June 17th, 2010 Chazanga, Lusaka, Zambia

October 15, 2010 | lgabe

Our first Friday morning was an important morning for our Zambia family. We finally got to meet some of our local partners, most of which we will be placed for our academic internship. Following an early wake-up call, a hearty breakfast and a much needed Zambian coffee, we were off to Bwafano Community Centre. The two main languages in Zambia are Nyanja, mostly spoken in our area, and Pemba, rather common in the southern provinces. In Pemba, Bwafano means ‘helping’, a perfect word to describe the organization. Our route to Bwafano followed snaky paths past small and congested homes, filled with mass crowds of children screaming “how are you!” or “muzungu!”. Most only know how to say ‘How are you’ yet don’t know how to answer. Instead of answering I just started to repeat the question or reply in Nyanja throwing most of them into fits of giggles. Adults along the way more than appreciated our attempts to greet them in Nyanja, though some just laughed at our obvious failure to speak their language. 
Just before Bwafano, there is this sizeable sandy soccer field that we came across for the first time today. Its immensity was one thing, but the heaps of children running after ONE ball was a sight beyond what I’ve ever seen. 

I watched them for a whole minute while they all chased this soccer ball intently around the field, until the first child to spot us screamed “MUZUNGU!”. The way those kids were playing, I was sure nothing could disturb their focus and intent. Apparently, a group of muzungus does the trick. One minute they are 100m away from us, the next we are being swarmed by these beautiful smiling children who just want to use the little english they know and shake our hands. Since its winter here in Zambia, and most of the kids are running free infected with snotty colds we’ve learnt quickly the best way to entertain them is to fist pump. Even better, we’ve started teaching them the explosion at the end of a solid fist pump. The explosion causes such hysteria among the children, it entertains us as much as them. I’ve never experienced anything like it. We learnt later that those hundreds and hundreds (nearly a thousand I believe) of children running around in that field were all part of the OVC program at Bwafano. OVC stands for Orphan and Vulnerable Children. In only one district, there are 7,000 OVCs registered at Bwafano. Note those are the ones who are registered, there are so many more. While most of these children have lost their families or have been through thing you and I will most likely never experience, I’ve never seen such pure happiness.

Finally, after swimming through the crowds of children we arrived at Bwafano to attend our meetings. I’ll quickly run through the various programs running at Bwafwano.

Back in 1996, Bwafwano was created by a few Zambian nurses along with its first program HBC (home base care). HIV/AIDS patients initial treatments were done at hospitals, however long-term care wasn’t really being addressed by the Ministry of Health. So along came these beautiful nurses who realized the importance of starting home visits to treat sick patients. Patients were and are still today treated mostly for HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and now increasingly diabetes. In Chazanga specifically, malaria seems to be the worst problem. While malaria is prominent, HIV/AIDS is still a looming darkness over Zambia, with nearly 50% of its population infected. 
So in order to treat these problems, the home-base care program was created. Nurses began visiting sick community members in their homes to treat them or simply accommodate them. Their jobs grew from simply treating them to cleaning their homes to helping bathe the children, among other chores. Soon Bwafwano realized there were many other problems in the community. Since then they have opened a community clinic, a community school, and are running a sexual health and reproduction education program (SHREP), and a lab for people to come and get tested for HIV, a Income Generated Activities program (IGA), and an Orphan and Vulnerable Children program (OVC). It’s really incredible to see how accurately these dedicated community members were able to identify the key issues in their community and work their best to attend to them. Most of these programs are run by one person only, leaving Bwafano understaffed and overworked. 

While half the group will be placed with Bwafano, the other half will be placed with Lupwa. Lupwa is a new partner this year and luckily I get to work with them this summer! Lupwa’s main goals are to connect the child to the family and community. In Zambia, there are many children who are abandoned either because their parents have died or because their parents just don’t want them. Thus, many of these kids end up on the street. Lupwa works with the police and other organizations that deal strictly with street kids to help re-integrate the abandoned child into his/her family or community. Instead of investing directly into the child, Lupwa attempts to dissect the root causes of their abandonment and life on the street. They then attempt to link the child back home, if it doesn’t work they find alternatives. The process is rather intricate and I will talk about it more when I start to really work with them. What’s interesting though is that Lupwa is the only organization in Zambia that does this work. It’s still unclear what I will be doing, but a big part of my placement will be to learn how their organization runs. To do so, I will be working quite a bit in the field. I am excited!!

So those are our partners!! I hope you are as excited as I am! I am really eager to learn, so I’ll keep you posted.

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