“Don’t be afraid of the shadows. It only means there’s a light nearby.” – Amy Lee
Sitting in the Dallas airport, just in from Zambia, I am anxiously waiting to board my flight home to Durango. Even though I am aching to see my wife and kids, I can’t stop reflecting on what I saw, heard, and felt in Siyowi, one of the three village partnerships we launched in May.
This trip was our first Zambian Insight Trip. I accompanied eight donors and three staff on the trip of a lifetime, an experience not available to tourists. In addition to seeing the natural wonders of Africa like Victoria Falls and a walking safari, we were invited to live for a few days in one of Shanta’s new partner villages.
Arriving in Siyowi, 8.5 miles out from Mazabuka, our first impressions were color and joy. The women and men welcomed us with singing and dancing. The colorful skirts (called chitenge) worn by the women were flapping and twirling. Dust from shuffling feet filled the air as everyone danced, clapped, hugged, and sang. I can’t think of a time I felt so welcome, totally embraced by people I don’t even know.
After the welcome, we did introductions and took off to see the area around the village. Our first two stops were the clinic and the school. Talk about emotional whiplash. After the elation of our arrival, seeing the school and clinic were soul crushing Imagine…a clinic with no medicine or exam table and a school with no desks, electricity, or water. I definitely saw tears in the eyes of our group as we toured these facilities, but they weren’t tears of joy. The love and hope we felt on arrival were dashed on the rocks of reality. Our country manager from Myanmar, Dr. Khaing Zar Oo (Nge Nge) said the conditions in Siyowi were much worse than in Myanmar. A donor on the trip who had visited Zimbabwe before meeting us in Zambia said he saw nothing this desperate in Zimbabwe. Truly, Zambia is a deeply impoverished country with a rural population that is mired in an agricultural economy that offers little chance of escape.
Despite these dark realities, I found hope in our visit to the clinic and school. Where? Strangely enough, I found it in the tears of our donors. As Shanta’s executive director, I spend most of my time trying to find people who care. Even in this land of plenty, that can be difficult. Another block of my time is spent trying to convince people to care. So, when we left that school and I saw the pained expressions on our donor’s faces, I felt hope. It gives me hope knowing that there are people who care, people who will make personal sacrifices to bring hope to desperate people.
The conditions in Siyowi are undoubtedly dark, but that darkness only reminded me that the light was near. The light of the villagers’ welcome. The light of their hard work, perseverance, and industry. The light of people like you who will not turn a blind eye to suffering. Thank you for shining your light and joining it with the light of our villagers. Together, we will vanquish the darkness of extreme poverty, one village, one family, one child at a time.