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About the cover

 

D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    March 2008

Volunteers in Zambia

Page: 2

Hotvedt is a mostly retired counselor with a lot of experience working with non-profit boards and administrating programs. Her job in Zambia is a mixed bag, running everything from counseling groups to fundraising craft fairs, from building crews to skill-building programs.

"What is it that they call me again?" she muses to Garrett. "Oh, I'm the 'development director!'" she says with a laugh. "Well, that's what they're calling me now. That about says it all."

She provides many layers of administrative assistance, working closely with the manager of the orphanage — who is, himself, an orphan — and serving on the children's fund's board of directors. She helps set up bank accounts for employees of the orphanage and school.

"Don't forget going to the bank for us, too," Garrett reminds her. "That's an all-day job sometimes. You can stand in line for two hours."

Chishawasha was awarded a grant for self-sustainability and innovation last year, Hotvedt says. The money went to start up a poultry operation she facilitates.

"We raise chickens and we use the eggs ourselves and sell some," she explains.

Her duties also include some substitute teaching at the school, working with the builders in planning new buildings, and providing individual and small group counseling. Plus she runs the on-site skills center where Zambian orphans learn things like tailoring, carpentry and small electrical repair.

"That's real important," Garrett puts in. "They have a 70 percent unemployment rate in the country. Absolutely anything you can do to give these children skills, so they can get a job, so they can make a living and support themselves, is extremely valuable."



Hotvedt and Garrett take turns describing their long, full days in Zambia. "Well, our days begin at 7 a.m., being greeted by the children," she says with a laugh, and describes the lengthy cultural protocol of African greetings. In a land with so little, she explains, family is everything. "You cannot pass someone in the street without saying hello and asking after all the members of their family. And you do it genuinely, and by name," she emphasizes. "Your brother, so-and-so. Is he well? And your sister, so-and-so, how is she?" Hotvedt demonstrates. "Sometimes the children will tell me if I've been rude because I didn't ask them enough questions."

Hotvedt has her share of mundane daily tasks in the somewhat rustic facility. Outside of the rainy season, Zambia is a parched and dusty land. Add to this the fact that most of Chishawasha's doors don't fit very well in their frames or reach to the floor.

"I spend part of every day sweeping out the dust and the scorpions," Hotvedt says.

Next comes making plans for the day, "Though our plans are often shot to hell by 10 o'clock!" she confesses, laughing.

By this time of the morning, Garrett has done his first medical rounds at the clinic, bandaging cuts, checking complaints, making sure children who need medications have taken them. Some of the orphans are on anti-retrovirus treatments for the HIV handed down to them through their now-dead mothers.

Then he heads off to do morning medical rounds at another orphanage/school and Hotvedt plunges into her administrative tasks for the day, "keeping everything running, doing whatever's needed, handling things as they come up," she says lightheartedly. By afternoon, Garrett is back at Chishawasha, doing his handyman duties as needed.

The atmosphere at the orphanage is very much like one of a large extended family. The couple has dinner with the residential children each night.

"After dinner, we basically goof off with the kids," Garrett says. "You know, we just, well, play."

But their day has far from ended. After dinner and "goofing around," Hotvedt runs mental-health groups and has one-on-one discussions as needed. Garrett facilitates math groups for the girls, often neglected in African schools. He finishes up with another minor round of medical checks as the children hunker down to bed for the night.

"We go from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week," Hotvedt says. "It's a long, full day. And you know what they say, 'It's a good kind of tired!'"



Working in the orphanage, being such an integral part of the children's lives for long stints at a time, has brought the couple many poignant moments, they say.

"Oh, there are so many stories," Hotvedt exclaims. She talks about "our Force," the little boy on the cover of the Ambuya program brochure. She takes a picture down from the kitchen wall — a child's drawing on plain white paper.

"Force drew me this," she says, pointing out various elements in the picture. Mimicking a little boy's husky voice, she says, "Auntie Mary, I draw you a zebra!" pronouncing the word with an African accent, short e and a rolling of the r. She laughs and shows the mango tree Force drew, numerous fruits on a stick-like trunk. She points out a circle with dark dots drawn inside it. "I think that's a toilet, with poop," she says, once again imitating Force's voice.

Garrett gives a knowing look and a smile. "Oh, he's fascinated with poop," he says with a laugh. "He showed me a hole he had dug and then he was throwing rocks into it. He was laughing, just delighted, and I asked, 'What's that?' and he says, 'Poop!' Everything is just so delightfully down-to-earth with these kids."

Some stories are memorable not because of the touching, child-like innocence, however. Some stories, Hotvedt allows, stay in the mind because of the crushing poverty, and the power of the human spirit to overcome, to survive. She tells the story of three siblings who came to the orphanage one day, children who lost both mother and father within 48 hours. Both parents probably had AIDS, she says, and succumbed to cholera less than two days apart.

"They came to us so malnourished," Hotvedt says. "My God, what it was like just to see them eat!" She pauses to collect herself at the memory. "They were actually smiling as they ate. Have you ever seen children smile as they are eating? They were just so thankful, so happy to have food."

Hotvedt and Garrett say not only the children but Zambia itself has charmed them. They have taken pains to learn much about the country that is now their part-time home. Garrett launches into a mini history lesson, about Zambia's days as "White Rhodesia" and its British colonial roots. Estimates of the total number of languages spoken in Zambia vary from 43 to 70, depending on whether some dialects are counted as languages in their own right. English is the official language, but there are seven other major tongues.

Garrett explains that there has been a campaign toward "anti-tribalism," and efforts to develop a Zambian identity, unifying the country with English, music and other cultural elements. Most children at the orphanage speak up to three languages, he says, and some are conversant in five or more. Admitting that learning languages is not his strong point, he says he knows "only greetings, just enough to be polite."

Hotvedt, on the other hand, seems to take to language. "I can speak a little 'baby' Nyanja," she says excitedly. "I'm to the point where I can make bad jokes, and that really makes the kids laugh!"



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