Thursday, 4 April 2013

A Story from the Community: Kelvin and Roderick

Kelvin and Roderick are brothers that live in Kamakonde, one of the communities that Hands at Work supports through the Kitwe Service Center. Kelvin is 16 years old and Roderick is 13 years old. They are double orphans, their parents having passed away several years ago when the boys were young, living only with their widowed grandmother, Phyllis, who is 78 years old. Phyllis had 10 children, all of whom have passed away, and one of whom was Kelvin and Roderick’s mother.

The family lives in a small brick house with tin sheets that barely pass as a roof. The boys sleep in one room, Phyllis in another. Their “beds” consist of wooden crates with fabric draped over top. There are no mattresses. During the day, the fabric must be removed from the crates because when the rains come, it leaks into the rooms of the house. There is no bathroom.

The outside of the family home
The hallway inside the front door
Kelvin and Roderick's bedroom
Grandma Phyllis' bedroom
What Grandma Phyllis sleeps on
The back room of the house

Inadequate roofing
In 2009, Kelvin and Roderick both stopped attending school because they did not have the financial means to pay for their school requirements (in Zambia, all children attending government schools must pay for school fees, school supplies, exam fees and uniforms).

In 2012, Kelvin and Roderick were identified by our community based organization (CBO) in Kamakonde as amongst the most vulnerable children in the community. They were brought into the CBO program (that currently cares for 100 children in the community), where they receive one meal every day at the CBO care point, and are visited in their home by care workers on a weekly basis. Despite these essential services being freely made available to them, Kelvin and Roderick seldom go to the care point to receive their meals or interact with the care workers and other children. Instead, they search the community for piecework in an effort to earn money and provide food for their grandmother. Phyllis’ health is in very poor condition. She has problems with her legs and is unable to walk long distances, much less work. She is almost completely blind. Without access to any other form of support, she is solely dependent on her two grandsons. As a result, Kelvin and Roderick have taken on the responsibility of being the “men” of the house and to care for their grandmother.

In April 2012, Hands at Work invited Phyllis, Kelvin and Roderick as special guests to Celebrations, an annual three-day conference that gathers and unites international and local volunteers across the 8 African countries and the 5 international offices that Hands operates in. At Celebrations, Kelvin and Roderick had the opportunity to share their story – a story that, unfortunately, is all too familiar for many of the children and families in our communities. Hearts were touched as members of the Hands family rallied around their family and gathered support for them. From the money that was donated, both Kelvin and Roderick were able to return to school. All of their school requirements, including school fees, uniforms and books were purchased for them. Owners of only a single t-shirt each, extra clothes were also purchased for the boys. The rest of the money was set aside to purchase food and other provisions for the family on an as-needed basis.

This year, Roderick is in grade 9 attending a government school in Chibulumba (the CBO-run school that provides basic free education for our children only goes up to grade 5). Kelvin, on the other hand, failed to pass his grade 9 exams in 2012, largely due to the fact that he continues to spend the majority of his time looking for piecework to support his family. As a result he, again, no longer attends school.

The extreme hardships that Kelvin and Roderick face on a daily basis make them especially vulnerable. Just before Christmas last year, Kelvin made 300 bricks for a man in Lusaka (Zambia’s largest city which is approximately 400 kms from Kitwe) who had recently purchased property in the Kamakonde community and intended to build a house on the land. The cost of the job was 500,000 Kwacha (CAD $100). As per their verbal agreement, Kelvin received a small amount up front as a deposit (10%), with the balance to be paid upon completion of the job. A short while later, the man abandoned his property in Kamakonde. Although Kelvin had already finished making all 300 bricks, the man elected not to pay him the remaining balance owing. Kelvin left all the bricks at the man’s property but many of them, since then, have been destroyed or ruined. In an attempt to collect his money, Kelvin travelled all the way to Lusaka, on the promise that the man would fulfill his payment obligations. Even when Kelvin arrived in Lusaka, the man continued to delay with the payment. Kelvin had no choice but to stay at the man’s house and wait. At the end of each day, the man would reassure Kelvin by telling him, “I’ll pay you tomorrow.” After 3 days in Lusaka, Kelvin could not wait any longer and returned to Kitwe to care for his grandmother.

On several occasions, Kelvin and Roderick have travelled by foot to the Service Centre (an 18 km journey, round trip) out of desperation, in search for help. The money raised at Celebrations has since run out. At times, the staff at the Service Centre have dug into their own pockets out of compassion for this family in an attempt to help in any way they can. However, with their extremely modest incentives and with their own families to take care of, this is not a sustainable solution. On one particular visit, when Kelvin was asked by our Service Centre team why he wasn't going to school, he bluntly replied that, if he didn't earn money to buy food for his family, his grandmother would die. It goes without saying that these are not the burdens that any 16-year old boy should bear.

Last week, we, as a Service Centre team, arranged a meeting with our CBO in Kamakonde. We sat down with three care workers from the CBO and emphasized the urgency of the situation and the need for the care workers to intervene. We reminded them of the importance of registers at the care point, to track which children were or were not coming, and of regular and meaningful home visits. We reiterated that Hands at Work is not just in the business of being a service provider but that the vision is to transform children’s lives through Christ-like love. The message rang loud and clear. We then requested that the CBO set aside a portion of food for Phyllis from the care point so that she could, at the very least, have something to eat every day. While this is not an ideal solution, and not something we would typically propose, the circumstances warranted it. This would also enable Kelvin and Roderick to stay in school, rather than spend their days looking for piecework.

We then went to the family’s home and visited with Phyllis and Kelvin (Roderick was at school). We sat together on a mat outside their home and listened as Phyllis and Kelvin explained their story and answered questions from Towela and the care workers. We shared with them our concern for their situation and the importance of Kelvin returning to school. We explained to Phyllis that the Service Centre, the CBO and the care workers were there to support her and to care for her grandsons. We helped her understand that she was not alone.

The Home Visit
The meeting with the care workers and our visit to the family’s home helped attend to some very urgent matters. Phyllis could find comfort in the security of knowing she would receive at least one meal per day. In addition, our time spent with Kelvin, together with the new arrangement to have a portion of food set aside for his grandmother, helped encourage him to commit to going back to school in the new term (starting in May). The care workers, in turn, pledged to continue to support the family and follow up with them on a regular basis. While all of this was encouraging, by no means do we consider the problem solved or pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. We understand that Phyllis, Kelvin and Roderick will likely continue to experience more than their fair share of struggles, that they will be forced to continue to endure through difficult circumstances and that our meeting/visit is only the start of our journey with them. But the important thing is that we came, we saw and that we are committed to walking with them. We know their story and they know our hearts. If they had any doubts before, hopefully they can realize that they are valued and that they will be cared for.

Please pray for Phyllis, for Kelvin and for Roderick – that they would somehow find provision and peace, despite their incredibly difficult circumstances, and that they would come to know and understand God’s love and grace for them.

Kelvin and Grandma Phyllis

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