We sat in a circle – half in the shade and half wanting the sun on this chilly, wintery, 80 degree day.  Six headmen, three school officials, two social workers, and four of our team. We had only one focus – How many orphans and vulnerable children in your villages, what are the needs they face, and what can be done to meet these needs?  Seems like an easy enough question. In these villages everyone is known – they are all relatives. But the family trees are more like tracing a bumper car, with each impact being a wife that has died or divorced,  a child that is left off with that family, or a cousin who is now living with this family, and is that one you call father really your father, even though you are the same age as him???

 What makes it even more confusing is that the family concept makes no distinction between nuclear and extended family – they have no word for cousin or uncle… So their uncles are fathers, and aunts are mothers and cousins are brothers. Then if a father dies and I go live with an uncle – he really is my father. If he dies his eldest son is my father – even if nearly the same age. Bumper cars… 

But one ominous thing I have noticed – sometimes – when introducing his children the father will bring them in and introduce them, then send them running. But you notice there are others hanging around too. So you ask – ah yes – they are mine also – the children of my elder sister who is passed away.  Those kids seem a bit more sober and reserved – perhaps more dirty or ragged – perhaps less educated and more hungry? One wonders how they fare.

 So of course these headmen should know every family and every child in their small villages of only 200 people. Should be an easy question. Statistics say that over 50% of Zambians are under 16 years. And 38% of these are either single or double orphans.  So a normal village of 200 should have 38 orphans. (I did a simple test on this one time – I asked a school head master the attendance – 1100; and the number of orphans – 450. Roughly 40%.  Then I asked some men watching a dozen boys playing soccer – “How many are orphans?” – it amazed me that it took them as long as it did – they first said two, then, no, that one is also – oh, and so is that one! Yes, four are orphans.  

So not only did I confirm the statistic, but I learned something – village folk don’t think of orphans as orphans. They are part of the community. Kids get shifted around a lot. If there has been a divorce or a death or severe drunkenness, or whatever – the kids get shipped to the granny or the uncle or whoever can care for them the best or who lives in a village near a school or a store. Kids are kinda community property.

 Have you ever had a community car and seen how good it is taken care of? How’s it running, you ask. Fine, fine. Well what’s that tapping noise in the engine? No, I don’t think it’s anything. Have you checked the oil lately? Sure – I think Sam checked it last year!

 So the first response the headmen had was a question to us – what do you have to bring for us? We assured them our aim is not to give them anything, but to help them work on some solutions they can effect to solve their problem in their village. Hmm – that was not a popular statement! So the first headman to finally respond to the original question, decided he had seven orphans in his village. The next said nine, and the next 12. I can just about guarantee you they are a mile off! I know a bunch of those kids!

 Then – what are their needs? The first response was defensiveness – the children are cared for – the same as the biological children – they just like to complain! Hmm – there is something behind that statement – something that lodges in my gut – a fear, a suspicion… Grudgingly some of the headmen acknowledge – some are hungry, some can’t afford to go to school (fees of $3 per year), and some of the girls get pregnant young and get married young – wanting food more than honor. BUT – they assure us – the children just like to complain. They are being treated no differently than the biological children.

 Jesus! Do these children have any advocates? Any to intercede for them? To stand up for them? Or just  to listen to them and comfort or counsel them? I’m sure it is difficult for the host family to take in more hungry mouths when their own tummies are not yet full. But what traumas have these orphans gone thru that are just never spoken? What horrors haunt them in the night? What abuses behind closed doors? What subtle non-verbals keep them in their place of unasked for indebtedness? 

The final part of the question – what solutions are there? They absolutely have nothing. So I finally make an example of what Mukuni Village has done – they started a garden at the school that the orphans work on; the local mamas buy the produce at reduced price then resell in town; and the money pays their school fees.  Silence.   Or, I offer, each village could do a garden on their own land for their own children who need it.    They prefer that, but begin listing the obstacles that immobilize them – water, good land without rocks, how to market the goods…   so many obstacles in Africa, and so few willing to face them square on with confidence that they WILL overcome.

 Again the headmen ask us to give them something. Again we insist we are here to help them do something only if they really want to do it themselves, will work for it, will do all they can without us. Do they really have the children on their mind? We are left with a sinking feeling that we are more concerned than the headmen.  So I give them a challenge – go back to their villages; list all the children who are hungry and the ones not able to afford school; then find three people who will commit themselves to finding a solution to that problem. After they have discussed it for some time and have some ideas, then, and only then, call me. I will come and help them make a plan that works.

Isa 59:16 ¶ And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;

So yesterday I went and paid a visit to the headman of France Village. I have done Bible study with his family a couple times, so we are friends. I want to get his thoughts on the meeting. We go over the content again. I don’t get the impression anything is going to get done with my challenge.  France is the smallest village in our “community” – I would estimate about 15 huts. Gibson, the headman, must be 60. Two of his daughters have lost their husbands – so that is 10 single orphans there and 2 dependent moms. Another granddaughter’s husband left for Namibia 8 months ago – so another 2 orphans and dependent mom. Then they say there are two more double orphans in the village. So already – the smallest of villages – and we have counted 14 orphans! And there is no income for any of these – Gibson is old and bent – he and his wife cannot do much work. One daughter has one leg quite shorter than the other, but she is energetic and happy – I see she has gone into the bush and cut tall grass and tied in bundles to sell – $1 per bundle – and she has three bundles here. The only son living here is alcoholic and useless. All the land near the river is so full of rocks there is no possibility for a garden. They plant corn on an area far off that can be irrigated only by rain. This morning  one of the children accidently lit fire to their home and it’s still a smoldering pile of earth with a skeleton of a metal chair frame the only thing standing.

 Justice calls out like an angry bull elephant! Enough is enough! When will someone stand up and contend for the fatherless? God wants these children fed and clothed and healed. He wants them sent to school. He wants them trained and secure in love. Something can be done if people will contend and struggle for it. Nothing happens in these neglected areas without a significant amount of struggle and disheartening setbacks. One must be made of pure grit. Or conviction. And faith.

 So here is my small contribution – may God breathe on it and multiply it! 

We have a 75×75 garden started. We have spent probably $500 – $700 on it so far – wire fence, 3 full time workers for a month, all the right fertilizer and soil additaves. Now we are going to give 2 rows to each of the most vulnerable orphans so they can get to school. 

  • First we need to identify the most vulnerable – personal interviews thru 2-3 villages.
  • Then schedule them to care for their rows – water it, weed, nurture.
  • Find some solution for marketing and sales.
  • Get the kids uniforms, shoes, and enrolled.
  • Maintain the whole system for the remainder of the school year.
  • Then get them organized in their own garden – the next project. 


What we need – 

  • Could someone sponsor this garden? Pay for our expenses so far and another $300 to get 3 more rows and an employee for the remainder of the year.
  • We need a committed intern for 6 months to oversee this – identification of orphans, work with school officials, monitor field responsibilities…
  • Then the next school year to make individual or per village gardens – about $200 per orphan garden for a foot water pump, and another $300 for ox plow and seed and fertilizer to get it started. I would love to see one garden in each of the 9 villages! 
  • A long term worker whose purpose is to interceed and intervene for the orphans! Oh this would be so wonderful!
  • Prayer warriors – can I give you names and pictures of the orphans of one village for you to adopt in prayer support? 


De 14:29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which [are] within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which you do.”


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