Today we made our return trip from southern Zambia to Lusaka, which consisted of a lot of sleeping while William, our valiant bus driver, drove us home. Along the way, I was awakened by excessive rattling and debris falling from the unused air vent above my head. I jolted up in my seat to see we were on a long, rocky, dirt road surrounded by tall grass and clusters of huts. After getting a little lost and asking a few of the locals for directions, we found our way to The Haven, an orphanage housing several young children without a family. We were greeted by a few of the “aunties” who were surrounded by a dozen beautiful children. A woman from Texas who had been working there for about a month showed us where to find Meagan, our correspondent from the organization.
We followed her to another one of The Haven’s three buildings. Inside, around 15 children and three aunties were sitting in a half circle surrounding a woman wearing a Cardinal’s shirt and banging on a drum, whom we assumed was Meagan. She would begin by playing the drum and singing a child’s name. Everyone in the room joined the chorus and the child would stand and shake their little hips to the beat of the large drum. Then she would call them to the middle and, while she unwrapped the sucker she was about to reward them, she would quote Scripture to them and have them fill in the blanks.
“God is my…”
“I shall not…”
“For God so loved the…”
“That He sent His only…”
“Thy will be…”
“On earth as it is in…”
The length of the discourse was dependent upon the age of the child, some too shy to say anything around the 11 newcomers in the back of the room.
Once every child and auntie had a sucker, the woman led the children in two songs sung in Tonga, the local language. She then gave control of the classroom to one of the aunties and had us follow her outside. Meagan introduced herself and shook all of our hands, a traditional greeting in Zambia. She explained to us her role at The Haven, caring for medical and developmental needs for all of the children. The class we had just sat in was language development, conducted in both English and Tonga to help the children learn English (English is the language the educational system in Zambia uses). All of the children at some point in the day would have their turn in Meagan’s class. The Haven is designed to build-up the children in hopes that they will thrive upon their return to the village.
She gave us a tour of the facility, introducing each child and auntie individually as she came upon him or her. On more than one occasion, she told us something unique to that child: they were a spit-fire, they were extremely intelligent, they had just learned to walk, etc. All of the rooms she showed us were air-conditioned and lined with colorful murals painted by a group from Tennessee a few months prior. Each child had a bed, food, and was given three baths a day.
“How do you get these children?” Dr. Krishnan asked during our tour. Megan replied saying social services would call them after a mother’s death and her child had no one to go to. Children with stories like these used to be buried with their mothers, as they found it more humane than slow starvation. The Haven was established 30 years ago in a woman’s home as a place for these children to go to be cared for until another family member or family could take them. Most of the children end up with an aunt, a grandmother, or his/her father after he found a new wife.
We entered the third building and came upon the children from the language class sitting in clusters eating nshima and another Zambian dish. They greeted us with loud shouting and laughter; these children were filled with joy. The younger children ate with spoons while the older children sat together and ate from a communal dish, just as the villagers do. Meagan explained to us that they used to be served meat until they realized it was not realistic for village living, as meat often could not be provided. After mealtime, the children were given baths and then would sit on the toilet (most were toilet training) until naptime. She said The Haven would be silent from noon to about 3 with all of the children asleep at the same time. Routine was key for these children.
We asked Megan about her story. She said, during her undergraduate studies as an Education and English major at Oklahoma Christian University, she went on a mission trip to Africa to establish a church and fell in love with the country. After she graduated, she received a call from The Haven asking if she would be willing to help their cause. She accepted and has been there for seven years.
Meagan’s story hit me hard. Her heart is so full of love for these kids, evident in the way she fawned over their accomplishments and the sacrifices she makes every day. Her life and the impact she is making on all of those children made me feel like my work is insignificant. I’m so self-centered at this point in my life with school and establishing myself in the world. Meagan gave up so much of her life when she was around my age. She makes me want to be better and to serve others more. The lessons I learned today have made a lasting impact on my heart. Everyone has the potential to be a hero with the right heart and open eyes to the needs of the world.