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Service Programs

IRFF Promotes a Culture of Heart in Zambia

It was a great privilege to be able to spend two weeks in Zambia organizing activities with the local International Relief and Friendship Foundation (IRFF) directors from July 17 to August 1, 2007. We used a holistic approach that combined successful elements of each project effectively. As the special projects coordinator, I visited both Lusaka, the capital, and Ndola, the second largest city in Zambia, in order to connect two projects by bringing the Mackenzie Little Angels from Ndola to join in the larger project and celebration.

In Lusaka, our work involved building a new classroom at the Vision of Hope orphanage, the microfinance program for women of the John Laing community, and the Hibiki Music Ministry.

In Ndola, IRFF sponsored the Mackenzie Little Angels recording sessions and performance tour in Lusaka, and the Supporting Success Scholarship awards ceremony; visits were made to members of the microfinance project.

John Laing Community

Lusaka is the capital city of Zambia with a population of five million. The level of unemployment is very high, and many parents cannot afford to send their children to school. Vision of Hope, a non-governmental organization, has been working in the John Laing community, which is one of the poorest compounds in Lusaka, with a population of 600,000. More than four years ago, a learning center for orphaned and vulnerable children was established. Currently 250 children attend lessons at this center. However, since the roofless building was covered only with sacks, children and teachers ran for cover each time it rained, bringing the end of lessons. IRFF-Lusaka teamed up with Vision of Hope to assist in improving education of the children of the John Laing community.

The building project at the John Laing community July 16-28 involved participants from Zimbabwe, Ndola, and the United States working together. Nicholas Chisha, IRFF Field Coordinator for South East Africa, managed well with IRFF director of Lusaka, Joas Muvunda, as a project director, and IRFF director of Ndola, Joseph Chibuye, as site director. Collaboration with other non-governmental organizations is essential to make the best impact. But it also entails some difficulties.

The Vision of Hope staff was always struggling to maintain the orphanage, their financial contribution was much smaller than our expectation, and miscommunication left the IRFF staff confused many times. It was surprising to discover that there was no water supply in this community, so we had to buy water; gradually we learned how difficult it was to work in such a poor community. The new classroom was finished in time for the opening ceremony on July 29.

The Microfinance program

Vision of Hope helped select 30 families to launch the microfinance program. All participants were required to go through the one-day seminar in which Joseph Chibuye explained how business should be managed. At the end of this training, the first group was empowered with $1,000, a loan which they would begin to repay, with interest of 5 percent, after two months.

Then the second group will also be empowered, using funds from the repayment, and in this way, the third group also will be empowered. This management plan generated some complaints and much discussion as to how loans should be given.

It was suggested that IRFF should provide more detailed instruction and a clear contract for the microfinance program. Yet, the first group started their business immediately after the training. They proposed new ideas for their business and reported about their plan enthusiastically.

Moreover, women from the first group, to show their sincere appreciation for the microfinance program, decided to return the loan in one month, so the other two groups could be empowered sooner. To further the progress, Joas Muvunda will have weekly meetings with members so they can share their experience and to receive continuing education.

Hibiki Music Ministry

In the midst of such a busy schedule, there was still time to create a new choir in Lusaka, named Hibiki, composed of 12- to 15-year-old children. ["Hibiki" is the Japanese word for resonance]. First I learned their songs, and we sang together. To improve the standard of these children, who had already learned many bad things from the street, Nicholas Chisha taught the children about the importance of keeping healthy, keeping themselves pure to avoid HIV/AIDS. To my surprise, these children already knew that sexual relationship was the major cause of HIV infection.

I mentioned that good health is a basic requirement for being able to realize our dreams. I taught the children a new song about sexual purity, and the children happily sang it over and over. During this time, Nicholas and I sang together at various occasions including the Microfinance Seminar, Sunday service, and the Women's Federation for World Peace seminar for widows. Singing helped people recognize IRFF activities.

Mackenzie Community Project in Ndola City

I moved to Ndola City on July 23 and started recording at Nicholas Chisha' house. It was the first time Mackenzie Little Angels made a recording. They worked so hard to make this recording, even though it was the end of their semester and time for their exam. We recorded about ten songs which will be made into a CD in near future. We planned the Lusaka performance tour of the Little Angels to provide them the next level of opportunity. They had been singing together for more than one year and had made so much improvement. It was time to reward them with new uniforms: matching yellow shirts.

In order to explain the purpose more clearly, we held a meeting for parents, and then they were happy to send their children on the tour. The children sang at the John Laing community, the Peace Embassy and Barastone School. In addition, they visited the national museum. For most of them, it was their first trip to Lusaka, and they were surprised at numbers of people, cars and buildings.

Scholarships to sponsor both new and returning students were presented in a public ceremony on July 27. We explained the process of the yearlong fundraising efforts and the responsibilities that came with the awards. This program will continue year after year, so it requires close communication with the director and the teachers.

After the ceremony, we took pictures with the scholarship recipients and recorded a video of testimonies. Senior teacher Lontiya Pola of the Mackenzie Community School and I discussed long-term programs and the need for improved communication.

Teacher Pola is a member of the microfinance project, and we visited her store. She was so happy because she already had bought a new house with her business income. She has five children and her whole family has been empowered by microfinance. Another woman expressed her dream to open her own supermarket. Other women were happy because their lives had improved because of their small businesses. I felt that the Mackenzie community had improved of the past year. The houses were humble, but they showed what was possible.

I brought seed funds raised from a yard sale sponsored by the "Sharing the Blessing" ministry in New York's Hudson Valley area. This was envisioned as part of a "True Friendship Family Partner Program" between families in the US and in the Mackenzie community.

In discussions with Nicholas Chisha and the teachers, it was agreed that the children would buy supplies to make crafts that children in the US could sell. The Mackenzie children could use the proceeds from these sales for their basic needs and to buy supplies to make more craft products. The Mackenzie children prepared gifts for their friends in the US.

We also welcomed two participants in IRFF's International Experiential Learning Program to Ndola.

Celebration of Peace in Lusaka

Almost 60 participants, including several Ambassadors for Peace, attended the "Celebration of Peace" event at the Peace Embassy on July 29. This was first time IRFF could promote our activities in Lusaka. Celebrating this substantial foundation for furthering the work of creating the culture of peace in Lusaka, Hon. General Malimba Masheke, former prime minister, accepted the request to organize the celebration and composed the invitation letter. Much credit and gratitude for the success of these IRFF activities goes to the Seiko Lee Concert, which provided funds for the continuing success all of these endeavors.

NOTE: Mikio Yoshida was co-coordinator with Paul Byrne of IRFF's "Discover True Friends Tour" to Zambia, July 24-August 8, 2006. Nine high school and college students spent time in the Mackenzie community helping to build an extension to the school and learning to know local families. A microfinance project was started, and donations were given to support three teachers and provide scholarships to 10 students. Mikio Yoshida began a chapter of his "Hibiki Music Ministry" there and spent the majority of his time training the choir and teaching them new songs, including one that he wrote in the local language, Bemba, entitled "Ichiloto Ichikalamba," or "Dream Big."

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