5 on the demons of witchcraft (“magical self-protection” and “jumping across the pounding stick”), alcohol and drugs, immorality, poverty and sickness. He assured the congregation—to whom these are very real demons—that “all can be overcome by the power of Jesus.”

He also took a well-deserved swipe at the “prosperity gospel” by saying, “This is not a gospel of wealth. This is a gospel of deliverance.” (As a prosperous American, I am offended by the “health and wealth” heresy. It must be especially appalling—or faith-shaking—to someone dying of AIDS in a mud hut!)

A special afternoon service featured more joyful music and dancing as well as sketches about the impact of HIV/AIDS. Curiously, Zambians laugh at tragedy, so when a woman was portrayed as being abandoned by her drunken husband to die of AIDS, the crowd was chucking and laughing. (Perhaps it’s some kind of defense mechanism.)

Leenorah Ngandy, a Zambian pastor, had written a powerful song about the HIV/AIDS crisis which she performed with the haunting harmonies of a women’s choir:

      Aids is a killer disease,
      Father, have your way,
      Father, have your way.

      Abstinence, faithfulness,
      purity and righteousness,
      These are all we need for our lives
      and AIDS will run away.

      Stop abusing the young ones
      God is watching you,
      God is watching you.

      Abstinence, faithfulness,
      purity and righteousness,
      These are all we need for our lives
      and AIDS will run away.

“Abusing the young ones” includes teachers who promise to pass female students who will have sex with them and the malevolent myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS.


Detached, objective journalistic perspective lost

Monday, January 22 6 PM

Today was the most heart-wrenching day so far. Home-Based Care Coordinator, Cyrus Mfula, and Home-Based Care Leader, Yolanta Mybbuny, took us deep into the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Our first stop, after trekking through a dirt path pocked with puddles and the smell of human waste, was a small brick hut with a thatched roof.

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The mother of three had been abandoned by her husband when she became “sick” three years ago. (Again, because of such stigma and shame, no one in Zambia has “HIV/AIDS.”)

As twelve of us squeezed into the 8 x 12 hut (cut in half with two colorful sheets), one of the team members leaned against a wall—which immediately began to tilt outward. Ba Cyrus (if you’re going to call someone by their first name, always add “Ba”) noted that the opposite wall had recently collapsed. With that bit of information, we all huddled together shoulder to shoulder, careful not a touch anything. Above, various scraps of black plastic were positioned to repair the leaking roof—but only served to attract and hold the stifling heat. The living area included one chair, a mat for a bed, and a small shelf for cooking supplies. In the corner sat metal cooking pots and on the walls, hanging on nails, were plastic cups. No trinkets or knick knacks, no pictures, no books, no electronic equipment—nothing that was not essential to sustain life!

She is raising her four children ages 16, 14, 9 and 6. Whenever our translators would ask patients, “How can we pray for you?” the answer was always the same. “Please pray that my children will be able to go to school. Pray that I can see them grow up.” Unfortunately, a good education is not the ticket out of lives without electricity, clean running water and sanitary facilities. Unemployment in Zambia runs between 80-90 percent! And unfortunately, if she does have AIDS, she will be dead in less than two years.

When Lois asked if she give the woman a hug, she smiled broadly. “Sick” people in Zambia are today’s “unclean” lepers, so I’m not sure the last time this woman felt a human touch other than World Hope’s caregivers.

We have quickly discovered why people walk—aside from not having the money for a vehicle. Our two cars were stuck three times during this visit. This of course provides great entertainment as crowds of children and adults gather to watch the silly muzungus get covered in mud.

We finally arrived at an 8 x 8 room that was home to a Wesleyan pastor, his wife and three children. The sleeping mat covered half the area with clothing hanging from every available rafter. A single chair and nshima pot were the only other contents.

The emaciated man, who had pastored a church near Siachetema, had an “open sore” that wouldn’t heal (HIV/AIDS?). He lay on a thin mat covered with blankets, his bony arms and hands clutching a shirt to his bare chest in the stuffy, stifling heat. The pain was evident as he constantly shifted trying to find a comfortable position. None was found.

Paul James, one of the pastors in the group, prayed that this dying pastor would remember the words of Jesus that he probably had spoken to comfort his parishioners as they neared death:

      “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. My Father’s house has plenty of room; if it were not so, would I have told you I am going there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

So far on this trip, I had been able to maintain my detached, objective journalistic perspective. I started losing it when he asked me to take his picture so I would remember to pray for him. But when I shook his cold, bony hand and assured him, “I will not see you again on this earth, but I will see you in heaven, my brother,” I suddenly was not a journalist with a notepad and a camera. I was holding the hand of a real-live human being whose life was wasting away before my eyes. And yet in the dark, shabby little room, there was a look of hope in his eyes that he was anticipating a mansion where there will be no more sickness, no more pain and no more death.

After a morning focusing on death and dying, the afternoon focused on life and a hopeful future. We participated in a distribution of school supplies—pencils, rulers and notebooks—at Shampanda Pilgrim Wesleyan Church in Choma. By the bright eyes, wide smiles and energetic body language, to them, this was Christmas morning! We were surrounded—no, mobbed—by children who wanted to sit by and touch the muzungus. After a sober morning with people who have no real future, it was wonderful to spend the afternoon with children who, through World Hope, do have a hope and a future.

The evening took another emotional turn as local pastors shared stories of demon possession. Pastor Emmyson Siehikata told of the exorcism of a young woman where the demon had threatened, “Leave the girl alone or I will kill her and then the police will come and have you arrested.” The girl then collapsed, apparently dead, as the pastor and the church continued to pray for her. After three hours, the pastor grasped her by the hand and commanded, “In the name of Jesus, arise.” She did!

Pastor Sialoumba Siamoongwa shocked our team with stories of demonic attacks that were definitely not appropriate for the pulpit. Suffice it to say, demons can be sexually perverted.

Unless the Bible acknowledged the activity of demons—and I had witnessed two dramatic incidents that I believe were demonic—I’d have written both men off as Zambian Stephen Kings!


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Servanthood is essential

Tuesday, January 23

I suspect that the WHIZ staff intentionally scheduled our experiences with death earlier in the trip and then encouraged us with life-giving situations later in the week.

We visited the childhood education and feeding program at the Shampanda Trust this morning. I doubt a lot of education occurred with the children excited to see the Americans, children being weighed and measured in one corner of the church and the lesson on breastfeeding conducted in the pews. Cacophony best described the sound! Today’s topic addressed the question of whether HIV/AIDS mothers can infect their nursing babies. (The answer is yes.) The Trust serves a weekly meal for 25-40 children and 20-25 mothers. Hopefully, with the emphasis on nutrition training, this is not the only nutritious meal they receive during the week. I’m impressed that this is not a “give a man a fish” but “teach him to fish” program. Everything World Hope does revolve around equipping and enabling local groups so that any progress made is sustainable without additional assistance or expense. For instance, a one-time gift of $12,000 will provide the training and equipping of a
community trust which will then become self-led and self-funded from then on.

At each trust the leader assigned “the distinguished visitors from America” simple chores. Today, I was in charge of washing the dishes after a lunch of rice mixed with milk and sugar. (I can’t remember the last time I washed dishes by hand. Probably in the late 70s before we got a dishwasher.)

For World Hope, servanthood is an essential element in the equation of relief. This is exhibited no better than by
JoAnne Lyon, the international director of World Hope. On two occasions, when the volunteer cooks were not available at the guest house, she and Hope Corps team director, Debbie Hoover, made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and scrambled eggs.

That is so typical of this humble servant of God. And yet, during lunch, she kept us spellbound with her stories of being invited to the White House to meet with President Bush concerning AIDS work in Haiti, sharing the platform with Senator John Kerry, and knowing a virtual “who’s who” of religious and political leaders. The Reverend Doctor Lyon is a brilliant woman who knows how to network to promote the work of World Hope!


Going back home to unreality

Thursday, January 25, Johannesburg Airport

I’m sitting in the Jo’berg airport across from a beautifully decorated nail and massage salon. To the right is a huge food court offering every imaginable delicacy; to the left the duty-free shop with designer fragrances and expensive wines.

It reminded me of the completely useless items I had seen in the SkyMall airline catalog: Star Wars Lightsaber Replica ($119.95), Remote-Controlled Robotic Shark ($24.95), Electronic Pants Presser ($479.95), ten of the “Best Cigar of the Year” award-winners ($159.99). WWI Sopwith Propeller ($149.99) and the Home Tanning System ($1,299). Yikes, for a tan, you could support a Zambian family for nearly two years!

Several on the team have mentioned going back home to reality, but looking around me, I’m not sure if we are indeed returning to “reality.”

We’ll be flying at 450 mph at 30,000 feet in the belly of a huge, man-made bird. We’ll return to our climate-controlled homes and vehicles, to eat our artificially flavored, processed food, while watching so-called “Christian” TV that promises a fantasy world of “health and wealth.” And, of course, the virtual reality of the Internet!

Perhaps the past ten days are as close to “reality” this pampered American Christian has ever come. Reality is unconditional love. Love that will overcome shame and stigma to care for a culture’s outcasts. Love that will give up creature comforts to give comfort to those who can’t give in return. Love that offers hope to a world that is dying of a far more destructive, deadlier disease than AIDS: despair.

So, I’m returning to my two-car, three-bedroom, over-fed, well-dressed, high-speed-connected fantasy world. I pray, as a result of the past ten days, I will be more real.

© 2007 James N. Watkins

Click to learn more about World Hope.

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