In May 2003 Kevin Gilbert appealed to his friends in Australia and around the world to support the orphans in the Chibobo region of Zambia. Part of his initial email is included below. You will note how moving the account is and the practical nature of Kevin and Abeauty's vision for the support of this community. To find out more information on the way the project developed, click on the link at the end of the email.


now we come to the main point of my letter to you all. Those closest to me will know that I have been talking recently about involving myself possibly in a school for orphans here in Zambia. Last night (Saturday 9 May), the BBC World service reported a statistic on Zambia which shocked me – the average life expectancy of a Zambian has dropped now to 33 years! When I came here last year, it was 36 or 37 years. AIDS is decimating the population – there are funerals in Serenje each week, in Kabwe (the largest regional town) nearly every day. 20% of the population was reported last year as being HIV+ (what it is now is anyone’s guess). There is talk of a ‘missing generation’, of many children orphaned by loss of both parents, of these orphans now being ‘in the care’ of relatives Friday last, I spent a night at Chibobo village – this is where a local Zambian, Abeauty Chibuye, has established (from his own initiative and hard work since 1993, plus some donations by Christian Aid in UK) a village in the centre of an impoverished rural community. Here at the village, is a hammer-mill to mill maize into meal (from which the staple food ‘nshima’ is cooked – like a thick tasteless porridge; it is eaten with  local vegetables ‘relish’ (tomatoes, onions, beans) – they eat this day in, day out (when there is maize to mill!). A manual oil-press is used to press sunflower oil or peanut oil. Locals pay cash or barter product to use this equipment. There is a small shop selling essentials like milk & sugar; a well, from which local pump water manually. There is a classroom for pre-schoolers (which doubles as a local church), a house for volunteers, and a canteen under construction to feed local orphans. Fields full of crops will help sustain the community in times of drought and also allow some more income to be generated to improve local services etc (e.g. no health clinic). Abeauty’s goal is for the local community to eventually sustain themselves with minimum outside donor help. (a few of us volunteers, and some newspaper articles recently support our views, that Africa has become too dependent on donor-aid – it is now like an industry, and local ‘fat cats’ drive around in beautiful 4x4 vehicles (World Vision etc) – it is no wonder that it has been reported that most of a donation to World Vision is gobbled up in admin costs, little actually receiving those really in need. to me…my initial idea of an orphanage was like the ‘institution’ model – I saw a caring place for those children without parents, a place where they could be fed decently, clothed and educated . I have now abandoned this idea after talking with locals, ex-pats and Zambians.  I have become convinced that it is essential to maintain the link between whatever ‘carers’ (i.e. extended family) exists and therefore rather to devote efforts to assisting the carers. How to do this best has led me to visit Abeauty and his community. It was my second time at Chibobo – this time, I realised that all my plans were in my head – I had not even visited an orphan in his/her natural setting…so, at short notice I asked to be taken to visit 3 ‘nearby’ orphans. A neat list of 103 orphans was brought to me and the 3 closest selected. I was escorted to their homes by the local teacher. Please try to imagine the following: a beautiful bushed area of Africa, fairly large trees, elephant grass taller that me. Dusty paths (the nearest tarred road is some 15 km away, serenje some 30 km distant). We walked barely 100 metres to the first home – a typical mud and thatched roof African hut. The teacher was my interpreter – the male head appeared (a man of about 35 years) and welcomed us. I explained that I was trying to learn more about orphans – he called his children – there were 6 of his own, and 3 ‘orphans’ from his dead sister’s family. All were very poorly clad in dirty, torn and dusty poorly-fitting clothing, particularly the orphans. One orphan sat there as we talked. and then pulled up his trousers leg to reveal a knee that had been bleeding badly. It looked painful and infected – he apparently had fallen earlier. The ‘father’ explained how tough it was feeding the additional 3 children. We then went another 50 metres to find the carer, an old lady , the grandmother looking after her dead daughter’s 2 children. Imagine an old emaciated lady, dirty and exhausted, holding a hoe with which she would try to cultivate crops to feed her children. There is no social security in Zambia – poverty, disease (malaria especially, and now AIDS) death is everywhere. I thought of how I would feel, having outlived my child, and now trying to care for grandchildren with absolutely nothing. Nearby, her grandson sat, a child of about 4 with infected eye covered with a swarm of flies. As we left, I wept inside, not so much for the dead, but for the living. That old grandmother, and that poor child – if he is HIV positive, his chances of survival on poor diet are not good. And these 3 within a few metres of the centre – what about the rest of Zambia???? And so on to the third family – no real change to the story except that, once again, a grandmother was trying to look after 2 children of her dead son & wife – one was able to attend school, the other could not because there were no clothes for her. And we are in the 21st Century!!! I thought education was the answer, but now I am confronted by basic food and clothing needs (teachers, remember Maslow’s Pyramid!!) What can we do???  is an alternative: imagine that those ‘orphans’ spend the  school week living at the local community centre at Chibobo – imagine that here they are clothed, fed and educated – not fed anything spectacular (just local nshima); not taught anything exceptional (just school and play, but educated to think with initiative…); clothed with nothing fancy, just second-hand throw-aways from the 1st World as the others wear. Imagine that the children go home on weekends and school holidays so that they maintain the link with their extended families and do not become institutionalised. Imagine that these children are cared for in this way during those crucial years from age 6-7 to 11-12. Imagine that many grow up healthy and reasonably well educated. Imagine that others die of AIDS after a few years, but that they live longer due to a better diet than they would have, and they have some years of play with friends. Imagine that the extended family has better resources as a consequence and can support their own offspring better, plus give quality time to the orphans when they return home on weekends.  imagine a family (or individual) in your ‘First World’ who is willing to go without 2 McDonalds meals a month – for the sake of supporting one orphan on an on-going basis. Yes, imagine that this Aus$30 or 10 pounds or 150rands per month (or Aus$1 per day) will feed, clothe and educate one of these orphans in Chibobo district – imagine that the donor family has complete confidence in the person distributing their $30, confidence that nearly 100% of the money reaches the child selected. Imagine if we had a ‘100 Orphans’ Project which sustained these Chibobo orphans – the entire local community would benefit since food would be purchased from the locals, teachers employed. Imagine if this small candle flame in the darkness became a source of light and inspiration for other local communities throughout Zambia…?

Kevin Gilbert's Original Email