Children of Chanyanya—champions of our hearts

GIR-AFFE! GIR-AFFE! GIR-AFFE! We crowded into the flatbed of an old Toyota pick-up truck with 37 children from the Zambian fishing village of Chanyanya. Our African adventure took a turn that few of us could have predicted as we met children who were among the poorest and happiest any of us have ever seen.

As the truck rolled down a bumpy dirt road, the kids cheered and chanted as we looked on in amazement. Julien led the kids in the “GIR-AFFE” chant, and they joyously repeated whatever he said. “Giraffe” was a favorite and so was “Queen Mario.”  It was a surreal experience.

Chanyanya, where most of the residents live in mud or grass huts, makes parts of Kafue seem comfortable by comparison. The kids in Chanyanya don’t have as much access to water as those from Kafue. They’re dustier, their clothes are more ragged, and fewer have any shoes whatsoever. But their smiles couldn’t have been wider and their laughs more contagious.

So how did we get here?

We boarded the truck at the lodge and our destination was MCZ.  Julie-Anne’s friend, Nate, coordinated the construction of the MCZ vocational training center in Chanyanya. It’s an incredible place, launched to help Zambians build a career. The center, an attractive yellow and brown cement building, offers three programs: computer and information technology,handicraft, and tailoring.

The tour included visits with all three programs. A few of us were measured for an African dress known as a bubu. Others bought handcrafted giraffes and elephants.

While there is no direct link between MCZ and AEP, it was Nate’s connection to Chanyanya that led to AEP opening the boarding house and offering scholarships to kids outside Kafue. Chanyanya is about 20 miles from Kafue, but it’s much further away in other respects. Some of its residents, especially the children, do not often see large groups of white people, known as Muzumgu, walking through their village.

As our truck lurched through the village, people waved, pointed and shouted. After we toured Nate’s center, we started walking to the Chanyanya lagoon, about a mile away. A handful of kids started following us, and by the time we reached the lagoon, the number had swelled to 40. Carly took pictures and video of the kids and then replayed the scenes back on her digital camera. The kids erupted in delight and ran down the road in excitement.

On the mile walk, Julien, Carly, and Kathy raced with the kids. Amidst the running, one of our new friends ended up getting hurt and cut open his foot. No first aid was readily available, but Ira stepped up to help him along with a lift down to the water.

Our original plan was to go for a canoe ride at the lagoon, but the water was too rough. Besides, we had a few dozen kids with us. Mario bought candy for every single one of them. The driver appeared with the truck to drive us back to the center. But there was the not so small matter of our new friends. The dilemma was solved when they boarded the flatbed with us. They brought along their homemade toys: a soccer ball made of plastic bags and rubber bands and a car made of wires.

Once back at the center, they continued to hang with us. They crowded around Carly and Sofia as Julien continued to lead them in cheers and teach them all our names. When we finally boarded and began to drive away, they chased after the truck and even hung on the rim.

It was a day none of us will ever forget. Not our AEP contingent and not the kids of Chanyanya.