LUSUNGU CHILDREN'S HOME
Clapping hands. Belly-laughs. Dancing around the fire at night. Dusty little toes. Laundry flapping on the line as Beauty finishes the clothes-pinning, before the morning sun gets too hot and high in the sky. The sound of drums. Trash blowing in the wind like tumble weeds. Sunsets that light the sky on fire. As I sit here with my fingers frozen over the keyboard, trying to describe Lusungu Children's Home, all that flashes through my mind are these snippets, these memories, a kaleidoscope of moments from the four years I have gotten to watch my favorite kids in the whole world giggle, learn, and grow...
He was tired. He was starving. He wanted to die. He was only eight years old.
Caddie Ng’ambi curled up in the shade of the big rocks on the hillside where he had sought shelter from the streets, squeezed his eyes shut, and prayed to God for help. When he opened his eyes, he noticed a small avocado tree on the other side of the rock. To him, it was the answer to his prayer. God would keep him alive.
It’s hard to see that hungry little boy who lived off of avocados among the rocks in the passionate and purposeful preacher today who travels across Zambia pastoring seven churches and who has a beautiful wife and family of seven children. But Caddie or "Bishop," as he is more commonly called now, never forgot what God did for him that day.
Today, nearly in the shadow of the rocks towering on that hillside, sits the small, four-building complex that is Lusungu Children’s Home. Bishop founded this home for orphan children in Chingola, Zambia eight years ago as part of the vision that God had given him to create a refuge for street children who, like himself so many years ago, have no family and nowhere to turn.
It’s one man’s response, in faith, to a crisis that is continuing to tear Zambia apart: it’s forgotten children. A third of Zambian children lose one or both parents before they reach adulthood, with 19% of those are “double orphans,” or children who have lost both their mother and father. This gives Zambia the highest per capita orphan rate in the world.
For some context: Zambia is approximately the size of Texas, with a similarly-sized population, yet it has over 1 million orphans under the age of 15 — 800,000 of whom are affected by HIV and AIDS, according to data by UNICEF. 1 in every 4 households is a child headed home with the child acting as the primary care giver. An estimated 20,000 children are living on the streets. 42% of the women are married before the age 18.
This crisis is so widespread, multi-faceted, and systemic that it can seem insurmountable. But that didn’t stop Caddie Ng’ambi. Instead, he has devoted his life and resources to solving it — not for every child on all the streets — but for the children on his streets.
Today, Lusungu Children’s Home provides a safe place for 35 these children to eat, sleep, grow, and, whenever funds allow, go to school. The conditions are rudimentary. Dishes, clothes, and hands are washed outside at the pump. The dorm rooms are bare, and kids often sleep double to a bed. Sometimes, there’s only enough food for one meal a day.
On one of my early visits, I noticed one of the little girls, Justina, sitting in the shade, silently wiping tears off her cheeks with the back of one of her hands. Her other hand held her stomach. “Is she feeling sick?” I asked Mazuba, her friend. “No, she’s ok. Her stomach is just paining her because she is hungry,” said Maz, with a shrug. Here, as in much of the world, hunger remains just a reality.
But still, in comparison to the dire situations that many of the children came from, Lusungu is a refuge and a haven.
Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
-- MATTHEW 19:14
Looking around at the kids now, it’s hard to believe that Sammy was found as a baby, eating dirt to survive. Or that Blessings was discovered in a dump, laying beside her dead sister. While many of the kids suffer from HIV-related health problems, what they have been through is only part of their story.
We should not discount the depths of their suffering, because the pains of starvation, abandonment, and uncertainty that some of these children have walked through at such young ages is something no child should have to bear. But it also should not define how we see them. Because that’s not how they define themselves. “I’m going to be a doctor,” says Justina. “I want to be a soldier,” says Margaret. “I am an artist,” says Dennis. Liason, with his charming half-smile, says that one day he will be president. I have no doubt that he will be.
Really, they’re just kids. Kids with big personalities, curious minds, irrepressible hope for the future, and some of the best dancing skills you’ve ever seen. Oh the dancing.
Someone is always grabbing a couple sticks and beating out a rhythm on whatever they can find — the doorstep, a chair, an old pot. Someone else starts the singing, usually Faithfulness. Suddenly, everyone is caught up in a whirling, hands-clapping, 35-voice frenzy of a dance circle. Even tiny Jubilee and Precious will have their turn being shoved into the center of the circle to wiggle their hips to the beat.
But my favorite is when the kids worship.
Sitting with them up on the high rocks, as the sun begins to sink and light the sky on fire as it goes, we tuck our knees under our chin and scoot closer together to keep warm from the evening chill. The rocks are black against the brilliant sky. Their childish voices rise in harmony, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, oh-oh my soul…”
Justina is swaying to the rhythm with her eyes squeezed shut. One hand on her heart, one lifted to the sky. Margaret cuddles closer and leans against my knee. She smiles up at me but doesn’t stop singing, “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing Your song again. Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me. Let me be singing when the evening comes.”
Oh my soul.
Bless the Lord.
It means "I love you" in Bemba -- the native language of the children at Lusungu Children's Home. Lusungu is working towards self sustainability through a number of projects, including growing vegetables and fruit, conducting skills training, and keeping and selling livestock, while trying to feed the children in their care and provide for their education. If you want to partner with Lusungu Children's Home, you can donate to their Washington, D.C.-partner non-profit, Mercy Kids Africa. You can choose to sponsor a project or a specific child's education.