This summer I was able to visit my youngest daughter, Martha Fuechsel, and participate in her work as a special needs educator with Special Hope Network. While volunteering at the center and enjoying touristy activities on the evenings and weekends, I gained a more realistic impression of SHN’s mission and life in Lusaka.
As Martha showed me around, I was startled by the crass contrasts between rich and poor. The sprawling city has miles and miles of crowded communities called compounds. Here families are just scraping by with whatever work they can get, and living in small rented houses, all crammed together on bad roads lined with ramshackle shops, dusty plants, and cinderblock walls.They get their water from communal wells and cisterns, and depend on their feet, bicycles, and minibus rides to get to school and work.
The Community Care Centers, which are at the heart of SHN’s work, are in five of these compounds. Each serves an average of 100 mostly very young children with disabilities. Martha told me that having a child with a disability in this culture is considered a burden, a stigma, a shame to be hidden away, of little worth. Due to poor nutrition, as well as lack of education about disabilities and access to specialized health care, many of these children die before their 5th birthday.
The mothers (or another family member) come with their children for 2-3 two hour sessions every week to work on interactive play, academic play, fine and gross motor skills, etc. And just as important, they make friends with each other and learn how to take better care of these special children.This is a great help to the single mothers, who are struggling just to meet basic needs. If a mother brings her child to all of their CCC sessions that month, she can take home a huge bag of fine corn meal and some money to buy vegetables and meat for sides. I was awed by the strength and endurance of the mothers who had to walk home balancing a heavy bag of “mealie meal” on their heads and carrying a child on their backs.
When Martha told me that most of these kids didn’t have toys to play with at home,
I decided to make that my summer project. We collected lots of used water bottles, plastic bags, old and new socks, yarn, thread, sewing needles, bottle caps, and yards of colorful chitenge fabric.
The moms had fun learning how to make simple sock dolls, plastic bag and fabric handballs, water bottle cars, and pebble bags! And after each session, every kid went home with a toy. It made me happy to learn recently that the center leaders have decided to continue with this enrichment project.
Each CCC session starts with a circle time. You can’t believe how they sing common children’s songs – loud, enthusiastic, clapping along with cool rhythms, lovely harmonies, often with Gospel style call and responses. My favorite song was “I’m on the rock, the rock I trust…” Circle times help the mothers bond with their children and each other. They also practice ways to use games, toys, and books to help their children make better progress with physical and communication skills. But I was surprised to find that all of the books are in English. There are many different languages in Zambia, but school classes are all taught in English. Zambian parents value education just as much as we do, but compound families have little money to spend on books.
When my three girls were little, I read to them every night at bedtime. It was our cherished cuddle time, and they loved turning the pages and learning from the stories. I can’t imagine raising young children without books!
So I asked Martha and the SHN leaders, “how could I help get books to the mothers and kids in the compounds?” We eventually worked out a feasible way to collect, sort, and mail appropriate books, and I’m excited about the potential of this project for the CCC families!
If you have questions about the Books for CCC Kids, please contact me at:
335 Waterloo St, Warrenton VA 20186