Friday, March 27, 2015

A child's life

I've been thinking a lot about how very different the life of a child is in rural Zambia than one in America. In an area where nearly 45% of the people are under 18 it's easy to find yourself surrounded by children. I've met newborns and teenagers, babies learning to walk and children who can count their age on their fingers.

When I meet children who are the same age as my own three kids, I usually pay more attention to what those children are doing. I'm fairly certain that my 9, 12 and 16 year old children wouldn't be able to last a day in the village. My kids have it unbelievably easy.  They are responsible for very little.

After driving for two hours up a mountainside on roads that we would barely call hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest, we came upon a 13 year old girl named Nerott.  Nerott was in a uniform walking to school.  It was nearly 10 am so I inquired what time her school started.  She pointed to the sun and we were told that school starts at 1 pm.  She was just leaving so that she could make it to school on time.  She had told me that she had already fetched water, made food and did work around the home before starting her nearly three hour walk to school.  A walk that she makes every day.

Charrlwe and Nsabata are 10 and 11 year old brothers. Every day they herd cattle, fetch water, cultivate the fields and as they put it "do anything else that we are instructed to do."  This could mean taking a maize crop to the hammer mill or bringing items to other village members in this very large community.  The boys said that they rarely have time to play because they are busy with chores and are usually in the home.

Beauty is 13 and is often expected to take care of her ailing grandmother. She often misses school when her grandmother is sick.  Lointia, 16, fetches water, cooks and washes dishes and clothing.   The difference with Beauty and Lointia is that they now have a borehole that is very close to their home that provides them with clean water and a much shorter walk.  Their health has improved and they are able to actually have free time now to play ball and be children.  A luxury that Nerott, Charrlwe and Nsabata don't have because a borehole has not yet been brought to their area {one is slated for the end of this year}.

I've seen small children {some as young as four} with babies on their backs caring for their little brothers and sisters.  Toddlers fetching water in jugs that are as big as they are struggling to walk just a few feet before they have to take a rest. I've seen boys driving ox carts to plow fields, children watching over a herd of goats or cattle.  I've heard stories of early marriage and girls as young as eight having babies.

My children rarely make the soft beds with the comfortable mattress and warm sheets and blankets that they have been given and that are regularly laundered. They seem to disappear when we ask them to set the table before eating the third square meal that we have provided for them with food that is usually pushed around and rarely finished. They complain when we require them to clean the bathrooms that they use or put the dishes that they dirty into the dishwasher that automatically cleans and sanitizes them with very little effort on their part. Clean clothes sit on piles on their floors just waiting to be put away.

It's amazing how very different the life of a child is on the other side of the world. Children have lots of responsibility and are looked at as an extra set of hands.  Rarely do children in rural Africa get to be children.  Providing easy access to schools and bringing clean water to the community are some of the first things that World Vision does through their child sponsorship program.  These don't alleviate the amount of responsibility that a child has, but it certainly helps free up some of the time that a child misses out on to just be a child.  Visit here to find a child that is available for sponsorship today.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Looking forward to the future

My oldest son is a junior in high school this year.  We've spent the year going to college fairs and planning for what his future will look like after graduation.  It's exciting to plan because I know he will do great things in life.

When I am around my son's friends, it's not uncommon for me to start asking them what they are planning on doing in the next few years.  I posed the same question to a group of girls that ranged in age from 14-16.  These girls may be the same age as my son and his friends, but that is where the similarities stop.  

Dreaming of a future is a new concept for these girls and their families.  Until just five months ago they were using a dirty hole as their only water source.  They shared the water with their cattle, pigs, goats and dogs. The water is shallow at the edge but it is very deep where it runs under tree roots and goes underground. Dogs would often times go and drink from the water and fall in getting caught under the roots.  They would die and only resurface after their waterlogged bodies bloat and explode. Some of the water they would draw would have fur in it. Once the dog would surface, they would scoop the dog out and continue drawing water as if nothing had occurred.  

The alternative to using this dirty water source wasn't any better.  Mera Bumda, 55, said that people would openly go to the bathroom in the other water source and that the animals used the water for baths and drinking.  Not to mention that it was much further away.

Mera is a widow who has asked her two granddaughters to come and live with her to help her since she is often sick because of HIV. Before the new water source was dug she was rarely able to even get up during the day.  She would have constant diarrhea and relied on her granddaughters, who would often miss school, so that they could take care of her.  Today, just five months after the new borehole was dug, Mera was dancing and singing songs of thanksgiving.  Mera feels like now that they have a clean water source they can have a future.  Before, they were living day to day and being overwhelmed by their circumstances.

I walked down a dirt path worn through the grass to a borehole.  I met up with the girls and was able to ask them what they dreamed of and what their hopes were for their children and grandchildren. The girls were quick to tell me the professions that they dreamed of {nurses and teachers} and were hopeful that their children would have a better life since they were excited about the improvements that were already being made to their own lives.  They dreamed of leaving the village and moving to the city.  

"The borehole has brought us together.  Things have changed!" Bazaar

These dreams were not dreams that they would have imagined could be reality. It's amazing how a simple thing like clean drinking water can change the face of a whole household and in Bazaar Buwmba's opinion, a whole community.  Before the borehole Bazaar said that people were living for themselves.  Now the community can live as one family-people looking out for each other.  

This community is now able to dream.  They are able to think about the future.  They are thankful. World Vision has brought water to their community and Mera feels important and loved because someone cared for them enough to give sponsorship dollars to their community.

To learn more about the area I visited and what the impact of clean water can be like in a community check out the information about the water effect.   To find a child available for sponsorship visit here.
It only takes $50 for one person to have clean water for life.  You can make a difference to that one person.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The needs are so great

I've always dreamed of being a midwife in Africa.  I realized that since I pass out when my dog gets her vaccinations that it may just not be my God given calling but that doesn't stop me from being passionate about mothers and their babies.

Today I had the opportunity of observing an overworked nurse {she had at least 50 patients lined up before 9 am and before we left at least 25 more had arrived} while she did intake of patients.  There were only a few men, most were women having walked upwards of four hours to come to the clinic to be seen.

She saw a mother with a baby on her hip in for her STI {sexually transmitted infection} injection, a grandmother bringing in her five year old grandson for treatment of chicken pox, and a four month old with malaria. 

Bertha Himaanga, 28, was the only nurse we saw on site.  She worked quickly and listened well seeing patient after patient in the clinic.  One patient would walk out the door, and another would walk in.  
I walked out to speak to the mothers that were waiting and when I returned I saw Bertha speaking with a 30 year old HIV positive mother of four with a 15 month old baby in a sling. I didn't speak the same language, but I could tell that Bertha was very upset with the mother for not bringing her baby into the clinic.  Bertha asked several times, why did you not come sooner? This child was 15 months old and from an untrained eye I could see that this child was suffering from malnutrition.  Kiston weighed only 11 pounds.  A typical toddler his age usually weighs twice that!

I was drawn to little Kiston Hadanji.  His mother made several excuses for not bringing her son into the clinic sooner, but with some more questioning, it was found that the mother has four children at home and her husband is no longer around.  She is doing it all on her own and just hasn't had the time to come to the clinic.

Her last visit to the clinic was in January when her child was tested for HIV.  The test results have still not come in since they need to be sent out to Lusaka several hours away. Getting important test results takes a lot of time in rural Zambia in the small rural town of Moyo.  Though physical examination confirmed that this baby is more than likely HIV positive just like his mother.

Something else that is difficult to get in Moyo is health care.  The village has a very busy clinic that is not easily accessible to most of the members in the community.  Kiston's mother was instructed to gather some money and take him to Choma an hour drive away and be admitted to the hospital. I could see in this mother's eyes how difficult it would be for her to find the 50 kwacha {about $7 USD} for the round trip car fare to get her child the treatment that he needed. Where would this single mother of four find the money?

World Vision has been participating in this community for six years.  The need is great and when speaking with the director of the ADP {area development project} it seems overwhelming to meet all of those needs.  Where do you even begin? 

The roads have been inadequate and too narrow to even bring a drilling truck in to bring clean water. The community and government have been working to fix that so that World Vision can make good on their promise to bring water into the community.  Once members of the community have clean water, it is the hope that the lines at the clinic will shorten.  Every day the clinic sees cases of diarrhea and urinary tract infections.  Twenty three boreholes are slated to be drilled this year in Moyo.

In partnership with World Vision, the first rural hospital is being built in Moyo.  We were able to visit the facility that will have running water through a mechanized pump system and electricity from solar panels.  It's a far cry from how they are currently operating. Bertha says babies at night are being delivered with just two small solar panel lamps that provide inadequate light and a laboring mother is told to bring a bucket of water in with her when she comes to deliver.  The hospital will have it's own lab so that test results for things like HIV can be done that day and the results won't take months to receive.

The facility will also help patients like Kiston whose mother will be able to receive treatment without going into the city.  I know children like Kiston and adults are being turned away from treatment every day because the facility is just not able to handle the cases that it is seeing.  I can't rush the process, and I know that there have been lives lost because of the inability to get the funds together to get into the city to proper medical care.

For now, I didn't hesitate to ask the World Vision staff if I could privately gift this mother the 50 kwacha to get her and her baby into the city for treatment.  I am hopeful that Kiston will receive the treatment that he needs in Choma and that with the help of World Vision this mother will receive the training on proper nutrition that she is lacking.  

All of this is being done in the community because of the child sponsorship program.  Sponsoring a child is more than just giving money to one child, it's giving money to the community.  For only $35 a month, you can change a child's life forever. You can find a child that is available for sponsorship here.

Please consider child sponsorship. The needs are so great and with your help, those needs can be met.

Twalumba! The translation can be found here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Welcome Home

Down a long dirt road we drove. Feeling every bump and ditch worn in by years of flooding and drought. If it's not one, it's another. This year, it's drought. We arrived at a home with the cleanest dirt I have ever seen. We stepped out of the van and were greeted by Edward who said "welcome home." His greeting will forever stick with me.

We were visiting Edward Kanyama and his wife Justina Michelo. Before we even sat down we had a lesson on how to tie the traditional skirt called a chitenge. A chitenge is basically a few yards of fabric wrapped around and tucked but carries with it the meaning of respect. We went around and introduced ourselves and the group of women would reply "twalumba" which means we are very grateful.

Photo by Jon Warren || World Vision 2014                                             

When World Vision entered the community Justina heard about the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program for the first time. It was like a light had been turned on and she suddenly realized that the diarrhea, scabies and worms that her and her nine children had dealt with for a lifetime were all caused by dirty drinking water and unsanitary living conditions. This was new information for Justina.

I just kept thinking about the story with the Ethiopian Eunich who was reading Isaiah and when questioned by Phillip if he knew what it meant his response was "how will I know if no one has told me." It's amazing to think that in 2015 there are people that don't know that you should wash your hands before you eat or after you go to the bathroom. They don't know that going to the bathroom in the bush brings flys that then land on their food. As American's we are taught this from a very young age. I even had a hand washing song I sang with my children. But how would they know if no one has told them?

The people of Zambia have lived for generations feeling cursed. They believe that diseases are brought on by something that they have done wrong. A child with a distended belly? The wife must be having an extramarital affair. Constant diarrhea? Their ancestors are unhappy with them. When World Vision first came into the country there was some apprehension. But once they showed the people and the people gave them a chance, they have been on fire for change. The important message about sanitation and hygiene is being spread and put into practice even though this community is still waiting for the clean water aspect. These changes have already proven to have great benefits to their health.

Children are learning in their schools how to build hand washing stations (tip tap's) and are taking that information home to their families. Families are making changes around their homes like building dish drying racks to keep animals off of their clean dishes, they have rubbish pits, private bath areas, latrines and hand washing stations around their homes. They are noticing that there are less flies that not only bother them, but that spread disease. I could tell that Edward was very proud of his wife and he was a very supportive husband. He says that he is even taking on the chore of fetching water and making meals when his wife is busy educating in the community. We spent some time joking about how my husband is home with the children doing the same thing. It's woman's work to keep the house afterall.

Justina is just one voice, but she is a voice that is passionate about the changes that she has made. She explained that if her community of Hamaundu is remembered for one thing, that it's remembered for being clean. She's happy that she is clean, her husband and her family is clean.

We came into her home, looked at her latrine and peeked in her shower and Justine beamed with pride. In the past four years, since she has been educated, Justine's home has changed. Her family is healthy and clean. She is teaching others to make changes in their homes and see the difference that it makes. Twalumba for your passion and for the lives that you are changing.