Lucky, hopeless, happy, touched, desperate, amazed, sad, hopeful, overwhelmed, and moved. That’s the flood of emotions that almost simultaneously hit me as we toured elementary schools on our first day in Zambia. We met incredible teachers, read to packed classrooms, and made connections, brief though they were, with beautiful children.
On our first full day in Zambia, we connected with Dave and Connie Keating, founders of Mission Touch Ministries (MTM). Better World Books sent them 20,000 books last year for distribution to the schools they work with. At every school we visited the books were in evidence – one school organized their children to proudly stand and read passages to us. “I have a book… and I can read!” grinned one child.
As a bit of background, MTM organizes the feeding of children in 45 schools in the Lusaka area, all of which are located in the compounds – that’s the local term for slums or shanty towns. They do this by receiving and distributing a sea container of food every 6 weeks or so from the U.S. That is one amazing logistical feat, especially when you consider a total of three people are organizing it. MTM has also founded one school, which we visited.
The streets of Zambia are filled with children – many of them without parents. AIDS has ravaged this country where the average age is 16 and the average life expectancy is around 43 years. So a square meal is strong motivation to come to school, and that is just what happens at MTM supported schools.
When time ran out on telling stories to a class of fourth graders, I stood up and started shaking their hands. This proved to be incredibly popular and I was mobbed with handshakes, just about pulling me down. Then out of the crowd came a fist-bump backed by a huge smile. Bumped him back. Blew it up. Connection made.
John Ujda is the Chief Literacy Officer and VP of Marketing at Better World Books.