Thursday, January 27, 2011


Africa may have its act together but the U.S. certainly doesn't. At least where the weather is concerned. We left Jo'burg right on time around 5:30 p.m. January 26 and flew 8 hours to Dakar, Senegal where we were to have an hour lay over. When we touched down the Captain came on and said the Dulles airport had been closed due to snow. We had the choice of trying to take another flight to JFK in a couple of hours or of overnighting (courtesy of South African Airways) in Senegal. After looking at the NY weather forecast we opted to stay the 24 hours in Senegal. So here we are looking out at the beautiful surf, watching the seagulls, enjoying a lovely hotel...and wishing we were home. In the spirit of the adventure, however, we will search our suitcases for the least traveled-looking clothes and sally forth to see Dakar while we wait for airports to reopen on the East Coast.

Our final day in Lusaka was terrific! We visited a well-known widow's project called Chikumbuso in the outskirts of town. Quite an operation! It started with one widow and 7 children and now reaches out to dozens of widows, has a school, a safe house for children, tailoring classes, plastic bag making project and much more. We took lots of notes for possible incorporation of good ideas into our projects. Best of all we met Linda Wilkinson, the founder, who invited us to her home for dinner that night. What an incredible lady! Her husband, Bruce, is the World Vision director for 9 African countries. He was traveling so we didn't get to see him but we had met him on a previous trip when he said, "You need to meet my wife, Linda." Now we know why.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Up, Up, and Away

It was with a bit of sadness that we waved goodbye to Taylor, Jen, Margaret, Rhonda, Matt, Garrett and Cherry. We've been a big happy family through many adventures and hated to see them go. They are now somewhere in the friendly skies making their way back to the U.S. An absolutely terrific team in every way...we're missing them already.

We splurged and went to Nalu's pizza parlor last night for our 'last supper'. The wood-oven pizza tasted great at the time but several of us felt a bit queasy this morning. I guess that just provides an added authentic touch for a real African experience. Earlier in the week when Matt was battling an unknown allergy, itching all over, and peeking at us through swollen eyes, he said, "I feel sorry for the rest of you because you didn't get the whole African experience." More were able to attest to the 'whole' experience this morning with the traveler's diarrhea. An added bonus during the night was an electrical outage about 10:00 that lasted the rest of the night. For some reason the group thought this would be a good time to tell ghost stories which evolved into skittishness and yelps at the regular night noises. Great memories and stories to share.

First thing this morning we received a text message from Dorice, the cousin of the little blind boy we love, Mupaso. They saw a doctor last April and were told he needed to obtain an MRI. It doesn't look optimistic that his blindness can be reversed but we gave them money to visit an eye specialist to get a recommendation. Apparently the specialist was not available so we're still at square one. They tell us he had full sight until 2 years ago when he went blind. The doctor that saw him suspected a pituitary tumor that was pressing on the optic nerves. It would be wonderful if something could be done.

Jac and I will be meeting with the Chipulukusu School board tomorrow morning for final planning of the new IGA bicycle project as well as to discuss needs for the new school year. We have some ideas for reorganization of the oversight structure that we hope will lead to more efficiency and better communication. We're eager to get them launched. Gershom Chifumbe has been our right-hand man for our whole stay. I don't know what we'd do without him. We're also planning to visit Room to Read, have dinner with Dr. Dhally Menda from Chaz, and catch up with Dana Sandstrom over lunch. Always lots to do! We're heading back to the US on Wednesday...hopefully the snow won't disrupt flights.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arrival of the Boss!

Excitement and anticipation abounded yesterday as little Boss Mirriam arrived with Mama Ethel. We were all so excited to see the Boss again! She was excited to see her workers too. As they prepared to travel the 2 hours by bus to Chingola she told her mother, "I'm going to America to see Sherri." This is only the second time she's been so far from her little town of Luanshya so I'm sure it felt like she was visiting a foreign country. We are all pleased to see her looking healthy and strong. She is now 4 years old and goes to the clinic once a month with her mother to receive her HIV medicine for the month. Her new favorite food is nshima (corn meal) with cassava greens. Her mother said finding enough food for the family is still her biggest challenge. Evans, our Steering Committee chair, has a very kind heart and has helped the little family survive over the years. He is currently paying about $50 rent for them each month. Without that help, Mama Ethel says they would be on the street. We left some funds to help Evans with his mission of compassion. Mirriam was all smiles with an ice cream cone in her hand as they boarded the bus to travel home at the end of the day. She loved the soft little yellow bunny that Kali sent her and held tight to it all day. What a treat to again see and be inspired by "the Boss".

Today we held the final classes and organizational meetings for the Bicycle Income Generating and Bead Making groups. They elected officers, selected meeting times, developed rules for their businesses and are now ready to launch their new businesses. The two bright yellow Zambikes made a huge hit with the whole community! Garrett took one of the bicycles for a spin down the path with the cart filled with smiling children. Our closing activity focused on confirming our commitment to help the children. Together the group listed the needs of the children and identified the new programs in place that will begin to meet those needs. At the top of the list was education followed by love, food, clothes, shelter, life skills, good character, and health. We were all very encouraged to realize beginning programs were now in place to address most of these needs. The celebration ceremony with certificates was lively and uplifting as always. It was with mixed feelings that we loaded the pickup truck we're driving and waved goodbye to our new friends. Now we will eagerly await news of their progress.

We have many stories to tell! Continue to watch the Blog for updates as we introduce you to new friends and share their stories. As soon as we return home we will also be adding pictures to the Blog. Unfortunately, the limited capabilities of the Internet cafes did not allow us to upload pictures. The SIFE team and Cherry leave tomorrow. Jac and I are traveling with them to the airport and then on to Lusaka for meetings. We are scheduled to arrive home January 27. Let's hope the storms moving through the U.S. do not change travel plans.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lost our hearts again!

It only took minutes at the Kasompe Community School of Peace to lose our hearts all over again! The kids are wonderful! They had a welcoming ceremony to greet us this morning. After singing a welcome song, 11 children came marching down the middle aisle of the church each bearing a gift for one of us. The little presents were wrapped in bright paper and very securely taped shut. When we finally got them unwrapped we discovered delightful little soap stone maps of Zambia with all of the towns marked where we have visited. Jac and I received beautifully carved wooden bowls. Even though the children delivered the presents, we know our good friend and always perfect hostess, Margaret, was the one who arranged the event.

The new IGA classes started this morning in one room with about 30 participants and the bead making classes convened in another room with 16 participants. They had a number of bead bracelets and necklaces to show us that they had already made. They have a few pieces on consignment in a small stall in downtown Chingola but so far business has been slow. We are going to talk to the lady that runs the souvenir shop at the Ndola airport and see if she would buy a few for her shop. We will also be bringing some items back to the US to sell at future HealthEd Connect events. The group is actually making very attractive items. Cherry is working with them now to refine the products for consistent quality. An extensive discussion about a name for the beadmaking group ensued this morning. They tell us they are nearing a decision.

The school had 146 children present today. The teachers indicated the enrollment will increase significantly by the end of January. Many of the children are working with their parents planting crops and won't be able to go to school until planting season is over. We had a warm welcome from Mpaso, the little blind boy that we have all become attached to. The team begins to dwindle tomorrow with 2 members heading back to the US. The SIFE students and Cherry leave on Friday. Jac and I will be staying another week to make government contacts, have meetings with the local leaders, and help develop strategies for the future. Onward!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Celebration in Chipulukusu

The week ended on a super high note in Chipulukusu yesterday! The women sang, danced, and clapped as they received their certificates. They were especially happy to receive the children's books, construction paper, colored pencils and other supplies to be used as they work with the grieving children. We now have 3 groups organized in different geographical areas. The goals they will pursue with the children is to help them 1) understand their loved one is gone and will not return, 2) recognize there will be changes in their lives that necessitate adaptation, and 3) find ways to remember their loved ones and 'relocate' them in their lives.

The other high point of the day was the arrival of the two bright yellow ZamBikes with one sturdy cart that can carry 250 KG. The whole village turned out when the truck drove up and unloaded its cargo. One of the two men that brought the bikes also held a short training session demonstrating the changing of tires and other maintenance items. The bikes are now safely locked up until a plan is developed next week by the 6-member committee (3 Kafwa and 3 School Board members). Jac and Sherri will be returning to Chipulukusu at the end of next week to touch base with the committee and assist with the final planning.

This morning we left the HillSide Lodge, loaded into an 18 passenger mini van we had chartered and headed to Chingola. We are now settled into the guesthouse where we have stayed in the past and have a 3-member staff to take care of us! We walked to town and are hanging out in the internet cafe while it is storming outside before heading back to the guesthouse. The SIFE students are absolutely amazing in their willingness to adapt, be team players, and just in general pitch in and make this a successful venture. Parents, you can be very proud!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Home Visits

At the end of our training sessions today we broke into two teams and accompanied the Kafwa (health workers) on home visits. The word sobering is a vast understatement. One of the homes we visited was that of a young husband and wife, Ernest and Enada, who have been attending the training. He has AIDS and she is 8 months pregnant. They have two older children, though they are only 22 years old. Both of them are delightful people. We became acquainted with them at the training but had no idea they were dealing with such a challenging future. Grace, our Kafwa, is working with them to keep Ernest in ARV treatment for AIDS and to be sure Enada receives testing and treatment before she is due, to prevent passing the HIV to the new baby.

We also went to see Catherine whom we first visited last June to find her totally out of food. This time, on top of her continuing fight with AIDS, she was in bed with malaria. Again she had no food. Since she was too ill to cook we bought bread and tea and sent it in for her. She continues to be gracious and welcoming when we visit in spite of the tremendous odds she faces.

I went on a solo visit this morning to the home of 9-year-old Peter Mulenga, a second grade student at our school. He lives with his blind grandmother along with two siblings. His mother and father died at the same time when he was a toddler. Relatives brought the 3 orphans to the grandmother to raise. The home is very humble with a rough dirt floor and very little furniture. Again, however, I received the same warm, gracious welcome. Peter's hope is to keep in school and get an education. Right now he's a good student and learning well in spite of frequent absences due to illness. We're planning to feature Peter in a video and introduce him to you with pictures.

Tomorrow is our last day of training so we'll have graduation with certificates and all. Hopefully the new bicycles will arrive for the participants in the Income Generating Activity class to see in real time. Exciting times ahead!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rainy Season challenges

You should have seen us walking to the school yesterday! What a sight with 12 multi colored umbrellas bobbing back and forth as we jumped mud puddles, back tracked, looked for other possibilities less muddy, etc. etc. It poured down during the night for the last two nights. Mornings have been less intense but the mud roads still have the multiple challenges. It is about 1.5 miles to the church and we usually pass no more than one vehicle along the way. Everyone is on foot. We presented the pictures made by the children in Des Moines as well as the notebooks made by the children in California. The Zambian kids thought it was great! We explained that all of the pictures the children sent were focused around a 'good character' trait such as Responsibility, Compassion, or Courage. We hope they will begin a similar program with the children here.

Today we began making the rounds of the government offices trying to get official guidelines of everything from contracts to school organization guidelines. We successfully connected with officials on the Province level but still need to meet with those on the District level. This was extremely helpful!

The SIFE students have been marvelous! Totally on board and congenial. Those of you back home be assured you are not forgotten. A phone call or email is a BIG event! They talk about home a lot. I strongly suspect they will have a new appreciation for ever so many things previously taken for granted. The new bicycles for the Income Generating Activity should arrive tomorrow which will be a major event. The Child Support Specialist classes are beyond expectations. The participants are freely opening up about their own bottled up feelings and beginning to see how knowledge about themselves can be used to better understand and help the orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Real Deal!

We started our first day of training and things absolutely couldn't have gone better! Unless maybe things had started on time but then this is Africa! We had 37 people attend the Child Support Specialist class to learn how to work with orphans who are sad and grieving. They were so engaged in the activities. But then we all were — Kelsey had them using clay balls and then molding pieces together to symbolize how we can take hurts and eventually absorb them and still remain whole. Michelle used a bottle illustration to show what happens when you bottle up emotions and blow your cork. One of the long-time health workers who attends is blind. He didn't want to miss out on anything and allowed me to help him draw his bottle.

The walk to Chipulukusu from our guest house is about 25 minutes, invigorating, and so colorful — kids playing jacks with no ball, just rocks; hopscotching on blocks drawn in the dirt, little boys caring for baby brothers, small stands selling a pyramid of tomatoes.... Best of all, everyone in our crew is staying healthy and in great spirits. This is what we've been waiting for. Now after months of planning we're finally rolling out the training. A very good feeling!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Team Split Up!

No worries about the team split up!!  It just means we're on schedule with 5 members now flying to Lusaka this afternoon and the 6 remaining enjoying the last few minutes of glorious time in Livingstone.  We visited Victoria Falls this morning and the weather was perfect!  The Falls were running full, the mist was in the air, the rainbows were everywhere and the shopping was terrrific.  This is the one and only day of vacation so tomorrow we begin the program and start making friends with new friends at the schools.  We have a 6 hour bus trip for the 6 of us tomorrow so we will arrive in Lusaka and be met at the bus by Jac.  Good things ahead!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


We left Johannesburg in the mist with sweatshirts on this morning but we landed in Zambia 2 hours closer to the equator to be greeted with a bright sunshiny warm day.  Everyone took out for the little kiosk shopping district and bargained for great treasures.  After dinner at the delightful Jollyboys Back Packers where we're staying, everyone crashed for the night.  It's up early in the morning for a trip to one of the wonders of the world -- Victoria Falls.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On African soil!

Smiles and warm greetings from Jo'Burg South Africa!  Everyone gathered at Dulles airport (Wash, DC) as planned and boarded right on time.  We made an hour stop in Dakar Senegal but didn't get off the plane.  Two movies, two meals, and several naps later we arrived in South Africa.  A before-the-16-hour flight and after pictures are attached.  See if you can tell which is which!  We are now safely tucked into a delightful B&B called the African Tribe.  They served us a yummy dinner and everyone is now off to bed so we can get up early to make an 8:00 a.m departure for the airport and on to Livingstone.  Everything is going flawlessly!  We'll keep in touch whenever we have connections.

Monday, January 3, 2011

We're off!

The 6 SIFE students, Matthew Waite, Taylor Johnson, Margaret Clark, Jen Abraham, Garrett Shank, Rhonda Bradford, stayed at our house last night for final packing and planning.  The were awesome on packing light.  We met Cherry Newcom, Michelle Mahlik, and Kelsey Welch at Dulles airport and we're now sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off for Jo'Burg via Dakar Senegal.  Excitement is running high!  Thanks to all of you for supporting HealthEd Connect and making these programs possible.  We'll blog as often as we can get email connection.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Keep pedaling!

A cool activity we'll be introducing in Zambia is an Income Generating Activity using bicycles to generate power to charge cell phones.  After a week of classes taught by the Graceland SIFE students, the participants in the two communities around the schools will form a little entrepreneurial business to help keep the schools sustainable and provide a small income for some of the enterprising participants.  Thanks to Dan and Michelle Mahlik for this great idea and for helping to provide the resources to make it work.  You may think that charging cell phones is not intuitive as a good business in a poor neighborhood.  Actually, cell phones are everywhere.  In developing countries cell phones can be purchased very inexpensively.  There are no required service providers; instead you purchase 'talk time' a few pennies at a time.  If you're out of 'talk time' you can still receive calls from other phones -- you just can't call out.  BUT you have to keep the phone charged (no small feat when you have no electricity) which is where the bicycles come in.  A car-plug charger is used as the connector.  Jac obtained a variety of plugs-- shipped all the way from Hong Kong -- so we'd be able to match different phones.  So we'll have lots of people pedaling!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Five, four, three, two...

Sounds like a New Year's Eve countdown!  But at the Kirkpatrick household we're counting days before 'liftoff' to Zambia.  The Sife students arrive tomorrow, final preparations are made, packing is completed, and we fly on Monday.  We're so excited!  In our trunk will be detailed course outlines (in Bemba no less) for the Child Support Specialist classes.  We will leave resources for the volunteers to organize support groups for the children.  Many of the ideas we've found for grieving children call for the collecting of memorabilia of their loved one.  That most likely won't work in Africa since children have so few possessions and likely will not have pictures or tangible memories of their parents. One cool idea that Michelle, Kelsey, and Cherry came up with is to have the orphans make paper bead bracelets or necklaces in memory of the parent(s) they lost.  After they cut the paper strip but before they wind it into a bead they will write or draw something in memory of their parent.  They can then wear their memories close to their hearts.  This is such a great idea!  Watch for our next blog about the other super cool activity we'll be introducing!