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One Volunteer’s Experience in Zambia

  |   zambia   |   1 Comment

We recently took the time to interview Jamie Leathers, a participant in our January 2012 trip to Zambia. As a long-time investor in Spark Ventures, Jamie was excited to see our work first-hand in Zambia as well as meet her sponsor child, Jane! Read our interview with Jamie to learn more about her experience with our Partnership Trip to Zambia.

How did you become involved with Spark Ventures?

I learned about Spark Ventures a few years ago through co-founder Scott Barbeau. I thought it was great that they were encouraging the children there to get a good education and live up to their potential by helping them to be healthy. I also liked how they had a plan in place to assist the school and orphanage to one day be self-sufficient. I began as an investor in Spark Ventures over a year ago by donating a small amount each month, then eventually sponsored a child at the Hope School.

What motivated you to go on Spark’s partnership trip to Zambia?

First and foremost, I wanted to see the difference these children’s lives. It’s great that Spark keeps their website up-to-date, sends out emails to their investors, and holds annual events – but the opportunity to see it all first-hand is amazing! Not many organizations give you the chance to go overseas and see the progress they have made and meet the teachers and the children that you see so many photos of. I was also extremely excited to meet my sponsor child, Jane. She and I had communicated back and

forth for a year, thus the thought of actually getting to meet her in person was exciting for both of us as well as see the difference the Spark-Hope partnership was making in Zambia.
I knew that by seeing the Hope school and orphanage in person and meeting the people involved, I would be better equipped to inform my friends and family back home about Spark Ventures and their mission. My experiences there would enable me to let people know more about the conditions the families and children in the village of Twapia were living in, the importance of education there, and the life-changing progress that the Spark-Hope partnership was making. I was excited to be able to come home with inspiring stories that I was able to witness and hear about first-hand.

Was there anything that surprised you while in Zambia?

I went to Zambia with no expectations and a very open mind, but I was definitely surprised by the people! Everyone that I met there was warm, friendly, and sincere. I was welcomed into

their homes with open arms and they treated me as if I was an old friend that they’ve known for years. I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing the people of Zambia are in the way they treat others and how hospitable they are to their visitors. I also wasn’t expecting Zambia to
be so similar to the U.S. in some aspects: they have KFC and Subway, shopping malls, and (based on my experience) some very luxurious hotels! The comforts of home were nice, but the people are definitely what made this trip so memorable for me. On the other hand, I wasn’t expecting was how horrible the roads are! Most roads in Zambia are dirt roads, ridden with huge potholes due to heavy rains and poor drainage. It’s quite normal for a driver to have to swerve all over the road and drive extra slow in order to avoid all of the holes!
Was there anybody that you formed a connection with in Zambia?

I naturally connected with my sponsor child, Jane. She is a wonderful little girl and will always have a special place in my heart. She and her friends spent time teaching me some Bemba vocabulary, clapping games, and other games they play after school. Those girls were so patient with me! I made so many mistakes, but they didn’t mind at all. Jane just kept saying “Try again, try again…” I also felt a strong connection with one of the pastors at Hope Ministries, Pastor Judy. I felt very comfortable with her and was able to talk to her about my life. She gave me a lot of hope for my future and I believe she helps give many people in her community hope as well. A remarkable woman!

I was also inspired by several of the children’s stories – one example being Alex, who used to have to walk the streets late at night when he was young, selling kerosene for his aunt who he

lived with at the time. Now, Alex is able to go to school, play with his friends, and be a normal kid and not have to worry about working late hours or the dangers a young boy could face on the streets at night. So many of the children at the school have faced hardships in their lives that I can’t even imagine. All of them were an inspiration to me!
Was it hard coming home and re-adapting to Westernized life?

I admit, it was a bit disheartening to return to the U.S. where I see so many children here who have everything, yet take it all for granted. They could have the newest cell phones, the trendiest clothing, the latest video games or toys, the most expensive sports cars, and yet still complain, whine, are unhappy and greedy for more. Some of them even complain about school, skip classes, possibly even drop out! Meanwhile, in Ndola, the kids were ecstatic to have the chance to go to school and learn. They were excited about learning – never complaining about anything, and quite possibly the happiest children I have ever seen. I came home not feeling sorry at all for the kids I met over in Africa – I felt more sorry for the kids here in the U.S.

Another difficult part of returning home was having to face the fact that the friends I made over in Africa are not a part of my everyday life here in America. When you spend a week with people, there is a tendency to get attached and form a bond during that time together. It was really hard to say goodbye to everyone and return home knowing it could be a very long while before I see any of them again.
Do you feel you have a different outlook on life and your priorities since your return?

My trip over to Zambia with Spark changed my outlook on life and my priorities tremendously – in fact, I am a bit shocked at how it’s made me change my ways of thinking about the children that I met in Ndola, compared to the children I know here in the U.S. Prior to the trip, I had never been to Africa before and based my opinions on how poverty affects people based solely on what I have seen on documentaries and TV commercials. I somewhat expected these children at the Hope School to be sad, hungry, sick, and dying, with little hope in sight. This is not at all what I saw there.

Even though these kids live in poverty and have very little, they are so happy and content with life. They were so full of spirit – always laughing, singing, and playing! I also witnessed first-hand at how giving the children are, whether it be by sharing their food with one another or patiently teaching me all of their songs and games. In short, the children at the Hope School are healthy and happy. Admittedly, I can’t compare how they are now to how they may have been years ago before Spark Ventures and all of the wonderful Hope teachers and staff came into their lives.

On a personal level, my priorities have shifted somewhat. I have always held the people in my life as my number one priority, as my family and friends are the most important things in my

life. I am grateful to have a job where I get to help feed the billions of people in the world (although very indirectly), and I have never been a materialistic person. However, upon
returning home I now have a deep desire to do more for other people in the world who may need help. I don’t have a lot of money to give. I will never be able to be the person who can donate hundreds or thousands of dollars to charities every year. But I do have a big heart, lots of compassion, and a willingness to help and volunteer my time in any way possible. Now that I am home, I plan on seeking out more volunteer opportunities, both within my local community and abroad.

Have you stayed involved with Spark Ventures and the people you met along the way?

I will stay involved with Spark Ventures for as long as they are around. I feel they are an amazing organization and I believe in their mission. I will continue being an investor in Spark and plan on supporting any new projects they encounter. I would love to travel back to Zambia with Spark to help out in any way I can. And of course, I plan on keeping in touch with not only the Spark Ventures members who went on the trip with me, but also many of the Hope teachers and staff who I connected with during my stay with them over in Zambia.

And naturally, I will continue writing letters to Jane and encourage her to stay in school and follow her dreams!
Are you interested in joining us on our Summer Partnership Trip to Zambia this July? RSVP for our partnership trip interest meeting on March 29th!
  • Lisa Marie | Apr 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    What an inspiring story!

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