As you know, God has really been breaking my heart for the orphan. Jon and I definitely have adoption on our hearts for the future. I believe that part of God’s preparation for us is to grow in awareness and educate ourselves on the orphan crisis.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to our friend, Tom Keith, who is on the board of directors for All Kids Can Learn International (AKCLI). Tom was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about the orphan crisis in Zambia:
There are an estimated 153 million orphans worldwide. What drew you to AKCLI’s work in Zambia?
Our church, Fairfax Community Church, in Northern Virginia started supporting the AKCLI/Villages of Hope a few years ago. During one of the sermons, Pastor Rod Stafford introduced our congregation to the problems in Africa. He spoke on:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
And then he mentioned these statistics:
- In Africa, 10-15 Million Sub-Saharan children have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
- Every 15 seconds, another child is orphaned.
- Every day, 5,760 more children become orphans.
- Every year, 2.1 million more children become orphans in Africa alone.
- Women make up 61% of AIDS victims in Africa.
- Every day, 5,400 people die because of AIDS – one in every 16 seconds.
- 76% of all AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Sahara Africa.
- 80% of all AIDS orphans live in sub-Sahara Africa.
A Zambian teenager confesses, “If we are the future and we’re dying, there is no future.”
Our goal at Fairfax Community Church is to support organizations that we believe are utilizing “best practices” around issues that directly relate to or impact the lives of widows and orphans in sub-Sahara Africa.
You have to start somewhere, and we chose Zambia as a place to start. Zambia has the largest number of orphans per capita of any country in the world (10%)! We have been blessed that God has allowed us to help provide love and support to AKCLI – an organization that is now rated number one in the Central Province (the largest Province in Zambia) of orphan care facilities.
At the AKCLI/VOH, we seek to bring hope to children at risk. We provide love, food, education, critical life skills training, housing, and healthcare.
I personally serve on the board of directors for AKCLI. Wearing my “citizen hat,” I am helping the CEO create a 5-year strategic plan.
I’ve visited the Villages of Hope in Zambia before, but this year, my wife, Becky, and I will be joining a team of 6-8 people from our church to travel to Zambia in June 2013.
What are the specific challenges that children face there?
Most of the children that come to the Villages of Hope have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS. Since unemployment is so high in Zambia, most orphans are on their own. In most cases, their relatives cannot take care of them.
We only take in orphans that are cleared through the Kabwe office of Central Province Social Welfare. Zambia government officials are in touch with every child we bring into the orphanage. The Zambian government has its own Board of Directors and so we have joint responsibility and oversight to ensure that the orphans are raised in a “Zambian” environment.
Looking back at the statistics I mentioned above, we address several of the challenges the children
- Loss of parents: We provide Christian Zambian “house mothers” at each “home”.
- Loss of a home (when the children lose their parents they are often on the street): We provide a home.
- Lack of food: We raise crops and farm animals to provide a well-balanced diet.
- Lack of education: We built a school (which when expanded) will cover grades 1-12, preparing the children for college or work. We also provide work skills so that the children can earn a living when they leave the orphanage.
Through the church, school and staff, we introduce the children to God and the Bible. In many ways, we are rising up a future generation of Christians who we pray will continue to spread the Word of God throughout Zambia and the world.
Tell us about AKCLI’s holistic approach to caring for orphans. How is your
model different than other orphan care programs?
AKCLI/VOH has created a “model” orphanage that within the next five years will be self-sustaining and can be replicated throughout Africa, and even the world. We are all about supporting the orphans in their native environment. With 230 acres, we grow our own food.
We have built a church, a school (currently up to grade nine, but we are adding a grade each year to be able to support the children through the 12th grade), homes and infrastructure to continue to grow. Part of our self-sustaining model is to sell the surplus crops and chickens (and eggs) through a store we built at the orphanage entrance along the highway. We have started several other small businesses onsite that are profitable – thus they support the orphanage’s general operating fund. We will continue to grow those businesses and add more businesses to create a fully self-sustaining environment to support the Villages of Hope.
The children learn trades and learn to work. Raised on the 230-acre “farm”, the children are introduced to both farming skills and small businesses. They will eventually graduate with a high-school education.
Since I have started several small businesses myself, I feel right at home working with AKCLI’s entrepreneurial founders. I support the Board of Directors in thinking strategically, helping them to come up with additional ideas to make AKCLI even more self-sustaining.
During your time spent in Zambia, has there been a particular child whose story
has gripped you?
Meet Matilda Figo.
When Matilda first came to the Villages of Hope in 2009, she was nine (more the size of a five-year-old) who was dying of Spinal Tuberculosis. AKCLI stepped in to help. In the beginning of April she came to the guest house where the founders, Benedict and Kathleen Schwartz live, so that they could tend to the wound she had from a recent burn on her leg. Another ministry in Lusaka has given her a shiny red wheel chair, just her size, and provided free physical therapy to help strengthen her legs for walking and to prevent future fractures in her hips, legs, and knees.
By the time Villages of Hope took Matilda in, the Spinal Tuberculosis had already caused extensive damage to her spine and spinal column; she had been unable to use her legs or walk unassisted since the age of five.
Kayla Cook, a surgical recovery nurse from Louisville, KY, was at the VOH at that time and wondered if there wasn’t more that could be done medically for Matilda. So Kayla talked to an orthopedic surgeon here in the United States and to the staff at the hospital.
The doctor, after looking at Matilda’s x-rays from Cure Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, felt that there was help he could offer her. So he and Kayla put together a team of doctors who offered to provide their services
free of charge. In addition, the hospital provided free services, and the company that manufactures spinal hardware offered to provide their equipment free of charge for Matilda. A team has brought Matilda to the United States several times for surgery (with additional future surgeries planned). She has also been going through extensive physical therapy, with the hope of eventually being able to walk again.
You can follow more of Matilda’s story here.
What have you learned about God’s love from these children?
When you first get to Zambia and you travel along the hour-long drive out to the Village, it breaks your heart to see the conditions that most of the Zambians live in. You almost get a feeling that there is no sense of hope for most of them. But when you arrive at the Village and you are greeted suddenly by smiling faces of the rescued children who have now have HOPE – yes, you can see God’s love in their smiling faces.
When you visit their church and you listen to them sing praise songs, or you go to their school and see them learning, and most of all when you see their smiling faces, you can just see the work that God is doing there.
How can we get involved? Are there any specific, immediate needs that readers can help meet?
First we need prayers. This is a major undertaking and unless you have spent time in Zambia (or Africa), you cannot understand the challenges we face in trying to not only operate, but grow and stay ahead of the game.
While we plan to achieve a 100% self-sustaining model in 5 or so years, we are currently at 53% self-sustaining.
We will continue to grow the orphanage and to grow the school. By the end of our next five-year strategic planning period, we will have several hundred children in the school. Currently there are 135 students.
We are in need of funds to build homes for the children, homes for the on-site staff and to expand the school. We also are in need of funds to hire additional staff, teachers and “house mothers”.
We don’t operate under the sponsorship model, where your donations pay to support a particular child; instead, the money goes into the general operating fund to provide care for ALL of the
Basic school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, rulers, etc.) are always helpful.
Clothes are needed for both girls and boys of all ages. When one of the teachers got married last year, a church sent ties, dress shirts and dresses for the children to be able to dress up for their special teacher. The children attended the wedding with pride!
We are looking for individuals and churches to partner with us as we implement our next phase of growth and as we move to a fully self-sustaining model.
We accept donations through PayPal at our website or by sending checks directly to:
All Kids Can Learn International, Inc.
224 North Washington St.
Havre de Grace MD 21078
Lastly and importantly, I am willing to talk to anyone or any church that wants to learn more about how they can partner with us. I am willing to coordinate a telecom with myself or one of the other board members, and I can set up meetings with the founders who come back to the US three times a year.
Founders Benedict and Kathleen
Benedict and Kathleen love to visit churches or organizations to talk about the Village. We want to add more and more partners who will join us as we build our fully self-sustaining model that can be replicated throughout Africa and the world. We are seeking individuals and organizations to join us as we continue our mission of providing hope to the orphan.
Thanks in advance and blessings to all that might read this!
Thank you Tom for sharing your heart for the Zambian orphan!
Tom has also sent me a CD which features the beautiful voices of Villages of Hope children singing. I can tell you first-hand that hearing these precious children sing out to Jesus is beyond moving. Want a copy? Just contact me with your address and I will hook you up!
In addition to raising awareness for the worldwide orphan crisis, I am also interested in sharing personal adoption stories on the blog. Have a story that you would like to share? Email me at email@example.com