Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fears, Change, & Relief in Zambia

I was looking down at my boots covered in mud when I heard a child in the thick of the bush shout “Madam Katherine!" Our eyes locked, and we both grinned running towards each other. Moringa Girl’s face sparkled as her one braid flopped back and forth until she jumped up into my arms for a long-awaited hug. Four years ago my eyes were opened to the insurmountable problem of malnutrition in my village, as this very girl was knocking on death's door. Things have changed…. drastically.
This was the very day in August 2011, this
malnourished girl became 'Moringa Girl'. Her
transformation initiated widespread change for
hundreds of other children. Diet education and
moringa powder was given to her mother. Soon
 the entire village took notice in unnecessary
One of the moringa trees grown in the village
 to feed the children. The leaves are super
 foods! You can find powder in Atlanta if you
are interested in adding it to your food.
I swear by it! 
Moringa Girl and I hugged for a good minute! Memories of transformation flooded over me. 

I moved back to Georgia from Zambia in January 2014. Since being home it has been particularly difficult to think of my time in Zambia for several reasons. Fears tend to creep into my head as they always had. Were my Zambian friends better or worse off since my departure? Did my work prove to be sustainable? Was the community center built in Luamala falling down? These fears of being let down paralyzed my thoughts of Zambia over the past year, and I knew I had to go back to face whatever reality had become. 

For three weeks last month, I had the opportunity to go back to check on projects and visit friends who feel like family. It was long enough to hug a trillion necks, dance in happiness, and see that my fears were once again- just fears, not true.

Luamala Community Center still stands strong! Grade five and
 six are being taught out of it as well as community activities. 
The best moment on the entire trip was on the way to Luamala, the village where I built a hut and lived over two years. At the roadside town three miles away, I found the Luamala primary school headmaster, Mr Muguagua. Fearing that the community center had crumbled with grass growing high around it, I asked him what it looked like. With a warm grin he affirmed, “Oh, the name of Katherine Mulonga is kept alive in that building. The building is in perfect shape, the grass is slashed, the grounds are kept nicely, and most importantly it is being used for grades five and six. Now, because we have enough classrooms, the children get full days in school instead of half-days.” Feeling a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I was ready for the trek to the village.

I couldn't stop hugging my 'Benny Baby' as he giggled
and talked! It appeared he felt the same way!
When I arrived in Luamala, sure enough the community center stood pristine as it always had. My heart started skipping beats as I saw it and then, the children… My children! Benny Baby had grown and thankfully started talking and smiling. This child was ‘my baby.' He would come to my house every day and I would carry him around, feed him, and teach him, in hopes he would speak soon.

My hut was given to the rural health clinic, and now you will find the family of one of the employees. All of my children have grown several inches. If you have been following this story over the years, can you spot ones you know?
My fears were buried in one of the last downpours of the season.  The rain pounded on the tin roof in a small mud hut as I watched Angela, one of my best friends in the village, and Moringa Girl’s mother sew on the sewing machine - a reality that came about as the result of your generous contributions. My mind wandered as I watched the monsoon outside the door. The children were healthier and more educated now, due to nutrition programs and the community center. My goal for the community that we set together at that first meeting had been reached.  I welcomed the rain as it washed all my fears away, leaving me free to enjoy the ‘sweet after the sweat’ as they say in Zambia.

The other group I worked with was in Solwezi, a couple hours from my village called Kwasha Mukwenu meaning 'help your friends'. They are a group of disabled Zambians who teach each other in sewing, computer skills, and carpentry. Initials’ Inc., a business based in Georgia, raised money to build a workshop and training center for the people of Kwasha Mukwenu. The current room they rent is small for the amount of students they have and too small for their wheelchairs and assistive devices. The new building is almost complete! Kwasha Mukwenu is now raising money to furnish the center with tables, chairs, and other necessities. Gift, the founder of Kwasha Mukwenu, is already training three students who plan to be teachers at the center.

Gift teaching students in the new building Initials' Inc. raised money for! Slowly, but surely good things are coming!
These women are some of the strongest people I know. I have been honored to have the chance to get to know them over the past couple years. We had several meetings on empowerment while I visited last month. They gave me this outfit stating, "Now you are a real woman." 

Dan has passionately worked with this group mentoring
on business skills, finding jobs for the disabled members,
and putting in place much needed infrastructure. 
Another answer to prayer is Dan, who is a third year extension Peace Corps Volunteer. He already spent two years in the village and wanted to stay a third year to work with this group. His passion, drive, and efforts have helped educate group members on much needed business-knowledge, and eventually obtain jobs. He has been working one-on-one with Gift to get the training center on its way. It still has a long way to go, but Dan can only stay until September. Please see below how you can make a difference with this group.

Once again, I want to thank all of you for going on this journey with me. I am blown away by your generosity over the past 4 years! I have done nothing alone, but with your help mountains have been moved!

 What you can do:

    1. Buy a Kwasha Mukwenu item; a purse, an apron, or a bag! Check out my Facebook album here:

     2. Molly, a Peace Corps Volunteer, wants to take over Dan’s position with Kwasha Mukewnu next fall for a year when Dan is finished. Molly is a passionate, activist who believes in the power of the disabled in Zambia. She has had a successful two years teaching income generating projects to her villagers. Peace Corps have offered her this position on one condition- that I find money to pay for her housing. It is $200 per month. I have pledged $50/month, but not sure where the rest will come from. If you are interested in having a huge impact within this group by assisting Molly to live please email me at  I would like to go ahead and pay for the entire year up front since the exchange rate is so good right now. Please let me know if you can help out even just a little bit!


Molly Russell is passionate about working with disabled people and brilliantly gifted with many life skills. To replace Dan next fall, we need to raise money for her housing while working with Kwasha Mukewnu. Who will join in with me to make sure Kwasha Mukewnu has at least one more year guiding them as they grow into the new building? After my pledge we need just $150 more. 

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