In the afternoon of our first day with World Vision in Sinazongwe, Zambia, Emily Syabubila, a widow and mother of three, gives us a tour of her compound. It consists of a one-room house with two beds for her and her daughters; another one-room home for her son; three raised chicken coops; an outdoor cook hut; and a raised drying rack for her corn.
In my last post, I shared how microloans (similar to those described in my book “One Hen“) had enabled her to restore her family to economic and food security after malaria claimed the life of her husband. She now invites us to share in rituals of harvest and shuck dried maize with her. Hard. Then she throws the kernals in the air to winnow the chaff, catching the good grain expertly in a metal bowl. We don’t even dare. But we do take turns pounding the grain in her mortar, and manage to spill enough to attract her hens for the good eats. Where Emily sings as she pounds, we grunt!
Afterward, Emily walks us to a latrine that she has built behind her vegetable garden (which uses companion cropping like the characters in “The Good Garden“), to keep her compound sanitary. Then, she tells us that she has been compelled by the Bible’s teaching to care for widows and orphans.
Her response? On top of providing for her three children — and, now, three grandchildren (Mutinta, 4, Andasoni, 2, and Tricia, 1) — she has taken on the role of volunteer caregiver for orphans and vulnerable children in her village, visiting their guardians to encourage them to send their children to school, teaching children and youth about how HIV is transmitted, and educating them about safe practices. Indeed, Emily, and volunteers like her, serve on the frontlines of the campaign to create “healthy villages.”
World Vision provides each caregiver with a kit filled with washcloths, anti-fungal cream, oral re-hydrants, water purifiers, and more to take on home visits. These kits are donated by companies and churches in the United States and packed by church volunteers, who insert notes of encouragement.
Our church, Redeemer Community Church in Boston, participated in such a kit-build in April. We present Emily a new kit and refill bags, and as she pulls out her card of encouragement, I see it is my own handwriting. “Thank you for all you are doing to care for others. May God bless you.”
Little did I know its recipient would bless me.
Before we leave, Emily invites us to her church for some singing and testimonies from other women, who, like her, are thwarting the hard fist of poverty — not only surviving, but thriving and helping others to thrive as well. Emily’s faith shines, and on our way out of the village, she asks us to stop at a small building where she rents freezer space for her fish.
“What are your dreams now, Emily?” asks my husband, Michael. Without missing a beat, she tells us she has plans, not dreams: “I plan to build a bigger house, to buy my own freezer, start a poultry project, and buy another sewing machine, as mine has broken.” But she also has hopes: “I would like my daughters to go to nursing school and my son to become a teacher.”
We commit that hope to prayer as we say goodbye.
Read Katie’s first post, “Where kids’ books meet the real story: From malaria to microloans.”
Katie Smith Milway is the children’s book author of “One Hen,” “The Good Garden,” and coming soon, “The Healthy Village.” She also serves on the board of World Vision U.S., which recently visited World Vision communities in Zambia.