Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Party!

Seasons Greetings...

I organized a Christmas party for the kids at Fountain of Hope today. I'll be leaving tomorrow morning to spend my holidays in Namibia, so the party's timing was a bit off but no one seemed to mind at all. A traditional Zambian Christmas meal of chicken and rice was served before the festivities began: dance party, present distribution, attack of the blow-up Santas and treats like the lovely pastries provided by David and Kimberly.

Here are some photos...Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice!

- Holly

P.S. My birthday is on Christmas Eve, and I was born in Bethlehem...Pennsylvania. Love this time of year, being the Messiah and all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Above: our favorite Photobooth shot

Lemmy is 22 and stays on the street in the City Market area. I met him at Fountain of Hope last week and asked him to visit me at the library. He came back the next day and the day after that. Sunday afternoon, I saw him in a group seated at a stone table outdoors in the Soweto market, and he assured me he'd see me at the library Monday. He did.

Today (Tuesday), I asked the library assistants to give me their choices for "best books" in the subject areas to add to a document I'm creating. Lemmy took it upon himself to present a few of his favorites, although he has limited literacy skills and hasn't spent much time with the collection. He wanted to take part in the project. He also wanted to learn how to use my laptop, and he was able to enter bibliographic information into the document by the end of the afternoon. He selected our oversize copy of Kenneth Grahame's classic, The Wind in the Willows with detailed, large illustrations, and had a story time with a few of the very young boys who stay at Fountain of Hope. He crafted his own story based on the pictures. Rat and Mole became Lemmy and Holly, and Badger's house became Lubuto library. The kids loved the story, especially since the other characters were assigned the identities of kids they know from life in the streets. Lemmy is working on his English. He is primarily a Bemba speaker.

Here is an interview I did with Lemmy the first day I met him that morphs into an interview with Joe, who was sitting with us:

Do you like the library?

I like books.

What grade have you finished?
Up to grade 7.

What do you think about having books here?
If this library wasn’t here, we wouldn’t be able to see these books.

What do you think is good about having books here?
Some of these books can help us learn English and know how to read. We know different kinds of things that happen. Like histories that used to happen a long time ago.

What have you learned from being around books and reading them?
I am a newcomer in libraries. I come here and go back on the street and come here and go back. I’m not here all the time because I do not stay here.

When you’re on the street, do you ever think to yourself, ‘Hey, I want to go to the library?’”

Do you feel different when you’re on the street? Is it different to be here in the library?
It’s quiet, and no one can make noise. In the street, you won’t think about reading because there’s too much noise. You can play cards, but you can’t be without noise.

Did you tell anyone else on the street about the library?
Only one.

What did you tell him?
I was encouraging him because he was in school before, so I told him there was a library at Fountain of Hope that could keep him busy.

I think the people who have built this library have done a good job.
This book is National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals.

Why do you like this book?
I want to know more about a long time ago.

So you opened to the Pleistocene illustration. That is in Kenya, did you know that?
No, I didn’t know that. This is a bush man.

What can you learn from the pictures in this book?
I can see from this picture that the elephant needs manzi (water) here. This is my favorite one.

Joe: He wants you to keep speaking in English, and he’ll keep speaking in English so he can get better. He wants to describe the picture in English.

Lemmy: This is my favorite because I like to see the bush and the water. I like everyone in this picture: the horse, some trees, the water, the elephant.

Joe: Holly, what do you call this one?

Me: It’s a mongoose.

Lemmy: Oh! I know it!

Joe: He is saying he has seen it before.

Lemmy: At Munda Wanga [a park/zoo near Lusaka]! I saw him about 10 times at Munda Wanga.

Me: Nice! I like Munda Wanga.

Lemmy: Mumbwe!

Joe: That's "hyena" in Bemba. In Nyanja, it’s chimbwe.

Lemmy: This one, he behaves like a dog. I’ve seen this one. In Luapula [in Zambia]. I hear them cry in the night.

Me: Let me get you a couple more books with some animals from Africa.
(Wild at Heart, an excellent photography book by Peter Godwin and Chris Johns)

Lemmy: Ah, he’s a witch! [Pointing at photo of bushman Klaas Kruiper outside his hut in Molapo, SA…research names and places.]

Me: why do you think he is a witch?

Lemmy: He’s doing witchcraft.

Joe: Will you read about this picture?

Me: turns out that he forsaw his own death and…

Joe: Hyenas again!

Lemmy: Traditional ceremony. That’s a green snake.

Me: Zama Zama, South Africa. They are training to be witch doctors.

Joe: In SA, there are so many traditional ceremonies. Different ones. Lots of dancing. In Zambia, there are also many ceremonies. Chief Mpezeni in Eastern Province, he has a nice one.

Joe: Look at this man. Why do so many people like to drink alcohol, Holly?

Lemmy: Zulu dancers. Shaka Zulu! History from long time ago in South Africa.

Me: Zulu warriors.

Joe: Yes. Maybe here we have a book on Shaka Zulu.

Me: Let me check…

Lemmy: I am too tired. (goes to sleep)

Me: This is a nice book. It’s about African Queens. I know Shaka was a guy, but take a look at it. I think you might find something. (Book: In Praise of Black Women by Simone Schwarz-Bart and Andre Schwarz-Bart)

Joe: Holly! Here in this book is Nandi. She is the mother for Shaka!

Me: Yes! That’s what I was going to show you! There are great paintings and photographs and even some songs along with the history. The history of Shaka himself is included here, so that’s all you need.

Joe: Can you read some of it to me?

Me: Yep.

Lemmy and Joe.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Nicest Person in America

I arrived at the library with a box of new books for the library, and one of them is the stunning portrait of Obama's life as a child called Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Being very familiar with their wonderful work in children's literature, its excellence was not surprising. It was the illuminating messages behind daringly somber content that struck me. The book touches on sensitive issues faced by Lubuto users such as begging to survive and parental abandonment. Naturally, I called an impromptu story time (with the help of a social worker's translations). The book was in high demand for the rest of the day and paged through in large groups.

Tendai took the book after the story time and started chanting "O-BA-MA!":

Then "Kiss Brown" (formerly known as "The Undertaker") joined him:

Then more joined, and the chanting continued!:

Bob is Kenyan and was very proud today. He also happened to be sporting the perfect t-shirt:

I asked the group for a few comments, and here's what they had to say:

Tendai: Ah, he’s a good president. Every other president is fake.

"Kiss Brown" (aka "The Undertaker"): Obama is the best man of the United States of America. His dream will come true, to improve the United States. Mr. George W. Bush, we will drop him in water.

Joseph: I’m proud because he’s black. He promised that the school fees for courses will be low, so even if you are African, you can go there and do some courses.

Mwamba: I’m very proud. He’s the first black person to be president. No one thought a black man could be president. It makes me feel more accepted by Americans.

Joseph aka "Don Lover": He’s the president!

Jacob: I’m very proud because a long time ago it was not allowed. (translated from nyanja)

Tendai (again): I’m very happy that Obama is president because he’s black and things will change. (translated from nyanja) O-BA-MA! I hope that Obama is also good for free food. Free food! Enjoy!

Gordon: I like him because he’s black.

Enock: Obama is a good president because he can be helping people who need free food.

Junior Augusten: He is very nice.

Tendai: Free maize to eat.

Benson: I like him because he’s black like us.

Steven: Obama, he’s kind. What I see when I look at him is someone who knows how to work with people. He doesn’t have to say, ‘This is a white man” or “This is a black man” because they’re just one, united like the United States.

Thomas: Go and tell George Bush that he’s too ugly.

Tendai: Obama is a good president because he’s a black president, and I’m black.

Steven: There will be no more doubting if we go to America. We can just walk in.

Tendai: Free food for good health.

Levy: If you go back to America, you have to greet him and say that Zambian people love him. We want to finish school, and we don’t know if we can be the president or a doctor or what what. We want to be like Obama, and we are happy he is the president. Tell him the Fountain of Hope greets him.

Gordon: He’s a good person, and I like him so much.

Enock: I am happy because Barack Obama is a good president of America. He doesn’t have a short temper because he likes people. Some people, they don’t like him, but us, we like him.

Michael: Obama, he’s the best president. People, they are proud of him and can’t be jealous. He’s a good person and can help people. We are proud of him! He is the nicest person in America.

It was our celebration of a moment that was perfectly summarized by my Zambian friend, who said, "The whole world is happy today!"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In Memory of Natalie

While I was away from Lusaka visiting my friend in Cape Town, South Africa, a Fountain of Hope grade seven student and frequent library patron named Natalie, known to friends as Natty, passed away.

The day I arrived back in Zambia, the Zambian news on TV reported from Misisi Compound on the fence being constructed around the nearby dam after many drownings. Natalie was the youngest person to perish.

Yesterday morning, I met her parents and grandmother in Misisi Compound, and they handed me a frame containing two photos of Natalie. One photo eerily featured Natalie and a friend arm in arm on a rock along the dam, the place that took her life. The second photo taken in front of one of the large tree designs on either side of the Lubuto library door. I was chilled and then silent and then tearful and offered condolences.

Ni Cho Yipa! (What a terrible thing!)

Natty spent many afternoons in the library with her friends. She listened to a few of my stories, and we perused nature books together.

On behalf of Lubuto, I give deepest sympathies to her friends, classmates and family.

Human Rights Commission's Public Hearing for Violence Against Children

The second week of September, the Human Rights Commission in Lusaka held its inaugural Public Hearing for Violence Against Children. This public forum offered children and adults representing children a chance to voice their experiences enduring or bearing witness to human rights violations. On Wednesday, September 17th, four vulnerable children, all boys, arrived barefoot with a social worker to testify. One by one, they shared their experiences in front of the panel with the assistance of a translator. Vulnerable children in Zambia can usually speak some English, but those who have not entered school, particularly secondary school, have a difficult time communicating an entire story in English. After months, I am relatively familiar with life on the streets of Lusaka, so I had some understanding of the actions they described and recognized the names of places. Each child spoke for about twenty minutes and then answered questions from the panel. I was very impressed with their confidence and composure during the process.

The children were speaking “town Nyanja”, the most common language in Lusaka. It is an amalgam of several languages and is denoted as “town” to distinguish it from “deep Nyanja” - a slightly different dialect because it has not been cross-bred with other languages. Deep Nyanja is spoken in the Eastern province and also Malawi, and many of the kids who visit Lubuto know both town and deep Nyanja.

It surprises me how few foreigners in Zambia, aid workers or otherwise, bother to learn Zambian languages. It shocks children to hear their own language from non-Zambians, even non-Zambians who are living here for the sole purpose of helping them. I am a bit puzzled about it all, although I suppose I have a key advantage. It’s possible to learn Zambian languages only if Zambians are willing to hold your hand through the learning process. I literally have Zambians holding my hand during it! [note: I admit to knowing very little thus far.]

These are kids who would like the library. They’re kids who like to laugh. They’re kids who might happen to know my friend, John. What a coincidence! These are kids who would like the Zambian folktale from Northwestern province as much as the kids at Lubuto did when I read it to them. Maybe they’d eat nshima and beans with me at lunch. If the kids at Fountain of Hope are any indication, they would address me as “Hollywood” or “the Holly Grail”.

On the street, children form groups identified by the location around which they convene. Matthews, Abraham, and Gift are part of the City Market group a boy named Jonathan, who visits the library and returns to the street, is also from City Market. Last week, Jonathan drew me a map of the street near City Market where he begs for money during the day and asked me to visit him.

After the children were seated in the audience, I tried to maintain their level of confidence and composure and approached them.

Bwanji! Hello, how are you?

Zina langa ndine Holly. Nicokela ku America ku New York. My name is Holly. I’m from New York in America.

Cha bwino kuzibana. It’s nice to meet you.

Msebenza ku Lubuto Library ku Fountain of Hope. I work at Lubuto Library at the Fountain of Hope.

Nipuzila chi Nyanja, nikululukile. I’m learning Nyanja, sorry!

They laughed with disbelief and amusement. I read the looks on their faces as, “who is this crazy mazungu?”. [Mazungu means white person. I hear it approximately ten times a day.]

I asked them, “Hey, do you guys know Jonathan Masando from City Market?”

And they do. “John? You know John?!”

I pulled a colorful Lubuto newsletter and pamphlet from my folder. They identified the large photo of the library as Fountain of Hope. “Yes,” I agreed, “but this is the Lubuto Library inside the Fountain of Hope,” and pointed to a picture of some kids reading.

There I was, in the middle of a Human Rights Commission public hearing, making casual conversation just as I would at any social function with victims of the human rights violations that incited the hearing. It should have been a surreal moment, but it wasn’t. Perhaps it seems as if I’ve been desensitized, but that’s not the case. For me, the moment signified success.

It's not possible to help vulnerable children without becoming a part of their world. Only then is it possible to present obstacles to be overcome rather than impersonally impose solutions.

While the kids at Fountain of Hope are so fortunate to have the Lubuto library at their disposal, meeting these kids reminded me that more and more children will share the privilege as new Lubuto libraries are constructed.

Within Lusaka, there are plans for three new Lubuto libraries in Garden Compound, Kabulonga, and Lusaka West.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Introducing Barack Obama

Trevor supported Hillary Clinton and was disappointed when Democrats nominated Barack Obama. He didn't know much about Obama. If I haven't made it clear before, books are scarce and expensive in Zambia and the nearest public library is a day's drive away. When two copies of a short biography called Barack Obama: An American Story by Roberta Edwards arrived at Lubuto, I was nothing short of elated. Trevor read the book right away, and we discussed it a bit.

me: You weren't sure if Obama would make a good president the last time we talked about politics in the States.

Trevor: I didn't know much about him, but after reading this book, I know that he is smart because he started trying a long time ago and looked forward. He was speaking for those people who were uncomfortable in America, not only blacks but whites, too. He searched for what the people were thinking. He cared about people.

me: Is he different than Bush?

Trevor: Yes because where Bush makes mistakes, he [Obama] cares about what he's saying and doing. Bush cares about what he's saying most. He cares only about America, but Obama cares for the people themselves. Even the soldiers in Iraq, he said he will withdraw them if he is elected so Iraq can be free. He helps others, not just America.

me: Do you know about the person running against Obama?

Trevor: A white man. Mack?

me: Close. McCain.

Trevor: I heard from BBC radio that he was saying his medical check-up was okay so 'vote for me'!

me: Excuse me... [laughs] [laughs more] What do you think about America nominating an African-American?

Trevor: The African-Americans have suffered a lot, you know? Obama, he is not really an African-American because he has a white mother. He is both black and white.

me: Why is that important to you?

Trevor: If Barack Obama was a full African-American they wouldn't like him. He's colored so he has a chance.

me: I think the same people who wouldn't like him for being a full African-American don't like him now for being half. Do you know what I mean?

Trevor: No, I don't think you're right...His father left him, you know. Obama once visited Africa and he went to Indonesia where his stepfather took his mother.

me: What do you think about that?

Trevor: No wonder he wanted to help people, he saw what was lacking because he was not in a good situation himself. His father left him with his mom. He saw the flats that maybe had no water pipes, no toilets...just like in Misisi [the compound where Trevor lives]. He wanted to allow more people to express themselves, even those people. In short, he is a voice for the voiceless.

me: Would you vote for him if you could?

Trevor: Yeah. Yes, sure. I see potential for him to do wonders. He sees not what people are doing now, but where they are coming from and where they're going.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Captain Steven

Steven Siame

Steven is one of Fountain of Hope's great success stories. He was able to conquer substance abuse he developed while living on the street, and today he is attending secondary school and receiving very high grades. He is also one of the most charismatic people I've ever met. He listens to my iPod almost everyday, and his new favorite band is Radio Dept. He also likes M.I.A. and Depeche Mode a lot.

What is your position at Fountain of Hope?

I'm a captain. I am the person to set an example for the new kids who arrive from the streets. When they see me, they start to believe they can change.

Do they talk to you about it?

Yes, they say, 'Oh, Steven was living on the street, and now he's doing very well! Maybe I can change easily, too.'

Joseph and me are the two role models here. After the kids get to know us, they begin asking for advice. I was smoking on the street and stopped, so I say to them, 'It's not hard to stop. Just forget about it and do activities to keep busy. Concentrate on school, learn from your mistakes and use them to motivate yourself to change. Play football, play basketball. Just follow what I'm telling you and you'll be okay!'

Has it worked?

Yes, for many of them. I can even give you an example. Gift over there, he's changed [he was browsing the geography section]. He's now in grade 5. When he came here, he was confused. He asked, 'Why am I here? I can't get any money here. I should be out getting money!' [begging on the street] Then he asked me what to do, so I started advising him. I told him, 'If you finish school, all those things will follow you.'

Another example?

Morgan. As for him, he was here and then went back to the street. It was difficult for him because he liked money. He liked to buy things. He liked shoes, clothes, watches, what what. I told him, 'Here they will give you clothes and shoes if you ask for them, you will eat your meals for free and school is free. Just concentrate on getting better.' He was very happy about that and stayed. Now he's also in grade 5.

What school do you go to?

Ribala High. I don't have money for transport or a bicycle, so I get tired walking back and forth. But I really like the school, and it's important to me.

What do you want to do after graduation?

I would love to play football, of course. If that doesn't happen [laughs], I'd like to be an accountant because mathematics is my best subject.