Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Religion of Giving in Zambia

By Brooke Bunce
in Lusaka, Zambia

After a week in Africa, I’ve begun to just scratch the surface of its generosity. As an intern with Chikumbuso, I have come to see the role that religion plays in the lives of the widows, orphans and leaders of such an organization, as well as the impact of Christianity on the lives of those residing in Lusaka, Zambia. Simply driving around the city will make this apparent, as pictures of Jesus Christ are presented proudly on the back of public transit and words of praise are painted pristinely on buildings.

A Warm Welcome

As soon as I walked through the gates of the compound (or rather, was driven) I saw that underneath Chikumbuso was the word “remembrance.” The compound is a place to remember the gift of hope and to remember those who have passed.

The Chikumbuso Project and several other non-profit organizations in Zambia, Africa are largely driven by Christian beliefs and the will to help others who are less fortunate. The aforementioned program gives free schooling to orphans or underprivileged youth and teaches widows to be self-sustainable economically through bag making, tailoring and cooking.
During my time at Chikumbuso, I’ve observed the religious devotion that steers the children’s lives and guides their behavior. In art class, so many of them drew pictures of doves, Jesus, verses from the Bible and sprinkled phrases of blessings alongside their artwork. Their mornings start with a communal prayer and devotion is a structured part of the program’s curriculum.

Religious Glue

The truth is, religion is the cement that holds the lives of these widows and orphans together and gives them strength in times of disparity. It is their will to live, essentially. What is heart-breaking is that most of these children are HIV positive- and know that they are. The children will often discuss how they openly are infected and how they know they will eventually die from the disease.

One of the single moms that lives on the Ckumbuso Property is named Elida. What I found most striking is that she is my age, 20 years old, and yet she has already been through so much. She spoke about deaths in her family due to HIV so casually, yet she told me that she prays every night before sleep and is thankful that she is able to wake up each morning.

Elida and I chatted about music, boys, hair, family and nail polish; typical 20 year old subjects. Even though we may live on opposite sides of the world and have lifestyles that may be completely opposite, Elida and I were still people and able to relate on the most basic, and even mundane, subjects.

A Christian Nation

As one of guest lecturers Leonard Chitni explained, under the late President Frederick Chiluba Zambia was officially declared a “Christian Nation.” Because of this, prominent leaders are expected to act in the Christian ideal, but this of course does not always happen. Chitni reasoned that leaps and bounds could be taken in government if only Zambian leaders were to practice basic Christian principles. The country enjoys a variety of sectors of religion, including Hinduism and Islam, and practices great religious tolerance, even with this label.

Compared to the U.S., though we enjoy great religious tolerance and diversity, there was much controversy over the “Christian Nation” label that was present at one time. Though the majority of the population is in fact of the Christian faith, this label simply was not acceptable.

The children of Chikumbuso are the most disciplined, respectful, generous and giving I’ve ever met. They do not talk out of turn or argue with one another, always say thank you and are exceptionally clean, constantly sweeping the classrooms and the compound. When I first met Wilkinson, the founder, and told her that I loved it there, she responded, “Chikumbuso does that; it has a way of getting into your heart.” She was more than right.

Brooke Bunce is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism.

She is a sophomore magazine journalism major with a specialization in women and gender studies.

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