Wednesday, 28 November 2012

So What Would You Say, 'Ya Do' Here?

Some of you may be wondering, “So, what would you say ‘ya do’ here?”(Office Space reference!) Well, consider your burning question answered (hopefully)! Our days are far from routine and we never know what to expect on any given day. Generally though, as a Service Center, we try to get out to visit one or two Community Based Organizations (CBOs) every day. Our team has done a great job of introducing us to each of the 7 functioning CBOs that we support. In the initial visit to each of those CBOs, we have been able to visit the feeding point and the school (sometimes the same location), meet some of the care workers, learn a little about each community’s history and its needs, and spend some time with the children. When we see the children, it is a great reminder of the reason why we are here. So many of these kids have had their lives transformed, even saved, because of the very presence of these CBOs and their care workers.

When we are not in the community, we are usually catching up on administrative tasks, going into town for random things, or having meetings with representatives of a CBO that have made the trek to our office. The unpredictability during our week keeps things interesting but, sometimes, when we’re sitting at the office with not much to do, we get a bit stir-crazy and get the itch to be productive and useful! Apparently, we haven’t fully adapted to the African way of doing things, just yet. This is what we still need to get used to about Africa – everything moves at a much slower pace. There never appears to be any sense of urgency. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. This might sound cheesy but it’s not an exaggeration – relationships are urgent. They trump everything else that is going on. Building, maintaining and growing relationships is the top priority for most people here. Even when there are a million things that need to be done, everything will be dropped at the blink of an eye to address a relational issue or when there is someone in need. It’s an interesting contrast to our culture, where relationships are often the first thing to be sacrificed when times get busy (which seems to be all the time).

Over the past few weeks, we have been assisting our Service Center team in preparing the 2013 Three Essential Services (“3ES” – basic food, education and health) budgets and the 2013 training proposal budgets for each one of the CBOs we support. Each 3ES budget forecasts the expected monthly expenses for a CBO for the entire year and ensures that the total projected expenses for the year do not exceed the total support amount from the donor (which is set at 70,000 kwacha, or approximately $14, per child, per month). Included in this budget are things like food, school supplies, school fees (for older children that attend government schools), medical supplies and incentives for teachers and cooks.

Training proposal budgets forecast the expenses for one of the various training programs offered by Hands. These training programs include: (1) Church Leaders Training; (2) Hands Foundation Training; and (3) Connecting with Children Training. Church Leaders Training brings together the various church leaders within the community and challenges them with the biblical mandate to care for orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs). This is part of the fundamental vision of Hands – to see the local church effectively caring for OVCs. Hands Foundation Training is designed to educate care workers with the core values of Hands, namely to serve the poorest of the poor, to take ownership over their own community, and to do so with Christ as the foundation. In order for Hands to partner with, and continue to work alongside, these CBOs, Hands needs to ensure that the CBOs are operating in a way that accords with Hands’ core values. Connecting with Children training educates and trains care workers to walk alongside wounded children and help them uncover those wounds under a healthy, positive, parental relationship. This is extremely important for care workers because, aside from having it empower wounded children, it also empowers many of them to deal with their own personal wounds from the past. With each of these trainings planned for each of our 7 CBOs next year, 2013 is going to be a very busy year for our team!

To help record and organize all of these budgets and proposals, we use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet template. Sweet! (Just for the record, the “Sweet!” represents Diane’s views only, as she is a massive nerd.) Using a computer and a software program like Excel are like second nature to us. Not so sweet for our Service Centre team, though! Working with computers is not something that our team is all that familiar with. As a result, they struggle with even the most basic functions and features of a computer, nevermind a complicated software program like Excel. This is where our experience and education come in handy. For large parts of the past few weeks, we have sat with the Service Center Coordinators, Blessings and Towela, to painstakingly go over each budget item and help them input the information into the spreadsheet. While a seemingly simple job, it has not gone without its challenges. As stated before, our team has incredible hearts and passion for this work, but are somewhat lacking when it comes to administrative/organizational skills. Sometimes, when working through a given issue, it requires us to ask the same question repeatedly or phrased in several different ways before they fully understand the issue. Things that might seem like common sense to us sometimes need to be reasoned out. It could have been easy to whiz over the budgets and essentially copy ones used from previous years but it has proved invaluable to question why certain things are done the way they are because it, in turn, has broadened our team’s understanding of the issues they need to be considering. The good news is that, when we were all done, Blessings mentioned that the amount of time we spent on the budgets would have taken them months to complete on their own!

Although tedious and not so fun to do in a boiling hot office, the exercise was a great opportunity for us to identify areas where we can build capacity into our Service Center team. As was evident during our time working on budgets, critical thinking and reasoning are skills we are hoping to empower our team with. This is not meant to undermine their current abilities or capacity; rather, it is addressing the reality that, as a result of them not having any formal education past high school or any experience in dealing with management tasks, they have not had the opportunity to develop such skills. That being said, we have committed to running computer workshops for our team where we will teach them basic computer skills, typing skills, and train them to use programs like Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel!

The exercise of preparing and completing budgets for each CBO also allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of how CBOs operate and, specifically, how they are funded. We initially assumed that money raised from donors around the world was pooled and then distributed by Hands to each community. What we now realize is that Hands seeks out donors from the international community to partner together with and support a specific CBO. In most cases, the donor is a church or charitable foundation from one of the countries that Hands has an international office in (Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Australia). If you remember back to one of our earliest blog posts about the structure and vision of Hands, this accords with Hands’ vision to unite the international church with the local church to effectively equip them to care for OVCs. The relationship between the donor and the supported CBO can form in a number of ways, from individuals or teams coming to Africa and feeling compelled to support a certain community they visited, to Hands matching donors with needy communities. An ongoing relationship is then developed between the specific donor and the CBO. Teams are often sent from the donor for weeks at a time to visit the CBO, meet the care workers and children, understand the community’s conditions and needs, and evaluate how their donated funds are being utilized. It is a great way to make it personal for the donor and a great opportunity for the community to meet the people responsible for its aid!

As written above, it costs roughly $14 per month to support one child. By mid-2013, we will have one CBO supporting 50 children, five CBOs supporting 100 children and one CBO supporting 150 children. That’s 700 children in Kitwe alone that are now known by name, deeply cared for and offered hope for a new future. The average cost of supporting one CBO (100 children) for an entire year? Approximately $16,800. Please take a second to sit back and put that figure into perspective. When the two of us were working in corporate Calgary, we probably spent half that amount in any given year at Holt Renfrew or on a vacation! This is something that has deeply challenged us over the last little while, especially when we look back on how frivolously we spent money before. Does this mean that every dollar we earn should be donated in aid to orphans? That would be fantastic but that’s not what we are saying. Rather, we now see and understand what a relatively small amount of our resources can do for the lives of so many children here. We realize that you’ve probably seen enough infomercials about how a dollar a day can save the life of a child or something along those lines. We largely ignore this reality because we are wary of scams or that a disproportionate amount of the donated money goes to “administrative fees”, etc. Having been a part of the Service Center now for one month, and having visited each of the CBOs that we support, we cannot emphasize enough how incredibly valuable these donated resources are for the lives of these children.

Not only are the lives of children immensely blessed by these resources, but they make a significant impact on the lives of the care workers as well. As mentioned before, care workers are not paid or compensated for the work they do. Cooks and teachers receive small monthly incentives due to the amount of time that is required for each job but, other than that, these care workers do what they do simply because their hearts compel them to. As a result, Hands and the donors have encouraged care workers to allocate a small percentage of the CBO’s budget (roughly 5-10%) to put towards an Income Generating Activity (IGA). These IGAs are meant to be an encouragement and a blessing for the care workers. Rather than simply providing them with a small monetary incentive once or twice a year that would be quickly spent, an IGA empowers the care workers to own, manage and operate a business. It also provides a realistic opportunity for the CBO to work towards becoming self-sufficient, which coincides with one of Hands’ core values of local community ownership. Most IGAs are currently in their infant stages but, ideally, a well-functioning IGA would no longer need the support of a donor. Furthermore, should an IGA become quite profitable, the goal is to use the profits to set up micro-financing opportunities for the care workers to start up their own personal business! Examples of IGAs that are currently operating or will start up in the next year are: chicken rearing, goat rearing, garden/farming, charcoal selling and hammer mills (to grind up maize into mielie meal).

Since being here in Kitwe, we have learned of some incredible stories of how certain communities came to be supported. In one instance, a couple from the United States that volunteered with Hands for a number of years returned home and shared their hearts for Africa. As a result, their extended family on one side came together and committed to caring for and supporting an entire community. Apparently, the other side of the family may be committing to do the same in the near future!

Another inspiring story we've heard of is about a couple from Germany who, after serving with Hands in Zambia on a long-term posting, returned home and started a charity called the Peppercorn Foundation. The Peppercorn Foundation now supports three fully functioning CBOs (300 children) in the Kitwe area!

These are but just two examples of people that have come, seen, experienced, and had their hearts forever changed. All it took was for one or two individuals to be deeply impacted and now an entire community of children and care workers is supported. An entire community now has hope. As we contemplate what lies ahead beyond our time in Africa, this has been a real inspiration to us. Not everyone is called to be a missionary. Not everyone is called to Africa. But we firmly believe that we are all called to do something. Could this be an opportunity for us, together with you, to make a real impact? Perhaps. While this might be far off in the future, it’s something definitely worth thinking about.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A Few Community Stories

We have now been with our team in the Kitwe Service Centre for 3 weeks. Our admiration continues to grow for them and the care workers in the various Community Base Organizations (CBOs) our Service Centre supports. These individuals serve with such joy in their hearts and demonstrate what it's like to live by faith, daily. While having so little themselves, they give so much back to their communities and are deeply invested in seeing the next generation of children and youth transformed. Relationships trump everything in Africa and this attitude is very prominent amongst the people we walk alongside.

The great thing about being a part of Hands is that there is always a strong focus on God and relationships. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, we meet with our team for one hour in the morning to fellowship in prayer, praise and worship, small group and/or sharing the Word. It can be easy to fall into a certain routine here, like any other job, and forget the real reason behind why we are here. We want to make God and the heart of Jesus the reason behind everything we do. These sessions allow us to quiet our hearts and focus our minds on what matters most. In contrast to our busy lives back home, where fellowship and spirituality often take a backseat to the hustle and bustle of life, it has been a refreshing change.

The Kitwe Service Centre is responsible for overseeing and supporting 9 CBOs in the Kitwe area, some as close as a 15 minute drive from our office, others as far away as a 1.5 hour drive. Of those 9 communities, we have visited 6 (2 of the CBOs are in the initial stages and have yet to be fully functioning). Each visit is unique, depending on the needs of the community or what special projects it may currently be undertaking. During the past few weeks, we have attempted to soak in every bit of knowledge about what our team does, what each community’s needs are, and what our role can/will be going forward.

Below are a few stories of what we have encountered over the last few weeks and how they have touched and challenged us.

Kamakonde's New School

One of the CBOs that we currently support is called Kamakonde Home Based Care. There are currently 50 orphaned and vulnerable children being cared for in Kamakonde, with the goal to increase to 100 children midway through next year. Being “cared for” means that each child is provided with the three essential services (basic food, health and education) and is visited in his/her home by a care worker at least once a week, among other things. (In a future post, we will describe “the wall” of a child and how it is used by Hands to train care workers to care for vulnerable children.)

Kamakonde runs a feeding program, 7 days a week, from its care point. In addition to the feeing program, those children who would otherwise be unable to attend school, usually due to the inability to afford uniforms or school fees, are given the opportunity to attend the CBO-operated school and to be educated by a local community teacher. At the moment, classes are being run in an extremely small hut, barely large enough to fit 10 students.

The current school in Kamakonde
Students huddled up in the small classroom
The lack of covered space has been a real challenge for Kamakonde, which has resulted in the teachers operating their classes and children being fed under a large tree that stands in the middle of the CBO's property. While the tree provides great cover from the sun in the summer, it is completely inadequate to shelter the children and the care workers during the rainy season here in Zambia (which usually starts now and lasts until March or April). Thankfully, this year, Kamakonde's donor, a foundation located in Germany called Peppercorn, has provided additional funding for the CBO to build a new structure that will be used as a school and, when necessary, a feeding point. Although not yet complete, some of the male care workers, as well as some hired help, are busy constructing the school so that it can be completed before the rainy season starts. Please pray that the school will be completed in time before the rains begin to pour!

Kids gathering under the tree to learn from Auntie Towela
The new school that's currently under construction
Byron putting his handy man skills to work!
Home Visit in Kamakonde

While visiting Kamakonde one day to check up on the progress of the school construction, we had the opportunity to do a home visit. The young lady we visited (whom will we name “E”) is a 16 year-old girl, living with only her grandmother and grandfather. Both of her parents passed away early in her life. The care workers have known E for a while and remember her being a beautiful and popular girl, full of energy. Today, E is bed ridden and suffering from HIV. Because her grandparents are unable to consistently provide food for the family, the antiretrovirals that E is taking are rendered ineffective and have actually caused her some mental distress. When we visited E in her home, she seemed barely lucid, could only speak a few words to us, and would just shrug her shoulders whenever Towela, the Service Centre Coordinator, tried to convince her to go to the clinic. We sat with E for a long time, not knowing what to say or how to even encourage her and her family. All we could do was sit and watch Towela hold E's hand, speak gentle words of encouragement to her and try to convince her to go seek medical attention. We prayed for E and, as we left her home, remember feeling very somber, not knowing how we (or anybody else) could really do anything to help this girl. She appeared so defeated, so ready to give up on life.


In another one of our communities, Zimba, we visited the home of an old man that lived on his own. He was very sick and had been abandoned by his family. The care workers explained that, when they first found the man, he was extremely malnourished and likely wouldn’t have survived much longer had they not intervened. From that day on, the care workers decided to set aside food from the feeding point every day and visit the home of this man to check on him and to feed him. As we spoke with him, we could see how frail and weak he was, not even having enough strength to move on his own. After a short time of visiting, the group of care workers that we were with got up and got to work. They pulled his clothes down from the lines, washed his dishes and brought the man a new change of clothes. The male care workers and Byron then lifted up the man and placed him on a mat underneath the shade, to protect him from the heat, and helped him get dressed. The care workers subsequently led us inside of his house to show us the poor conditions he was living in. Above the room where he slept was a gaping hole in the grass roof. Apparently, it had rained the night before and the man lay there throughout the entire night, with rain and dirt dripping on him, simply because he could not move himself. This broke our hearts. The care workers resolved that something had to be done. We each contributed a small amount to purchase some new plastic to repair the grass roof and then a group of us set off to purchase the materials from a nearby town. Meanwhile, some of the care workers stayed behind to finish up the house chores that needed to be attended to. Witnessing the care workers care for this man warmed our hearts immensely. They receive little to no compensation for what they do. There is no tangible benefit for them to be spending their time in this way. But here was a group of people that recognized the command to love their neighbor as they would themselves, deeply caring for this man, when his family had abandoned him, and doing it with such joy in their hearts. What an incredibly powerful scene to witness.

The outside of the home
The area where the old man slept. Notice the big hole in his roof

The stories of E and the old man have remained in our hearts since we visited them. While still struggling with feeling utter helplessness on our part and hopelessness for their situations, we have come away strongly encouraged by the work that God is doing and how He is using the care workers to effectively care for individuals like E and the old man. We are coming to the understanding that not every individual we care for will result in a radically transformed life. Not every story we encounter will have a happy ending. As you read these stories, they may be easy to dismiss, simply because a positive, life-changing result may never be achieved. Please do not miss the significance of what is happening. God did not call us to care for the dying, the orphaned and the widowed because, in doing so, we would ultimately change their reality (although this can and does happen!). He called us to do so because every human being deserves to be known, to be loved and to have dignity. Every individual deserves to receive the message of hope and to know that they matter. In situations where there appears to be no hope, it can be difficult to remain encouraged. But it is prideful and arrogant to think that we, alone, can change people’s future. In times like these, we must remind ourselves that we are merely a link in the chain of these people’s stories and that, ultimately, all we can do is do our part and then leave the rest to God.

(We are happy to report that E has been going to the clinic since our visit and that the old man now has a newly-repaired functioning roof over his head!)

More Photos from the Community

Little ones intrigued by the Musungus (white people) in Racecourse!
The feeding point in Racecourse
Playing games with the little ones in Amulo
Byron's new friend in Zimba (she wouldn't leave his side!)

Diane and her entourage in Mulenga

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Our New Team - The Kitwe Service Center

As mentioned before, we work with an amazing group of people at the Kitwe Service Center. We’ll probably be mentioning them from time to time in our posts so we figured we would take the opportunity to introduce you to our new team!

Pastor Blessings Sambo – Service Center Coordinator

Towela Lungu – Service Center Coordinator

Pastor Blessings and Ma Towela share the role of Service Center Coordinator, with Pastor Blessings now transitioning into the role of community support with the Regional Support Team in Zambia. The role of the Service Center Coordinator is to coordinate, manage and lead the Service Center. Pastor Blessings and Ma Towela also have the responsibility of being our mom and dad while we’re here!

Pastor Blessings
Ma Towela, our new mom

Clement Lufupa – Field Coordinator

Clement is the field coordinator in charge of project support. Projects in the community can include the building of schools, feeding programs, managing income generating activities (IGAs), etc.

Is that Clement? Or Ray Allen? 
Mary Mulenga – Bookkeeper

As a bookkeeper, Mary is responsible for all things financial in the Service Center. This includes helping Community Based Organizations (CBOs) manage their finances and handling the cashflow.

The baby of the bunch, Mary
In the next little while, we will be bringing a new member aboard the team to be the field coordinator in charge of careworker support. We look forward to meeting him/her!

As mentioned before, the Kitwe Service Center supports 9 different communities that each have their own CBO, comprised of local individuals in the community that are committed to caring for the most vulnerable children (these people are called careworkers). In a typical week, from Monday to Thursday, the Service Center attempts to visit each of its communities at least once, whether it’s to have meetings, do home visits or assist them with certain projects. This can prove quite challenging as one of the communities (Zimba) takes 1.5 hours to get to! Fridays are usually devoted to catching up on administrative tasks in the office.

Our role for the next 6 months is to support our team and focus on building relationships with them and the careworkers. We also hope to use our respective educational backgrounds and skills to help build capacity in the Service Center and do whatever we can to assist them with their work. In the meantime, we expect to learn loads of stuff about Kitwe, the CBOs that we support, the Zambian culture and, of course, the Bemba language!

Below are some pics of our office:

View from the front entrance
Our shared desk
The team above (and every other Service Center, for that matter) is made up of individuals that began as careworkers and proved exceptional at what they do. They were born and continue to live in the community, in very similar conditions to the people we visit in the communities. On the first couple of days at the office, we noticed that they did not eat a single thing throughout the entire day. We asked them about it and we came to the sad realization that they simply cannot afford to pack a lunch. We’re talking about people that work a full-time job, solely devoted to serving and caring for the most vulnerable children in the most vulnerable communities. Hands at Work provides them with a small incentive each month but it is barely enough for them and their family to get by. We have taken to buy a loaf of bread for our team 2 or 3 times a week (there is peanut butter in the office) so that our team can at least eat something throughout the day. These people come from very little, have very little and receive very little for what they do. Despite this, they do their work with such joy and live by such incredible faith. We are truly inspired by Pastor Blessings, Ma Towela, Clement and Mary and are so blessed to work alongside them. Please pray for our team and that God would continue to bless them and do amazing things through them!