By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene Simmons is a rock star, a reality-TV celebrity and a businessman. He recently entered into a most unusual business contract.
It all began with a two-hour car ride in Zambia, with the final stretch along a bumpy dirt road, delivering Gene and his wife, Shannon, at the home of Esther, a young woman who recently lost her mother. She is being raised by her grandmother in a small house with a dirt floor and a thin metal roof. A few chickens scratch in the dirt yard.
She is excited to meet her ChildFund sponsor and has called her family together to join in greeting Gene and Shannon. Esther shows the couple where she sleeps with her sister and grandmother. She shares how she walks 6 kilometers to sell vegetables. There are days, though, when she and her family have no food. And while she loves school, she has to walk long distances to attend. But she doesn’t complain. She has a dream – she wants to be a nurse.
“So, why do you want to be a nurse?” Gene asks. Esther doesn’t hesitate: “If there were more nurses, my mother would not have passed away,” she tells him. Her mother died only last month and her father died when she was five months old.
Gene pauses and looks at Shannon, who nods in unspoken agreement. “I am a businessman,” Gene begins.” I want to make you a deal. We will pay all of your expenses for school.”
Loud chanting and cheering break out among Esther’s family members.
Gene isn’t finished, though. “You have to do well in school,” he tells her. Esther nods vigorously in agreement.
Shannon adds, “You don’t owe us anything. You don’t have to pay us back. You owe us to be a good nurse.”
As Gene leaves the village, he reflects on the time spent with Esther. “We just met an amazing 16-year-old girl with lots of charisma, who can change the cycle, but the odds are stacked against her,” he says.
“We can help,” he notes. “And ChildFund points us in the right direction. Hopefully, she’ll become a great nurse.”
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Gene and Shannon Simmons recently traveled to Zambia to visit several of the children Gene sponsors through ChildFund. The trip became the basis for the June 25 episode of their reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
Today is all about learning. Gene and Shannon visit Zambia’s Muchuto Basic School, loaded down with notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons. The children eagerly look through everything, giggling and smiling. Suddenly they give a robust shout, “Thank you!” The children also belt out a healthy rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap your Hands.
While at the school, Gene and Shannon meet six children they sponsor: Miyoba, Lydia, Cecilia, Isaac, Kaoma and Robam. While the couple learns about the school and explores the classrooms, the children are busily drawing pictures for their honored guests. Gene and Shannon have brought a gift for each child, and a much-needed one for Roban, whom Gene has sponsored for more than two years. Robam loves school, but he doesn’t always make it to class because he has to walk more than 3 kilometers each day, each way.
Meeting Gene and Shannon is a thrill for Robam, but, truthfully, he’s even more excited when they present him with a bicycle. He jumps on the bike and makes energetic circles around the school yard, as his classmates cheer. This bicycle is more than a vehicle for fun; it will help Robam get to school on time and complete his education.
As Gene and Sharon prepare to leave, the children come running out of their classroom and surround the couple, eager to present them with drawings they created using their new school supplies. It’s been a good morning at Muchuto Basic School.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
Fourteen-year-old Edward has waited patiently most of the morning. He’s sat on bench outside his one-room home with his hands clasped in his lap, gazing eagerly down the dusty road that leads to his home. His extended family members are gathered around him.
It’s an important day because Edward is going to meet his ChildFund sponsor. In his eyes, a sponsor is like a rock star – someone whose monthly contribution enables him to attend school and have the books he needs. Little does he know that his sponsor is actually a rock star.
And then the big moment unfolds. Gene Simmons of KISS and star of Gene Simmons Family Jewels arrives with his wife, Shannon, warmly greeting Edward and his family. Gene hears the traditional Nyanja greeting of “Bwanjia,” or “How are you?” Edward breaks out into a big grin.
A gracious host, Edward shows Gene and Shannon around his home, made of mud thatch, and notes that one of his chores is to wash the dishes. He shows them where his mother cooks the food. A pot is simmering on the small fire, and Gene inquires what is in it. “Sweet potatoes,” Edward answers softly.
Edward takes Gene and Shannon down the long dusty road to the community well where he pumps water for his family to use for drinking and cooking. He points further down the road in the direction he has to walk so he can attend school. As they return to the house, sponsor and child are at ease, with Gene’s arm comfortably resting on Edward’s shoulder as if they’ve been friends for life. And in a way they have. Gene has sponsored Edward since 2006.
As the cameras roll and capture the reunion, a teary-eyed Gene has a difficult time talking. “Just be courageous,” Shannon whispers.
Edward tells Gene that he wants to be a teacher. A delighted Gene observes: “He will continue to give and raise up people.”
At the end of the visit, Edward hands his gifts to the couple. “I don’t want gifts,” Gene protests. “I want to give.” But he accepts the gifts graciously – a flag depicting Zambia’s win of the Africa Cup, a Zambia cap and a skirt for Shannon. After consulting with the interpreter, Gene turns to say thank you to Edward in his native language: “Zikomo.”
Gene and Shannon also have brought gifts, including a soccer ball, which Edward and Gene immediately put to use.
Before departing, Gene takes a moment to talk with Edward’s mother, who is raising him on her own because her husband left when Edward was 6 or 7. “Mothers are the most important people in the world,” Gene tells her, adding that she is raising “an amazing young man.”
As Gene leaves, Edward’s grin doesn’t fade. “I am very happy, very happy.”
And what child wouldn’t be if they could meet their sponsor?
By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications
OMG! I’m in an African village with Gene Simmons of KISS. Yes, that KISS.
He’s an imposing man. Six-feet, two-inches, and all action. He’s here in Zambia to take action – to meet the children he has sponsored through ChildFund for years and to determine what else he can do to help.
The experience will be captured for an episode of his reality TV show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. His wife, Shannon, helped organize the trip.
I’ve been to ChildFund programs before. I’ve seen the dirt roads. The thatched houses with no running water or electricity. The classrooms with nubby pencils and recycled newspaper as activity books. I know what we’re about to see. Gene and Shannon don’t.
“We came here with a TV show. Let’s go to Africa and visit the children. It’s a nice sound bite,” Gene says. “But what happened along the way is that real life got in the way. We’re going to do something about this.”
Shannon adds, “Poverty and starvation… once you see it in person, you can’t walk away.”
And they don’t. They go for total immersion. And they’ve brought gifts for the children: school supplies, soccer balls, backpacks and clothing. There’s even a bicycle for one of Gene’s sponsored children, so he doesn’t have to walk the long distance to school. Shannon gives one young woman the shoes off her feet.
As we talk about what they saw and experienced, Gene often has to pause because he’s choked up. I’ve seen KISS perform – who would ever expect Gene to be quiet? But it was a lot to take in. “Here is a wake-up call,” Gene says, after meeting Edward, one of his sponsored children. “We must do something.”
Gene and Shannon are absolutely great with the children. They spend tons of time with them. At the schools we visit, they often sing with the children and in one school, Gene plays guitar.
What’s really amazing about the visit is that Gene and Shannon don’t act like rock stars. They’re truly humbled by the experience. “It really makes you appreciate the little things,” Shannon says. “I will waste less, spend less and appreciate more.”
The trip to Africa, Gene adds, is a “stark reminder that life doesn’t treat everyone the same.”
ChildFund supporters like Gene and Shannon help change those circumstances. Although the children didn’t recognize Gene as a celebrity – even when he handed out KISS swag – he’s a rock star in their eyes because he is their ChildFund sponsor.