If a picture is worth a thousand words, then let me summarize the differences between the Zambian orphanage and the South African ones. First, South Africa:
Some of the boys, seeing me walk past as they were waiting for their turn at bean-bag toss game.
Of course it’s not actually that simple, or at least not that drastic. There were smiles in Zambia too, some cautious, some half hidden, and some radiant and warm. But there was a clear and definite difference between the children in the centers in South Africa and their counterparts in Zambia.
In South Africa it was laughter, dancing, clowning around, and occasional shyness, such as when they presented the Thank You cards they had made for Katrien and myself.
In Zambia we found serious looks, watchfulness, caution.
But this is good news! Not as good as finding happiness everywhere, but it’s not a fairy-tale world. The centers that we saw in South Africa have been running for years. The kids have spent time there, received attention, kindness, and hopefully some affection. It’s not all hugs and baby bunnies, but they were shown, at an elemental level, that Others care about them.
The Zambian program is just getting started. The orphan center was barely more than blank concrete walls. There were rusty pieces of unknown machinery in a corner. Prior to our arrival they cleaned out the dusty rooms and everyone who spent any time in the building came out with little red sores all over their arms and legs. They fumigated for bugs, but the rashes continued. Then someone recognized the sepe tree outside the window, whose seed pods are covered in fine hairs which irritate the skin.
The place was being set up as an orphanage and they had a full grown semi-poisonous tree right outside the window.
Now, this isn’t a particularly big deal in Zambia, where you have to iron your clothes after hanging them out to dry because bugs lay eggs in them on the line and will burrow into your flesh if you don’t kill them first, but it still indicates the degree to which the program is just getting running.
So: children in the established programs in South Africa were clambering around, laughing, singing, and dancing. Children about to begin the program in Zambia were quiet, reserved, almost nervous.
I don’t know about you, but I take that as a clear sign that the programs are making a difference. I may not agree with everything that particular organization does (my feelings on religion and missionaryism are another topic) but if their work takes a kid who looks like this when standing with his coloring and gift bag…
and help him become a kid like this..? Work well done.
Update: Lisa returned to the center in Zambia and reported that within a few short weeks, the kids were just as rambunctious as they had been in Soshanguve.