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Good Luck after a Long Trip

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Hi everyone! I am currently in London Heathrow airport’s American Airlines lounge (thanks to a very generous friend of my husband’s who donated a free flight upgrade for the final leg of my very long trip) and thinking with both excitement and sadness about the end of a long and productive trip.

I’ve had pretty good luck in travel so far. My Lusaka to Joburg flight was fairly uneventful given that it was only two hours. Then on the flight from Joburg to London, I was excited that I was moved from a row with a family of four with three very rambunctious kids and a somewhat combative mother to a row with only one other person and a free seat between us. I suppose it’s odd that I enjoy so much the time I spend with the kids at Hope yet dread so completely being around children on an airplane. Might have to work on that. 🙂 With the seat change and the comforting knowledge that the free upgrade will put me in business class for my last 7-8 hours of flight (from London to Chicago), I am in a pretty good mood given the almost 24 straight hours of travel completed so far.

In my layover and flights, I had time to finish Three Cups of Tea, an inspiring true story (that I’m sure many of you have heard of) about a man who decided to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan to tackle poverty and promote peace. While the organization he founded runs on a very different model than Spark does, it’s always nice to have another affirmation of just how big of a difference education can make for children, their communities and their countries. It makes me think of kids like Jeff, Edward, Rita and Jane at Hope House and Hope Community School. These are just a few of the incredibly bright and dedicated students that I have a strong hunch will help shape the future of Zambia.

The people who will help make that happen are the truly incredible staff of Hope Ministries. In observing Hope Community School’s enrollment and attendance procedures, in speaking with the accounting staff about both nonprofit bookkeeping and traditional accounting and in viewing teachers in their classrooms, I have been overwhelmed on this trip by how much Hope as improved as an organization in just the few months since my last trip. Many of the to-do’s on my list for this trip were made substantially easier because Hope has already cultivated the internal leadership and initiative to locate areas of improvement and then improve on them. This is the really exciting piece of what Spark does: enabling organizations to be able to “stand on their own two feet,” as Charles likes to say. I am so happy to see that it’s working, and I am certainly excited for many more years of mutual learning between Spark and Hope so that we continue to make each other better and stronger organizations.

That’s not to say that the trip has not been without its frustrations and hiccups (both figurative and literal – Nkhongono spent a lot of my last two days finding ways to scare my recurring hiccups out of me). International development is a difficult field, more difficult than many realize, and there are times when the need seems so much greater than the energy we have to tackle it.

Yet in the ocean of needs, I find a lot of hope. I find hope in the small businesses that the Hope House children help run to earn a little money for their home and family. They sell popcorn, fritters, cards and handmade balls in a deliberate plan by Hope leadership to not only help the house with some finances but also to teach the children some basic economic survival skills in an economy with over 75% unemployment. I find hope in the school and office staff who crowded around my laptop, thrilled at the chance to learn a few more Excel functions that would help them do more for Hope and the children it serves. And I find hope most of all in the kids like those Grade 7 graduates I saw who looked on the verge of tears of joy when hearing they’d passed to Grade 8. I see hope as well in students like Rita, who has suprisingly impeccable English because her family used to be able to afford private school until her father passed away and who now comes to Hope Community School eagerly so that she still has a way to continue her education. These students’ determination to get a good education despite all odds gives me all the hope I need to work past the figurative hiccups (a little water and holding my breath helped the literal ones) and continue to help Spark chip away at the sources of poverty in Zambia.

It’s always sad to leave Zambia and the loving and generous community that Spark has joined there, but I leave with eager anticipation of the work the Spark team will be able do before our next trip in July. Thank you once again for following the blog! I’ve enjoyed spending this time in Zambia with you all!

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