Today we went to Chifubu to visit the New Hope feeding programme. This programme feeds over 50 children with HIV six days a week. They are fed a meal of Sheema, vegetables and meat every day except Sunday and weighed once a month to check the food is helping them gain weight.
Today there were over 100 children waiting when we arrived, they clearly knew we were coming. Apparently the numbers coming for food are always higher on a Saturday since children from schools, other than the one where the feeding happens, are closed. And then a van of white people; well that always attracts kids.
Seven of us went to the feeding programme armed with bubbles, balloons, skipping ropes, cats cradles, a saxophone and sweets. We started straight away blowing up balloons and handing them out, 75 balloons vanished just like THAT. Then I got a bucket and all the bubble wands and went and sat at an edge of the area. Followed and watched by the kids I poured bubble mix into the bucket and tipped in the 50 or so bubble wands we'd brought. I was aware that things went a bit crazy from that point; the kids swarmed towards me and over me to get a go. I oscillated between panic and joy but looking back loved every second; isn't that what kids work is all about? When the bubbles were all blown and the wands had all vanished - kids who have nothing with hoard what they find - we sang songs with them, danced, skipped, played football and generally had a whole heap of fun.
At one point I looked across the field and was blown away by the sight of the kids all playing with us guys. There is nothing more precious to me than seeing children being children and it's even better when adults let themselves be children.
I was able to spend a good period of time with another amazing Zambian woman today, another woman called by God to make a difference in the country she loves; Meluse. Meluse works for the Jubilee Centre as the children's work coordinator - I need to find out her official title. She mentors the people in the 96 churches who work with the kids; encourages the feeding programmes; gets involved with the schools; writes children's stories, two of which she has made into plays which will shortly be aired on the radio; and she dreams of providing kindergartens in the compounds she supports. Whoa!
The first time I met her, the day we arrived here, I knew there was something special about this woman; today I am blown away by her faith, hope, calling and service to the children. I could work with this woman and I hope to be able to work with her across the miles; she has experiences I want to learn from and visa versa.
1. "I want to provide a kindergarten, I have the volunteers and the kids will come but I don't know what to teach them". What do I do? Work with Pre schoolers; I've been chair of a Pre-school - I can help.
2. "there are bereaved parents who I want to support through their grief and i get together in a support group, but I'm not sure how to really help" - by sharing our experiences we can learn so much from each other in the support groups we run 1000 miles apart.
3. "I wish there were kids bible stories written in Bemba" - you can only imagine the joy I felt at this; this is a quick win and something we planned there and then.
4. "the teachers feel so cut off and unsure of themselves, they care for the kids and their futures but who else does?" - we come with gifts for these schools of crayons, chalks, rulers, the letters and numbers the kids made at REinspired and the postcards from Rachel's class. She cried with joy at the way this will show how much we care. And by forming pen-pals between a school in a compound and our local school we will provide so much learning, compassion and understanding to the next UK generation.
You might remember that we were at a feeding station; whilst all this playing and chatting was going on four women - volunteers - were busy cooking Sheema, cabbage and sausages for the kids. Every day except Sunday these women come and feed the kids and give them the best start in life possible. When the food was ready I went and chatted to the women about the programme and how amazing this gift is to the kids; they are wonderful women. Then feeding began.
I took up the sausage station, with Becky on cabbage and Chris on Sheema; Margaret handed plates, Lynette told us whether the child was small, medium or large for portion sizes and Helen took loads of photos. When the kids got their food they took it and sat on the floor of the school where we were serving it; a happy silence of content eating descended; that was so rewarding to see. These kids have hope, lots of it, because people care for them physically and emotionally. My heart was filled with hope and thanks at that.
After the kids were all fed the women eat and they asked us to eat with them. This was a hard decision and we each chose according to our own feelings about it. Some felt that that food should be given to those in need and not ate by us. Some felt that it was a gift these women wanted to give us, the only gift they had, to thank us for our encouragement, love and support. I felt a chunk of both and so I asked the women whether we could give the kids more; but that was not possible - the amount is set and was given and is right for their needs. I made the decision to eat with these women, to take my plate and sit with them on the floor where the kids had eaten. I'm so glad I did; apart from how tasty the food was, it was showing these women our humility and demonstrating to the kids that white people are no different to them - we aren't worried about sitting on the floor and eating with our hands.
It was hard to leave Chifubu; those kids had even more crazy energy after being fed and it was amazing speaking to Mary who runs the programme. But schedules are meant to be followed, even in African time, so we got in the bus and were waved off by hundreds of happy smiling kids.
We drove the short distance to a nearby church where Neil, John and Libby were running a workshop for the pastors on mentoring. This evening I've heard how fantastic that was; Libby was so pleased she went to support and encourage the three women who would otherwise have been on the outside of the group.
After the workshop ended we were able to meet the Chifubu youth choir which Mekuse mentors. We hears from them an outline of the two stories they have acted out for the radio; one about protecting kids from being married early and the other about the sadness of being orphaned. We then heard them sing and we all sat there blown away by the amazing beauty of the songs, some of which they'd written themselves. They were clearly shy to sing to us; their first live audience; but I am sure they felt encouraged and valued and brilliantly talented by the time we'd healed our praise on them. These kids are doing amazing things for themselves and their country; Meluse and Josephine need medals for their work with them.
I did not want to go back to the lodge at 3pm as we had planned but actually it gave us 4 hours before dinner to relax and chat and process. Some people slept but most of us chewed the cud through those hours and that will also be a memory that stays; the togetherness of our group on this trip.
Tomorrow it's church; bring it on!