One of my goals in Zambia is to visit graduates who are making a difference in their communities. These visits have challenged what I subconsciously believed about Africa broadly, and Zambia specifically. I have come to realize that the constant barrage of media images showing impoverished children, violent wars, and rapacious dictators have shaped my view in unhelpful ways. I have heretofore believed one story about this place. For more on the impact of believing only one story I strongly recommend you watch this video. This post is a chance to add to your collection of Zambian stories.
Last week we traveled 100 km to the village of Kaishe to visit Charles Chola. Charles is the founder and principal of the Kaishe Orphanage Association and its Skills Training Centre. He is a graduate of the Samfya Bible School. Charles is an orphan himself and he founded this organization to serve his community. Known as a preacher of the gospel, his heart for orphans is captured in a vision statement posted on his office wall. His vision is to “alleviate, and support social empowerment to orphans and the youths of the people in Zambia, facilitate agriculture and skills in development in order to make them settled.” Lest you think that Charles has founded another aid organization, the gospel is posted right next to the vision statement! Clearly this man is trying to combine his efforts at mercy ministry with his work on behalf of the gospel.
I first visited this place in 2010 when it only offered carpentry and tailoring programs. Since that time, the orphanage has grown, adding a preschool, and a farm, and a small bicycle repair store. The training center, the original part of the facility, provides an opportunity for orphans in residence to learn basic carpentry and tailoring skills. There are classrooms for learning the theory and workshops for practicing what was learned in the classroom. Bricklaying is being added to the curriculum next year. These are basic trades that allow individuals to open a shop and provide for themselves and their families.
The pre-school can serve 26 children. The class of 2013 includes 15 boys, 11 girls, some are orphans. While we were there the children recited the alphabet song, different from the one we learn in America, and a few children’s songs including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”! The classroom was orderly and the teachers enthusiastic. Some of the children were in uniforms which their parents pay for with cash or a gallon of maize! They had recently received a donation of children’s books from Books for Africa and the books were being put to good use.
The farm is new exciting part of organization. Wary of becoming overly dependent on donors, the association has purchased land which Charles is developing into a farm to allow the organization provide for its own needs. A basic Gant chart on the wall behind Charles’ desk displays the anticipated time table for the farm’s development. His intention is for this farm to become another tool to teach agricultural skills to the orphans who come through his program. This will give them a way to feed themselves upon graduation in addition to what they can earn from a trade. When complete, the farm will house pigs for meat and chickens for laying and broiling. These animals will also provide natural fertilizer for the farm’s maize and vegetable fields. Charles intends this to be an organic farm – no artificial fertilizer – therefore it will serve as a laboratory for students to learn new farming techniques. Profit from produce sold will be funneled back into the orphanage’s operations. It’s a big vision with relatively large costs. When I asked him how he intended to make it happen he gave the answer of a man of large vision and large faith. “Well, we are depending on the Lord to provide for us” he said.
The final addition is a small store that stocks bicycle parts. Women and men rely on bicycles extensively in this community because cars are too costly for the vast majority. When their bikes break down, however, the nearest place to get parts is in Samfya, 100 km away! This bike shop takes advantage of the local need but does so with an eye on compassion rather than just on the bottom line. The business does cover its costs and generate a little profit too, but when I asked Charles why he didn’t charge more he said, “we really just want to provide this as a service to the community.”
Eventually I sat down with Charles to explain that I was delivering a gift for him from a family in the US and asked him how he would like to spend it. He replied “Well I would have to go back to the vision” and pointed to the wall where he had displayed his 6-year vision for the association entitled: “To change the community in six years from 2012-2018”. He then pulled out a clipboard where he had carefully detailed each item he would need to complete the animal side of the project and a budget estimate of what it would cost. It was hard not to be impressed by both his faith, vision and planning.
As we visited the carpentry workshop I recognized a young man I had met in 2010. I was a little surprised he was still there as I thought the goal of the program was to train orphans not keep them. Charles explained that Albert Mwansa was now his right hand man. He had been hired at the orphanage, first as a carpentry trainer and now as an administrator. “He gets the vision!” Charles said. Be sure to add this story to all you know about Zambia, Africa.
Pray for Charles, his wife Janet, they have eight children of their own and they care for two orphans as well. That’s a full house! In addition Charles clearly works hard at the Orphanage. Pray also that Albert would continue to work well with Charles.