MERCY KIDS AFRICA
I think I first fell in love with her when I saw her beating a goat. It was a brutally hot day in August in Chingola, Zambia. She was so tiny and she was carrying a giant stick. The goats had escaped from their pen and were scattered everywhere, and she just grabbed this stick that was twice her size and began herding them back into the pen, hitting them again and again, hollering at the top of her lungs. Once they were back in, she stopped and, seeing me watching, gave me this sweet, shy smile that was totally incongruous with what I had just seen. I laughed. And that's when I fell in love with Justina and her fierce, unstoppable spirit that is way too big for her tiny body. We've been friends for four years now, and she has changed my life...
You can't always trust first impressions.
Everyone thinks Margaret is shy and sweet at first, when in reality she's the brightest, bossiest eleven-year-old I know. She wants to be a soldier when she grows up. I bet she'll be a general.
Each of the 35 kids at Lusungu Children's Home, a safe haven for orphans and vulnerable children in Chingola, Zambia, has a similar story.
Sunday is an incredible artist, and can fashion intricate sculptures of bikes and cars and people out of trash he finds on the ground. Joe has a 100 kilowatt smile that makes it impossible to stay upset with him when he gets into trouble, which is about once every hour. He looks up at you and tilts his head to one side and smiles this giant, toothy, squinty-eyed smile and it becomes patently impossible to refuse him anything.
Evlone is one of the gentlest guys you will ever meet. He has a hug and a kind word for everyone he meets. Even though he's 15 years old, he's only in grade 5 at school. This is partially because he got a late start, but also because with 60 kids to a teacher, students rarely get one-on-one attention or tutoring that kids like Evlone need. They don't have schoolbooks so the kids copy what the teacher writes on the board into their lined notebooks and take it home as homework. When you sit down with Evlone and go over what he is learning, one-on-one, he blossoms.
And then there's Kelvin. When I was teaching the older girls how to knit
last time I was there, he sat about three feet away from me the whole time, just watching. Finally, he came up and tapped me on the shoulder. "Can I have some of the cotton? I want to try." I gave it to him and coached him through his first couple of rows. He was so focused and so patient, pushing the needles and looping the yarn with careful fingers. When he finished his first row on his own, his smile almost split his face. "I did it!"
Fridah might seem reserved at first, but as soon as someone starts to organize a game, she's at their elbow. Even when she doesn't understand the rules, she dives in headfirst and giggles her way through it. When she finishes school, Fridah wants to manage a business.
Justina's older sister, Violet, is only 13 years old but she seems much older. Watching her take care of her little sister is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. She is so gentle and tender, and the only one who can get Justina to speak when she's in one of her silent moods and no one else can tell what's wrong. Violet's answer to everything is prayer, and if you tell her about even the slightest problem, she will grab you by the hand, take you to the shade of some trees or the side of a building, and pray over you. She speaks to Jesus like he's right next to her, listening, and I have no doubt that he is.
I could go on and on. Each kid has such a special place in my heart. After volunteering at Lusungu Children's Home for four years, I feel like I have watched them grow up. I feel like a cliche mom on Facebook saying it, but they change so fast.
Every child has a story. Every story matters. Every story deserves to be told. Each child has a future. Every future is worth investing in.
So much of the change I've witnessed in the children over the past four years has been positive. Violet's English is so much better. Sammy is growing healthy and strong, despite his severe malnourishment as a child. Little Precious has begun to walk and talk.
But there are sadder realities too. Justina's reading skills haven't improved. Due to funding shortages, she hasn't been able to go to school as consistently as she needs. Leonard is ten but he's still in first grade. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Some of the older girls have have aged out of the orphanage but don't have the funds they need to go to university. Nancy has dreams of traveling to Paris and Iceland and the United States as a writer. Just this year, she was accepted into a school for journalism, but can't pay to go. She's trying to find work in one of the grocery stores to make a little money, but hasn't had much success.
Lusungu Children's Home does their best for each of these children, but they are a young organization. Funding is always an issue, so daily servings of food and projects to help work towards their long-term self sustainability (like gardening and livestock) sometimes have to be prioritized above each of the children's unique educational needs.
But that's where we come in.
Lusungu's partner non-profit, Mercy Kids Africa, is based in D.C. and has recently set up a sponsorship program for the 35 kids who call Lusungu home. That means for $30, $60, or $265 a month, you can ensure that one of these children is able to attend school consistently and continue their education. So for the approximate price of your monthly Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime subscriptions, you can change a child's life.
Take a look for yourself. Read about the different kids. Learn their stories. Reach out to me with any questions. I guarantee you won't miss that $30 a month. I just wish you could see Luwiza's face when she puts on her school uniform and carefully smooths the skirt down over her knees. Or sit with Frances as he pores over the tiny, difficult text of a donated Gideon Bible for hours, his finger tracing the tissue pages with reverence and his face radiant even as he stumbles over the longer words. Or hear Chimuka and Joe chatter or about what they learned today.
Education is a gift most of us received through very little of our own choosing. We happen to be born in a country where we had access to it. But we can choose to give that gift to someone else.
What will you choose?
SPONSOR A CHILD
Mercy Kids Africa is a non-profit Christian organization that works to transform the lives of vulnerable children in Zambia through empowering orphanages towards self-sustainability. Their goal is to establish long-term partnerships with non-profits on the ground, in order to create opportunities for children to thrive physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually while facilitating initiatives that strengthen their environment and community. If you would like to sponsor Joe, Margaret, Sunday, Fridah, Violet, or any of the other children, read their stories and sign up for sponsorship, here: http://mercykidsafrica.com/sponsor/.