Excitement at Muchuto Basic School

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.

Two girls with art

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.

youth with new bicycle

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.

youth with new bike

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.

children present cards to guests

Students have special thank-you notes for Gene and Shannon.

Rock Star Brightens Sponsored Child’s Day

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

boy sitting

Edward awaits his sponsor’s visits.

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.

Edward and guests

Edward gives Gene and Shannon a tour of his village.

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.”

Gene and Shannon visit Edward

Gene shows Edward the sign for “I love you.”

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?

Hanging Out with Gene Simmons of KISS

By Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications

ChildFund Director of Communications and Gene Simmons

With Gene on location  in Zambia.

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.logo

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 Simmons with guitar and children

Music is a universal connector.

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.

Young Zambian Farmer Toils for a Dream

Reporting by ChildFund Zambia

As any small-scale farmer will tell you, it takes a lot of hard work and a fair measure of good luck to raise sufficient food to feed a family.

And if you start out with little experience, inferior soil and inadequate equipment like David did, the odds are stacked even higher against you.

young man standing outside

David is committed to sustainable farming.

“Life was really difficult for me,” David, 22, recalls. “I depended on peasant farming for a living, but due to lack of proper farming implements, my yields were usually very poor.”

David and his family usually ran out of food and had to depend on doing odd jobs within the Chitemalesa community to make ends meet.

His story took a turn for the better two years ago when a friend introduced him to the Chongwe Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) being implemented by ChildFund Zambia.

“After joining this program, my life has changed,” David says. “I have been equipped with knowledge about farming that I could never have had a chance to acquire on my own.”

As the program got under way, David was instrumental in clearing the field for the community banana plantation, planting and watering the new plants. Along the way, he learned a lot about agricultural management techniques and how he could improve his own small farm.

young farmer with goats

With support from ChildFund, David has gained agricultural training.

In addition, David became a beneficiary of ChildFund’s goat pass-along program. Several families receive a pair of goats, and as new kids are born, they pass on a young goat to another family. David received four goats, which have multiplied to 14.

After receiving the goats, David also received training in animal husbandry. ChildFund then connected David with the local Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre, where he learned how to convert goat manure into a natural fertilizer.

“The knowledge in organic farming has considerably reduced my farming expenses because I don’t entirely depend on inorganic fertilizers that are very expensive and contribute to soil degradation. I now make my own fertilizer using a simple methodology known as – tea manure,” David says.

He explains that the process involves filling a 50 kg polythene bag with goat manure, securing the bag with a strong rope and immersing it in a large drum of water for two weeks. Every day, David shakes the bag to ensure thorough mixing. After two weeks, David removes the bag from the drum, which now contains a strong natural fertilizer. The tea is diluted with water on a 1:1 ratio to reduce the concentration level. David then applies one cup of tea to each plant.

“Using this tea manure, I managed to produce 50 bags of maize this growing season,” David says. “I’m planning to sell the maize to the co-operative here in Chongwe.” Pleased by this year’s success, David is eager to pass along his newfound knowledge to his neighbors. “I have started training other members of the community in making the manure so that household food security can increase in Chitemalesa,” he says with a smile

Now, David has his eyes set on starting his own banana plantation. No one doubts he will succeed.

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Save a Child’s Life

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

It’s World Malaria Day. But instead of launching into a litany of statistics, I’ll just share one hard fact: a child is dying this very minute—every minute—from this disease. And that just shouldn’t be.

Malaria is preventable. Malaria is treatable.

“In the past 10 years, increased investment in malaria prevention and control has saved more than a million lives,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. “This is a tremendous achievement. But we are still far from achieving universal access to life-saving malaria interventions.”

So you may be asking, “What can I do as just one person?”

Buy an insecticide-treated mosquito net from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope for a child who doesn’t have one. And then ask your friends on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to buy one, too. You may inspire a movement. At the very least, you’ll raise awareness.

A mosquito net costs $11. And you could be helping a child like 5-year-old Francis from Uganda.

boy with mosquito net

“In 2010, I received a mosquito net from ChildFund. Since then I have never fallen sick.”

Or, taking a worry off the shoulders of a mother like Margaret, who lives in Zambia.

mother and child

“It was very disheartening for me to watch my two-year-old daughter cry because of headaches and fevers. Sometimes she would completely lose her appetite.”

Just for today, World Malaria Day, I invite you to take a swing at the statistics. Use your social media clout to knock back malaria one child at a time.

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Giving Hope to Zambian Children with Disabilities

by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.

“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.

Youth with family members

Matildah (second from right) and her family members.

Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.

A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.

“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.

youth with gold medal

Bringing home gold.

Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.

“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.

Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.

Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.

“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Zambia and how you can sponsor a child.

Meeting Our Sponsored Child

Guest post by Russell and Daiza Smith, Reston, Va.

We had the privilege of helping support Regina in Zambia through ChildFund in the 1990s. This past winter, my wife and I were planning a business trip to Lusaka, Zambia, and we wondered if it might be possible to find Regina, now that 12 years had passed. We knew she had originally lived in a small town, but we thought she had moved to Lusaka when she left the ChildFund program at age 18.

We contacted the ChildFund office in Lusaka. The personnel there advised us that it would be difficult to find Regina. They would try to locate her, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

It had been such a rewarding experience to help support Regina between 1991 and 1999. The first we saw of her was a black and white photo; she was age 11 and wearing a little torn dress. She had this look on her face like she might have an attitude (or didn’t want to have her picture made). We would exchange letters and pictures from time to time, and gradually her look softened.

One year, we wanted to do something special; so we sent some extra money, which was enough to get a bicycle for her and some goats for her family. We came to love Regina almost like a member of our family. When she got to the end of the ChildFund program, we provided funds for her to enter a one-year program to learn a profession. We understood she had entered school in Lusaka in 1999, and there the news ended.

Photo of Smiths and former sponsored child

(l to r): Daiza Smith; Violet Mwansa (ChildFund Zambia), Regina and son; Russell Smith.

We were happy to hear from ChildFund in January that they had located Regina. In February we traveled to Lusaka to give a seminar. ChildFund scheduled a meeting and sent a van to pick us up at the hotel. We didn’t know what to expect. Would Regina be living in some desperate and unsafe circumstances? Would she be held down by a low standard of living or health problems? Would she even remember us?

Photo of Regina with family and former sponsor

Russell Smith with Regina, her husband and children.

We were escorted by Violet Mwansa of ChildFund and her driver on a trip to the neighborhood compound where Regina was living on the outskirts of Lusaka. She had walked a quarter mile down the road to meet us and took us to her home and into her living room. It was pretty unbelievable to meet Regina, and it was gratifying to see she had made a successful and happy life for herself. The neighborhood was a safe place with children playing outside. Her small house was a well-constructed residence with comfortable furniture. She had three of the most beautiful children we have seen, ages about one to 14. Her husband, a driver for a church group called “The Brothers,” was obviously a solid person, a good father and a good provider.

Photo of Regina and family

Catching up with Regina and her family.

Photo of Regina's home

Regina's home near Lusaka.

We were just overwhelmed with happiness when we saw how well Regina had done in her family, her husband and her life. In the brief 45 minutes we were together, there were a lot of hugs and some tears.

Regina said she thought we had just forgotten her after she left the ChildFund program. We would never forget her. And we were relieved to see what a happy person she is and what a good life she has made for herself.

What Makes a Community Vulnerable?

by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Grants Compliance Coordinator

I spent last week in Lusaka, providing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training to 12 staff from ChildFund Zambia and our partner organizations.

ChildFund Zambia and partner staff receive DRR training

Staff explore training ideas.

The DRR process helps communities identify internal and external hazards with potential impact on children and families who live there. We drill down further to identify what makes those communities vulnerable to the hazards. Our trained staff then guide community members — adults and children — through the process of developing their capacity to overcome those vulnerabilities.

At the Lusaka training session, our staff and partners were especially eager to learn how child-led disaster risk reduction could be applied at the community level.

The training had perhaps seemed a bit abstract until the ChildFund group watched a film that featured children in Nepal talking about what was important to them and how they felt climate change had led to more natural disasters that were impacting their futures.

DRR staff training

A community member remembers a disaster from her own childhood.

One Lusaka participant said she had not realized the full extent of hardships that floods and landslides cause people in other countries. Community-level disasters that were spoken of in Nepal also occur in Zambia, and children in both countries have been forced to cope with these calamities and their aftermaths. Nepalese children have played a vital role in introducing community-level response plans. For example, children in one Nepalese community needed to cross a river to go to school. During disaster risk response training, the children identified the crossing as a hazard and worked with adults to have a bridge built.

Learning to communicate with children

The team brainstorms ideas for communicating effectively with children.

Inspired by the children’s active roles in Nepal, the Lusaka group began mapping out plans to guide Zambian communities in taking initiative and developing community disaster response plans. They zeroed in on ways to communicate effectively with children and engage them in community action.

When news came of the earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami, the team’s work took on an increased level of urgency and meaning. Japan, a nation accustomed to frequent earthquakes, has highly developed action plans. Their citizens are well educated in disaster risk reduction and have community-level disaster risk reduction plans.

Our ChildFund team in Zambia now has a better understanding of the life-saving benefits of disaster preparedness.

A Special ChildFund Reunion in Reno

by Athena Boulgarides, ChildFund Development Officer

ChildFund sponsors and supporters gather in Reno.

When ChildFund supporter Dee Barbash and her daughter Brooke Siem organized a festive gathering of friends and fellow ChildFund sponsors in Reno, Nevada, Dec. 28, 2010, they kept one little detail up their sleeves — the honored guest.

The group gathered to ring in the New Year and celebrate the joy of sponsorship. They enjoyed a presentation about ChildFund programs around the world with special emphasis on  Zambia since several members of the group currently sponsor children there.

Anne Stilwill flew in from McCall, Idaho, and Sandra Ray Morgan made the trip from Travelers Rest, S.C., to join Joyce Patterson, Allan and Kathy Fox, and Brent and Eleanor Begley from Reno. Eleanor celebrated her 94th birthday with us! And guests were delighted to see their sponsored child’s photo on their dinner place cards, thanks to a thoughtful touch by Dee.

But the biggest surprise of the night came when Dee and Brooke introduced their friends to their former sponsored child Magdalena Krasicka, who was visiting from Poland. Hearts were overflowing as Magdalena shared the compelling story of her challenging childhood in post-communist Poland and the impact that ChildFund programs and Dee’s sponsorship had on her young life. [Note: ChildFund no longer works in Poland.]

“Dee’s letters introduced me to a different world, a better world,” she told the group. “I could not believe that there was a place like America and that there were people like Dee who cared enough to invest in my life.”

As the evening continued, it was my honor to share a special update from ChildFund board member Thomas Weisner, professor of cultural anthropology at UCLA, about his visit to ChildFund programs in Zambia last summer. This helped set the stage for an energetic dialogue about current needs in Zambia and ways the group can work together to do more. The consensus: “Let’s go to Zambia!”

What World AIDS Day Means to Me

Guest post by Arthur of Zambia

My name is Arthur and I am 15 years old. I am HIV-positive. I tested positive in December 2006. I live in Kafue District of Zambia with my parents, older sister and aunties, and I am enrolled in ChildFund programs.

World AIDS Day is a very important day for me as people the world over come together to show their support for those living with HIV. When AIDS was discovered in the early 1980s, all the people in the world were shocked and filled with fear. A lot of stories trying to explain the cause of this deadly disease were being told.

After much research was done it was discovered that this disease was caused by a virus called HIV, which attacks the human immune system and is found in human blood. It was also discovered that one can get the disease through sexual intercourse, and this caused a lot of stigma and discrimination to the people infected. Eventually, people began to realize that everyone could be affected, as a lot of people were dying from AIDS.

Many children were left orphaned, and people were losing friends and relatives. The world again realized that even if you were not infected you were affected and decided to come together to fight this deadly disease called AIDS. Other discoveries were made on the mode of transmission such as mother-to-child transmission.

To show world unity, people began to commemorate World AIDS Day in December 2000. This is one of the biggest days for people living with HIV because it helps them to feel recognized, accepted and supported. They are not excluded but included.

AIDS has widely spread through six continents and 54 African countries. With so many people affected, there is no reason for a negative attitude toward people who are infected.

World AIDS Day is a day to show love, care and support to people who are infected. Despite AIDS not being curable, medicines have been produced to boost one’s immune system and give hope for the future. If one is infected, it does not mean it’s the end of world. With ARVs (antiretroviral medications), one can live their life to the fullest.

World AIDS Day is a day when the infected and the affected can celebrate the end of stigma and discrimination and continue fighting the good fight of faith. One day, we will win.

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