A Full Day of Work, Play and Pads

Our neighbors, our friends The daily journey to the Amos Youth Centre began with a detour, and it turned out to be one of the day’s highlights. Lisa, one of the AYC’s top students, lives in a mud hut with her nine-person family almost directly across from our lodge. Mario spotted Lisa, and we hustled across the highway that runs through Kafue (and ultimately connects  South Africa to the Congo, north of Zambia) for a visit to her home.

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Lisa’s father, Evans, is a small scale farmer, and he couldn’t be prouder of his daughter, who is on a special scholarship to attend a private school.

“She has a brain,” Mario said. “She has to study hard to keep up these beautiful grades, and then we will send her to college. You have to think big. You have a big brain.”

Lisa has inspired her older sister to go back to school. She will soon be interviewing for a potential AYC scholarship. The younger brothers and sisters in the family gathered around as we toured the home, which features unattached rooms. The kitchen, which wasn’t enclosed, only had a thatched roof. The largest hut included a bedroom for the parents and a small sitting room. Five of the children slept in a room that was about 150 square feet.

While the conditions were humble and sobering, everything was clean, tidy and organized. Even the dirt was swept. A sign in the largest room said: “My house is small, but my welcome is big.” There were also posters warning about HIV and AIDS.

Let’s see the school

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AYC was our ultimate destination, but Mario called another audible and we stopped at the Shikoswe Basic School, where 60 to 70 of our students are on scholarship.

Our group sat in on Mario’s meeting with the head master of school.

“I am keeping data on their grades,” Mario said. “I will bring you data on the kids.”

AYC is devoted to both boys and girls, but it’s especially important for the girls to get an education. Progress is happening in Zambia, but it’s still slow, and girls often aren’t brought up with the same advantages of boys.

“We really need to empower the girls,” Mario said.

Activities for everyone

Although it took a while for us to arrive at AYC, we started working with the kids almost as soon as we entered the door.

The interview function is perhaps the most important. Competition for scholarships is fierce, and we want to make sure the most deserving and determined students are awarded. Mario and Karen were busy interviewing current and prospective students, who popped in and out of the various activities for their meetings. Sofia supervised the interview process and performed administrative duties, and Susan sat in on an interview and also helped Sofia with paperwork and administrative duties. Kathy also helped out with the interview process and all the details that accompany it.

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Wherever we go kids swarm around Julien, Sofia, Susan and Carly. Susan and Carly made friendship bracelets with the kids. Carly played hot potato, made clay bricks from the sewage water, and joined the kids in rolling rims down the dusty road.

Julien is the resident math genius as well as heart throb. A group joined him in one of the study rooms for a long math session, where the mysteries of the quadratic formula were revealed.

While Julien handled the numbers, Ira and Kathy dealt with words. A revolving group of kids collaborated on several different stories. We made up some fairy tales, before things took a serious turn and we discussed religion, education and politics in the United States and Zambia. The kids are fascinated by President Barack Obama.

We later teamed up to write a story on Zambia’s African Cup soccer championship, and biographies about Cynthia (Cynthia’s Story of Life), Brighton (Brighton’s Journey to Success), and Chibwe (Chibwe the Astronaut).

Trek up the mountain

Julie-Anne, who supervised the day’s activities, gathered a few of us for a side trip. While Mario and Karen continued with the interviews and Carly continued organizing and playing with the kids, the rest of the group crossed the highway and walked partway up the mountain with about 10 AYC students.

Even among Zambia’s poor, the standards of living vary as we learned during three home visits with students. All three homes were in Kafue’s Kalundu View, which means on the mountain.

The first stop was at Emmanuel’s home, an immaculate three-room cement block structure. Seven people shared the two bedrooms, which were separated by curtain. A sign proclaimed: “God is the head of the house.”

Next up was Mumba’s house, the largest we’ve visited so far. The sitting room, while small by U.S. standards, was more spacious than others we saw. The family was watching a small TV, and one of the daughters was having her hair braided.

On the way back down the mountain, we visited Clinton’s home, essentially an enclosed mud hut with one bedroom.

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As we were walking, everybody bonded with the kids. Susan snapped a variety of pictures, and Gideon took over her camera and took enough pictures for his own retrospective on Zambian life.

Supplies, supplies and more supplies

The final hours of the day were reserved for unpacking the supplies, which arrived in 11 suitcases. Of course, our sponsors supplied much of the gear, which included computers, toys, clothes, about 50 pairs of shoes, and hundreds of school and medical supplies.

We asked for sanitary pads from the sponsors, and that’s what we received. The grand total: 7,962.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Simply and truly, AYC wouldn’t be able to function without our sponsor’s generosity.