To look after orphans and widows in their distress...
51,000 people in the community where we work are on HIV/AIDS Anti-Retroviral therapy pills (according to the local health clinic nurse). That's in a community of roughly 200,000 people.
Let that sink in.
And this is in a country where half the population is under 15.
As a comparison, the number of people in California taking AIDS medication was 136,000 in 2021 (according to Aidsvu.org). That's in a state with an estimated population of 39 million people.
To say HIV/AIDS has devastated the poorest of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa is a massive understatement. It is a place of intense brokenness and suffering. When we began working in Zambia, the life expectancy was just 39 years old. Today, because so many people have died from AIDS or gotten on Anti-Retroviral Therapy medication, it is closer to 60.
What does this look like at a household level?
On average, the homes we serve in Ngombe have ten people in them. They are tiny two-room houses where it is common for the matriarch to be a widow with several children and many grandchildren. Many times, they are orphans, having lost one or both parents.
In the case of Mrs. Phiri, a small, elegant woman with a commanding presence, she has eight people in her home. She is 78 years old. Standing in her sideyard, we hear Emmanuel, the teen responsible for her garden, talk eagerly about the garden details. He explains how the onions don't do well here, but the Chinese Cabbage flourishes. He has an energetic tone as he describes the dirt, the fertilizer, and the outcomes. He points out where he draws the water and how he's put up fencing to block the garden from the neighbor's chickens. Emmanuel is passionate about making this garden work! He seems to love serving Mrs. Phiri.
When asked how Emmanuel is doing, she said, "he's doing very well with it - he's a good boy.". She explained how her entire family benefits from the food. But not just them but her neighbors too.
Then, in a touching moment, Emmanuel stopped and thanked us, the donors, for helping him with the monthly stipend. The money he receives, roughly $50 U.S. dollars, is a game changer.
Families in Zambia make $130 U.S. dollars a month on average, but in Ngombe Compound, it is frequently much less. When we do home visits and inquire about people's situations, we often hear people saying their monthly household income is $60-$90 dollars. On the lower end of that financial spectrum, the household's children typically won't be enrolled in school because the cost of a pencil or school uniform prohibits them from attending.
There is typically no food in these houses, and the family's common cultural practice is to have a single afternoon meal consisting of a white corn maze (they call Nshima) and a cooked green vegetable. On days when the head of the house can't purchase any Nshima and greens, the family doesn't eat for the day.
Our program is simple - employ local teens to plant and manage backyard gardens for widow-headed households in the community.