Troy Smith, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is currently an In-the-Field traveler visiting GlobalGiving projects throughout Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.
The Chikumbuso Project is right off the beaten path. The beaten path, it turns out, is actually a well-maintained, smooth ridin’ Lusaka street. Veer off to the left, and suddenly you hit a pot-holed, pock-marked dirt path and the struggling neighborhood of Ng’ombe.
Ng’ombe has been struck hard by AIDS, as has the entirety of Zambia, a nation whose infection rate can reach as high as 25% in some areas. Imagine 120,000 people packed into an area of just a couple of square miles; certainly a heck of a lot smaller than the subdivisions and gated communities we all take for granted. Not to mention, the area is also home to almost 10,000 orphans, many of whose parents died from the ever-present virus.
While in Chikumbuso I was told the children are all guaranteed one meal a day. Turns out, some of the children had only been eating every other day.
Despite all of these factors weighing in, Ng’ombe remains one of the better compounds. After visiting a single-parent home in Ng’ombe, just a simple mud-brick house with iron sheet roof, my friend turned to me and whispered, “You should’ve seen where she moved from.”
However, swing open the gates of the Chikumbuso project and it’s like crossing over into another world. Started in 2005, Chikumbuso has provided education to neighborhood orphans and microenterprise opportunities for local widows.
Walking through the gate, it’s like getting punched with love. Seriously. The happy faces of the children and the bustle of activity is enough to make anyone overwhelmed. There I was, having been in Zambia for one day, with my camera and my notebook not knowing what to expect. A mere 3 hours later, I left with a true connection with those Chikumbuso folk.
It is definitely a town all its own, with a clear mayor—baby Kelly. This bright-eyed two-year-old girl runs the community, moving from lap to lap until everyone does her bidding. Seriously though, I am probably going to steal her and bring her back to North Carolina.
All joking aside, the real leader of the project, Linda Wilkinson (or “Mama Linda” as she’s called), has created an amazing organization. An assortment of buildings, which just 4 years ago was a brothel and a bar, has been transformed into a smoothly functioning non-profit, providing support for countless widows and orphans.
Some of the highlights--The Chikumbuso project provides K-5 education for local orphans, and on top of that, helps to fund secondary education for local children. Irene, a ninth-grader, stated “I never would have been able to go to school had it not been for Chikumbuso. I am so grateful for them.”
Irene is pretty shy and one can tell she has certainly faced some serious challenges in life, but mention Chikumbuso once, and her eyes light up. After that, it’s a task to get her to clam up.
The main attraction of this oasis of sorts is the microenterprise operation. At Chikumbuso, the widows work making extremely elaborate, beautiful bags crocheted with recycled plastic. It is really something else, seeing the amazing products they can turn out with such a common material. These bags are quickly becoming a fashion statement around Lusaka, and are doing very well abroad.
By selling these bags at Sunday markets and abroad, these women are able to earn a comfortable living. All of these women have surely faced some huge challenges. Having lost children and spouses, Chikumbuso now allows them an opportunity to find some ease of mind, without appealing to direct charity.
The project also helps train single moms in life skills, as well has reach out to 23 local grandmothers, who are given food assistance, home visits, and medical care for both themselves and their grandchildren.
The project even provides a “safe house,” a place where children with AIDS-inflicted parents can stay if necessary; a bit of insurance should someone pass.
“Mama Linda” is known throughout the Lusaka NGO scene. Honestly, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t know of her work. Why so popular? Obviously something is working. Her time with the Chikumbuso Project is inspiring others throughout the Greater Lusaka area to stand up and change their communities.
While I was leaving, I spotted a quote on a blackboard.
“Dance, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance said He.” Well they certainly are dancing down in Ng’ombe, thanks to the work of the Chikumbuso Project.
There is nothing more beautiful then a young woman about to burst with joy. Her happiness is impossible to be contained , it starts to seep out her eyes as they light up... what can she say? No words describe it. Her body closes in on itself as I take her picture because she knows she has not felt this way in so long. She didn't own these clothes they were a gift. For her it is as if she had just been transformed into someone that she had only ever dreamed about being. Seba is this young girl. She was dressed for success and it felt so sweet.
Seba was dealt a difficult set of cards. Her parents are older and her dad does not have a steady job. As a couple they did not have much to give to their children although they tried. One of her brothers made it through school and started supporting his two sisters in school but this was short lived. Just when school began to get expensive he became sick and died. Now her parents are too old and have left Seba and her sister to fend for themselves. School was out of the question. Seba joined the single moms tailoring project at Chikumbuso and was a light in the classroom. She was shy, never demanding and so thankful to be there learning a trade. Her sister had been sponsored by Chikumbuso and was at school. One day I asked her how many children she had and she told me that she didn't have any babies. That she knew it was a single moms class but she was desperate to do something and begged the teacher to let her in. I was surprised by her clarity of thought and her capacity in English so I asked her why she was not in school. She explained her story and told me that it had been three years since she was in school. If she went back she would be in 10th grade. Thanks to all of you she is back in school. She spends her mornings there and her afternoons at Chikumbuso, her home away from home. She wants to be a journalist and write stories. She understands the privilege of school, a gift that can never be taken away and a gift that perhaps one day she can give to someone else.
Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project would like to thank all of you for the help you have been in getting children back into school.The new year begins in January in Zambia and families struggle to get school fees paid and uniforms made. Every day there is someone coming to the center looking for help. Today a beautiful girl from another area of town came by Chikumbuso. She had heard Chikumbuso helped orphans get to school and although she was not an orphan her parents were old and not able to send her. She is 18 years old and has not been in school for three years, not since her brother died. It seems that even when we set up “criteria” for those we should help there are always those few who come, sit and refuse to leave until a promise of help has been made. When I asked one of the widows what we should do she said, “Mama, we have to pay for her school, God sent her to us”. Thanks to the help we have been receiving at Global Giving she will be attending 10th grade this year! There are 20 more children on our list who need help, we are so thankful for your generosity.
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