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

Volunteers in Zambia

Page: 3



Hotvedt brings out a large handled bag, decorated with the flag of Zambia, and pulls out large pieces of boldly colored fabric. Striking designs in deep greens, dark reds — these are distinctly African colors. Through the skills center she coordinates at the orphanage, participants learn to make shopping bags, purses, placemats and garments. She pulls out a long skirt that one of the young women made for her.

She shows off charming potholders in cheerful blues and greens — some of the products made by a women's cooperative against domestic violence. Proceeds go toward women and their families, she says.

From around her house, she gathers up wooden candlesticks in the shapes of African animals. "They're well used, as you can see," she says, excusing the wax drips. She pulls out a small drawer in a wooden giraffe's side. "That's for the matches!"

She holds out a small black cup, designs painted on the sides. It is a traditional Zambian vessel, made of paper-mache, she explains. From her kitchen she collects intricately woven brown and tan baskets.

"These are typical of the area," she says. Though the baskets are stunning and appear delicate, Hotvedt insists these are not works of art but utilitarian items. "I use them. That's what they're made for, not to just sit there being pretty."

Part of Hotvedt's work includes organizing the crafts fairs where these products — potholders and candlesticks, paper-mache vessels and baskets and more — are sold. "It's very satisfying, this skills center, to teach the children how to make these things that are of value, that they can then sell. It's a big step toward self-sufficiency."

Garrett emphasizes this point. "Yes, this is an orphanage, but we're not there to get these kids adopted out. We're there to make good Zambians," he says. "We're helping them to survive, first of all, and then giving them the resources for a better life."

Hotvedt says her goal at the Zambian Children's Fund is "ultimately to become obsolete. Basically, I do everything I can to help make this a self-sustaining operation. My goal is to see Zambians helping Zambians."

Garrett chimes in with agreement. "It's what a good parent does, if you think of it: to become loved and then become obsolete," he says. "One day, you are not there anymore for your child, but you have given your child what it needs to survive."



Asked how people can help the Zambian Children's Fund, Hotvedt mentions the organization's Web site (www.zambianchildrensfund.org), with numerous donation opportunities. There is the "honorary grandmother" project, of course, and a general fund that supports the orphanage, with its clinic, school and skills center. Locally, the Gila Friends Meeting has been especially supportive, she says.

One particularly creative and interesting project that also generates funds for the orphanage is the "Kids with Cameras" project created by Klaus Schoenwiese, a New York City photographer. In May 2007, Schoenwiese brought cameras and film to Chishawasha and gave a three-week workshop to 12 children there. Schoenwiese instructed the children in the art of photography, and mentored them on capturing scenes from their everyday lives at the orphanage, as well as life in their villages and their extended families, where possible. The children also took photography field trips to a market, a game reserve and a fishery.

The often-breathtaking results were featured in the November 2007 Smithsonian magazine. Chishawasha exhibited 250 of the kids' pictures in a large classroom. Schoenwiese sells prints of the children's photos on his Web site (www.tribeofman.com/shop), with the proceeds funding the Kids With Cameras project (www.kids-with-cameras.org/news) and supporting the orphanage. This month, March 15-28, the photos will be on exhibit at the Manhattan World Culture Open Center.

And if a person or couple should be bitten by "the Zambia bug" and want to volunteer like Hotvedt and Garrett? Well, it's not for everyone, they'll tell you. The days are, after all, long and hard. Cultural differences and living conditions can certainly challenge.

But there are undeniably big rewards, too, and the orphanage can always use more creative, loving, hard-working hands. The two ardent Zambia volunteers advise wannabes to "take stock," and then they proceed to get downright rhapsodic in their list of considerations large and small.

"Don't be afraid!" Hotvedt starts out boldly. "So many things will challenge you, but it is so rewarding to step out of your comfort zone and do something like this. You need to ask yourself some questions, like 'Are you willing to let your assumptions fall away?'"

Garrett pipes up with, "Yes! Can you accept that the way you do things, the way things are in your culture, is not the only way it is? Not even the best way?"

There are also practical considerations, Hotvedt adds: "How long am I willing to stay? How much of my personal resources am I willing to use?"

While she and Garrett feel at home in Zambia — for the rewards they get from their work at the orphanage, for the country's climate and its loving, friendly people who so strongly value family — she cautions that the rustic conditions there are not for everyone.

"The power there goes out all the time!" she exclaims. "We're lucky. We have a generator now, so we can keep the toilets flushing and the kitchen running. Oh, and the skills center. We can keep the skills center open no matter what now."

The generator was a gift from a church in Tucson. Garrett quickly points out that the Zambia Children's Fund is not religion-affiliated, and jokes that they are "non-denominational acceptors of any and all funds."



Both of them agree they have found value specifically in working in a foreign country, spending a considerable amount of time. Hotvedt says, "You get to know people. You're not just visiting monuments. You become a part of things, a part of life there."

"I think it's one of the richest things you can do," Garrett adds. "It's learning what it is to be human in another culture."

Hotvedt tries to think of more questions a prospective volunteer should ask him or herself. "Oh, are you willing to let your mind be blown?" she adds. "Are you willing to really shift?"

"There's a lot of pain there," Garrett says. "Can you let yourself feel and still endure?"

The two go back and forth with more questions, ranging from broader, more esoteric topics to the purely practical and back again.

Finally, Garret suggests, "Can you give up your goal of changing the world?"

"Oh, that's a big one," Hotvedt says, nodding her head.

Garrett continues, "People come into something like this with some pretty big goals and ideas. We're not there, in Zambia, to try and change the world. We're changing the lives of 53 children," he says. "I ask you, how powerful is that?"



For information on the Zambian Children's Fund, write PO Box 42996, Tucson, AZ 85733, call (520) 323-2504, or see www.zambianchildrensfund.org



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