A special Gift for a child sponsor

By Dr Lesley Potter, child sponsor

The visit to our sponsored child, Gift, and his family was made on July 13-14, 2016. As the family lives far from the capital Lusaka, near Lake Mweru in northern Zambia, we spent two days driving there and the same amount of time on the return trip. 

We arrived on the morning of July 13, first meeting with members of the Mweru Area Development Program (ADP) team, which is supported by Australian child sponsors and includes 3,060 children and their families. We then left for Gift’s village.

Our arrival in the village was obviously keenly awaited, the entire population having turned out to welcome us. We were greeted with drums and dancing, then more formal speeches before being introduced to Gift, his two sisters, Rose and Jane, his little brother Stanley and his mother Lengwe.

We learned more of 13-year-old Gift’s experiences. I had been worried on reading in the previous year’s annual report that he was no longer in school and felt that somehow things were not right, so I questioned World Vision about his welfare. I discovered that his father had abandoned the family, marrying again and taking Gift with him to another village. In this new village there was no room for Gift in the school. All these events must have been quite traumatic for him. 

Following my enquiries I was told that Gift had now been returned to his mother and siblings and was attending the local school. He certainly seemed happy to be back with his family and was even happier to receive the soccer ball I gave him!

Gift’s mother Lengwe launched into a spontaneous dance of joy. She then ceremoniously presented me with a special memento, a hand-made engraved pot by a village craftsman. 

Left: Lesley and her sponsored child's family exchanged gifts. Right: Women demonstrated how they extract red palm oil.

We also took time to visit the rural health centre, returning in time for lunch. This family is very poor, but they gave us a wonderful meal, including a very tasty village chicken. We then departed to our accommodation promising to return the following day. That evening we had dinner with the staff of the ADP team, discussing the day’s events and learning more about the district.

As I work with oil palm farmers in Indonesia I was very interested to discover that the oil palm trees I had seen in some of the villages had been planted to provide people with a source of red palm oil, rich in Vitamin A. The local fisher folk had been eating a diet of only fish and cassava and had been going blind until this solution was found. The palm fruits are prepared by hand in traditional fashion by village women, an activity we were able to witness the next day. 

We also visited the local school, where Gift is now in Grade 3. The school had just recently become a government school, having previously been built by the community. Gift’s classroom was locally made with a thatched roof and dirt floor, crowded with students. Gift’s teacher mentioned that he had some catching up to do, but was being given special classes.

We then took the family for a picnic to a local waterfall. It was a good opportunity to chat more informally to the family outside their village. Gift wondered where I had come from: he could not visualise somebody coming from so far away. It turned out that although many Australians supported children in these communities, I was the first to actually visit, so they had no concept as to what an Australian might look like.

He promised me solemnly that he would attend school every day: I really hope he is able to live up to that. He had seemed quite overwhelmed by the previous day’s activities, but was more relaxed on his own just with the family. 

Overall, making this visit was an unforgettable experience for me. World Vision Zambia had it well organised, as did the ADP folks. I would encourage other Australians who may be sponsoring children in these remote districts to consider making such a visit: it means a lot to the village and especially to the family concerned.