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The Things We Leave Behind

  |   community programs, education, partnership trip, report from the field, spark ventures, travel, zambia   |   No comment

At Spark, we measure our impact in the long term success of our partnerships. We want children served by our partners to have access to the resources they need to achieve their potential, and we do this by strengthening and sustaining amazing community programing.

To reach these goals, we often focus on the big picture (like impressive annual test results). But, the little things that bring smiles to the faces of the kids we serve can also have a lasting, important impact. When we bring travelers to experience our work, the time spent with the children leaves many inspiring memories. One-on-one attention is a powerful motivator and not quickly forgotten. But, sometimes leaving behind a few small tokens can help lengthen our presence in our new friends lives.

Our Zambian partner – Hope Ministries

Our January partnership trip to Zambia is a perfect illustration of the positive effects that these little things can have. We arrived in Zambia prepared to share our love, excitement and… hundreds of t-shirts and bracelets!

A couple of travelers arrived in Zambia each with an extra suitcase, filled to the brim with dark green t-shirts, generously contributed by Mid-America Merchandising. Three hundred and fifty t-shirts are not light luggage, but they were very well received, and now bare Hope Ministries and Spark Ventures logos. While shirts may be a small token of friendship, to us, they continue to serve as a physical illustration of our continued partnership. The students wear them on Fridays (just like a casual Friday here in Chicago… they get to dress down their uniforms once a week). The smiles on the children’s faces as they posed in the t-shirts say it all…

Thanks Mid-America Merchandising!
The whole group poses in their new t-shirts

Even Hope Ministries leaders get in on the action

A visual reminder of our partnership

Another highlight of from our January trip was sharing the “rainbow loom” bracelet trend with our Zambian friends. If you aren’t an American child (or parent of one), rainbow loom bracelets may be new to you. These modernized friendship bracelets are formed by weaving tiny rubber bands into an endless number of designs and patterns.

Our beautiful hand models

The rainbow loom trend has swept our nation and a couple of our January travelers couldn’t wait to include Hope Ministries on the fun. They arrived with over 600 bracelets made by elementary and middle school students from here in Chicago. And, brought along thousands of mini rubber bands. So, we spent an afternoon weaving, trading, and enjoying every brightly colored wrists. The verdict? In addition to deepening our friendship, it appears that the Zambian children are just as into rainbow loom bracelets as their American counterparts. Even some of the teachers got in on the action.

Rainbow loom-ing in action
Stacking the bracelets is half the fun!

In addition to leaving behind t-shirt for the entire school and some flashy homemade jewelry, there is another – less tangible – gift that our travelers repeatedly leave with the children children of Hope: the continued desire to learn. One of the longest standing activities on a Spark’s Partnership Trips is the Reading Program.

This program rewards top students with one-on-one reading time with our volunteers. What started as a way of fostering collaborative learning, has turned into an ongoing incentive to excel in the classroom. The children at Hope Community School know that if they study hard and do well, they may be chosen to participate in the Reading Program with Spark Partnership Trip participants.

Reading aloud to the group
Motivated and engaged in learning

The teachers at Hope Community School tell us that this motivation stays with the children when we are away and pushes them to thrive in ways they hadn’t before.

It is hard to believe that our January Partnership Trip was two months ago. Since time seems to continue moving at a rapid pace, we feel thankful to be able to reflect on the little things that have impacted us on past trips. And, whether Spark is engaging in activities that support our long-term goals or chipping away at our objectives through small gestures, we feel fortunate to be able to leave behind a part of ourselves during every visit and interaction with our partners.

Do you feel like you have something to leave behind?  Would you like to learn more about Spark and our partners?  We would love to travel with you!

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