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The 3 Esthers Farm with David Derr


A series of seemingly chance encounters brought David Derr to purchase land in Zambia, partner with Sew Powerful to benefit the families of the Needs Care School, and find Nicholas to manage the farm. But on further inspection, the words in Esther 4:14 provided a more divine explanation: "And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this." Listen as David recounts the early trials in getting the farm started to the current times, still with challenges, but also with many benefits to the families in the Ngombe compound.


Needs Cars School, Ngombe Compount, Lusaka, Chilanga, Zambia, feeding hungry children, adopting children from Zambia, crops grown on the 3 Esthers Farm, who are the 3 Esthers in the name of the farm


We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.


The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.


Host: Jan Cancila

Guest: David Derr, Senior Director of Operations, Philanthropy at World Vision, Member, Board of Directors for Sew Powerful USA


Jan Cancila, Host 00:04

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.


Jan 00:19

Our guest today has been one of the most instrumental people in ensuring the ongoing operation of the Needs Care School in the Ngombe Compound in Lusaka, Zambia. Is this person a schoolteacher? No. A curriculum development professional? No, not at all. Serves as head of the school. No, no, no. Our guest, David Derr gets down to basics. His caring spirit and generosity have made a big impact on the Needs Care students and their families since 2015. We're going to reveal shortly what David did, and continues to do for Sew Powerful, and the Needs Care school. So, stay tuned. Welcome, David Derr, how are you today?


David Derr, Guest 01:16

I'm fine. Thank you, Jan, it's great to be with you.


Jan 01:19

Where are you today, by the way?


David 01:23

I live in Gig Harbor, Washington, which is about an hour from downtown Seattle. So up in the Pacific Northwest.


Jan 01:29

Oh, cool. And I understand you travel quite a bit for your job. In fact, we had another session scheduled but work demands called you out of town, and we had to choose a different date. So why don't you tell us where you work? And what you do? What are your responsibilities?


David 01:49

Well, thank you. I'm happy to share. I work for World Vision. And I've been working with World Vision for almost 18 years now. And previously, before the COVID season, I yeah, I was traveling quite a bit through the years to our World Vision programs in different parts of the world. But lately, as with most folks, things have been a lot different. So, I'm doing most of my work virtually now. I have the honor of working with our major donor fundraising team in an operational role. It's been a real blessing.


Jan 02:16

All right, well, and I just got the World Vision catalog gift for Christmas gifts in the mail. So, I've put that aside, and we'll find some people on our Christmas list that will be getting a donation to World Vision on their behalf.


David 02:32

Thank you, appreciate it.


Jan 02:33

You worked at World Vision for a while. Did you work there at the same time with either Jason Miles or Dana Buck?


David 02:40

Yeah, I did. I know both of them very well, met both of them through World Vision. Jason was part of my early couple years, worked with him more closely in the early 2000's. And Dana Buck and I worked very, very closely together for many years. He just retired a short while ago. So, both are just amazing gentlemen, dear friends.


Jan 03:01

I have to tell you, they throw your name around a lot when you're not here. So, we've heard your name a lot. And so, it's good to put a face with a name. You have a personal connection to Zambia, and I presume that that started through your work with World Vision. But I don't know. Tell us about Zambia, and how that connection happened and how that actually personally affected you and your family.


David 03:27

Yeah, so it's a connection with Zambia that's both a church connection and a World Vision connection. My first trip was in 2005. And at the time, I was serving with our Presbyterian Church here in Gig Harbor, Washington, Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. And we're doing a mission trip to to Zambia to support some orphanages. And when we went over as a team, I was able to spend some time with our World Vision staff in the country. That was my first time to see our World Vision team there and Lusaka, just a great initial experience. Lusaka and Zambia is a beautiful country. They're very strong in their own faith. And we got to see some of the challenging situations and challenging conditions up front and personal. We were visiting some of these orphanages that both World Vision and our church partnerships we're supporting. And that actually was the beginning of our journey to adopt two children from Zambia. It took a couple years. We didn't adopt our children until 2007. But it was as a result of that first trip to meet some of the people at the orphanages and meet connections through World Vision to make that happen.


Jan 04:34

And did you meet your children on the first trip or subsequently?


David 04:40

Subsequently, so it was 2007 when we went back and started to work with the Department of Social Welfare. Zambia is one of those countries where there's not really agencies working to help adoption, at least there wasn't at that time. So, we're working directly with the Department of Social Welfare to find out which children were available and it was so it's February 2007, when we met Esther and Ivan, our two children who we adopted a few months later.


Jan 05:03

Are they siblings or just two children?


David 05:08

They're siblings in our house. We don't know much about their story. They were in an orphanage for about a year before we adopted them. Neither one of them have many memories. The records are not clear as to what happened to them before they arrived in the orphanage. So they could be, we don't know. In the end, we decided it really doesn't matter. We're going to be part of our family. And we've had them now for 13 years.


Jan 05:35

And how old were they when you adopted them?


David 05:40

Five and six. Ivan is the younger one. He's now 18. And Esther is 19.


Jan 05:45

Oh, my goodness. And what are they doing now?


David 05:49

Ivan is here in Gig Harbor and attending Gig Harbor High School. He is a senior this year. And Esther is attending Tacoma Community College, also living at home. So, both are still with us at home and working on their schooling.


Jan 06:03

And did you have other children at the time you adopted Ivan and Esther?


David 06:10

Yes, we do. We have four biological children as well. And what makes life kind of interesting for us is all of our kids are similarly aged. So, my oldest is 24. And then I have a 22-year-old. And then we have a set of twins who are also 19. So, all these kids between now 24 and 18.


Jan 06:28

So, you had six teenagers all at once?


David 06:33

Yes, we did, for a few years.


Jan 06:35

Oh, my gosh, and you're still sane and still with us. That's amazing. That's amazing. So, when you brought the children home, Ivan and Esther, how did your existing children react to that? And how did they welcome them into the family? What was that dynamic?


David 06:54

Our children have been fantastic. Our biological children welcomed Esther and Ivan with a lot of love. But I have to be honest, too, and tell you that it's been a challenging road. These have not been easy years. And anytime, you know, get exposed to or you meet someone who's different or has been subjected to some of the challenges and the conditions that Esther and Ivan experienced, brings a lot of new dynamics into the mix and to parent them was very challenging for for my wife and I. Learned a lot. We've grown a lot. I'm pleased to say both children have really matured and are on a very good path today. But we had some challenging years. And we're just very grateful that God gave us the strength to see it through.


Jan 07:39

That's wonderful now, because you adopted Ivan and Esther from Zambia, you made a purchase in Zambia. Tell us about that.


David 07:51

Yeah, this is one of the most striking kind of parts of our story. This did not happen planned. This was really somewhat of a last-minute decision while we were finishing up the adoption process. One of my good friends, an attorney in Zambia named Ben, he and I were chatting one day, and I was sharing that I'd love to maybe think about obtaining some land so that if Esther and Ivan ever wanted to come back to Zambia that they would have a connection to the country. Maybe it would be a place for them to be. And he just out of the blue happened to say well, I have a friend who is actually selling land. And I was like, you're kidding. And he's like no, it's it's actually not even that far from Lusaka and I said, well, can we go visit it? And he's like, yeah, let's go. And so literally, like on a couple hours’ notice, we drove out to this land, it's in an area called Chilanga. And, and visited the farm, met with the farmer, his name is Kaj. He was a Dutch gentleman who had been there for a long time, and had probably over 100 acres, and he was selling off 10-acre parcels of land. And so sure enough, Ben was able to help us to agree to the terms of purchasing one 10-acre parcel from Kaj. And that started this rather lengthy but unbelievable process for us as Americans to then be able to obtain the title to the land, but it took four years was quite a process.


Jan 09:20



David 09:20

But it was it was just a godsend and we're very thankful.


Jan 09:24

So in the "We Are Sew Powerful" book, Jason wrote a chapter called, "The 3 Esthers Farm". David, you play a prominent role in that story. So let's break it down a little bit and share with our listeners what happened after you purchased that land. Something very unique happened on July 16, 2015. And it was obviously a red-letter day because Jason knows the exact date, he may even know the exact time but this is what he wrote, "Cinnamon and I both stood there in stunned surprise." What did you do to stun Jason and Cinnamon?


David 10:05

Yeah, that was a remarkable day. It was one of those days. I also remember very clearly, I have to go back actually, before the meeting started. So, it was at World Vision, Jason was coming in to visit with a couple of our colleagues and talk about his ministry and what he was doing. And I can remember thinking, I have this meeting on my calendar. But I actually didn't know what the meeting was for. I hadn't seen Jason in quite a while. And so there's this meeting on my calendar. And I can remember thinking, I don't have time for this, I need to probably just politely say, you know, I have to step out and I can't join you. And I really felt the Holy Spirit going, No, you need to go into this meeting. And so, I did. And I sat down, and I listened to Jason talk about what he was doing with the Needs Care Center in Ngombe. And what they were doing with Esther, and how the whole ministry had gotten started there. And I was just stunned as he shared their progress and what they were trying to do and where they were trying to go.


Jan 11:13

Had Jason started Sew Powerful at that time? Yeah, by 2015. Surely, he had.


David 11:19

Yeah, they had been doing some work with Esther for a few years, yes. But I had lost touch with them. So I wasn't in contact with them at that point. It had been a few years. And so this was my first time to actually see Jason in quite a while. And I don't think I'd met Cinnamon before then. And yeah, I listen to their story. And he didn't know this. But you know, what I had been doing with my wife for the prior eight years was to figure out, what's the best way to put this land to use that we had. It took us four years to get the title to the land. But then we'd spent another four years trying to develop, trying to find some way to use the land to benefit the community around where the land is. And we had very simple aims and aspirations. We just wanted to use the land in a way that would help people who were were vulnerable, whether that be children, or orphans or widows, but nothing we tried worked. We were unable to get anything going. And so in 2015, in July, the land was just completely a bunch of bush, it was trees, it was overgrown. There's been no development, there'd been no farming on it for years, because we've been unable to get anything started. Until Jason and I reconnected in July of 2015.


Jan 12:38

So, what is it that you told Jason and Cinnamon after that meeting?


David 12:44

So, after the meeting, I walked up to him and I said, you guys may not believe this. But the fact is that my wife and I have been trying so long to get something going with this land and Zambia, would there be an opportunity to do something together? Do you think we could talk about maybe using this land that we have to support the children of Ngombe? And that's when I think they both just about, you know, fell over. And were quite stunned because they weren't thinking about land. They weren't thinking about farming. But God just brought us together. And that's what started the discussions. And then it wasn't long after that, that we had an agreement that basically we signed that we signed a contractual agreement with, say, for 10 years, at least, the whole farm, all the land will be used to benefit the Ngombe Needs Care Center. So we've been working together for five years and have every intention of working together for many more.


Jan 13:38

Oh, that's fantastic. And so now Jason has access to this 10 acres of land. What did he think he was going to do with it? Did he have initial ideas?


David 13:50

I think we had some initial ideas. Yes, we did know from the farmer and from some others in the area, what generally could be done, we knew that the land was fertile. We knew that there had been a lot of healthy years of crops growing on it before whether that would be maize, what we call corn or tomatoes. So, we had some general ideas. And but what we didn't know is who would do it, and how how that would work. So, we started brainstorming, we also knew that we needed to raise some money initially, just to get the land cleared and make it possible to do some farming. So, we just started taking one step at a time. And it's been really fun to see how it's grown over the years.


Jan 14:29

Why don't we take a break right now and when we come back, we're going to hear a whole lot more about how the farm has evolved, how it got its name, what your ongoing connection is, and just a whole lot of good information here. So, let's let's take a pause.


Jan 14:47

Have you gotten the second edition of the "We Are Sew Powerful" book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars, by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget, when you place your order, if you use, and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.


Jan 15:51

Welcome back. We've been speaking with David Derr and learning about his history with Zambia, and how he came to acquire 10 acres of land that is now being used by Sew Powerful in many exciting ways as you probably know. David, you were sort of talking about the early days of this partnership with Sew Powerful. In the story that Jason wrote about the farm, he talks about a call he received sort of out of the blue from a lady he didn't even know named, Tracy. And in the story, we don't even know her last name. So, if you're listening, Tracy, thank you very much. But why don't you relay that story about that phone call that Jason had with Tracy?


David 16:38

Yeah, that was a fun time. That was early on in our partnership, probably late 2015. Just when we were doing our first fundraising campaign, we know that we needed to raise money to clear the land, as well as put in a well. So farming is you're not going to get very far unless you have an access to clean water. And ideally, we knew that we needed a well. And that's exactly what Tracy funded. So, she was one of our first big donors to the farm. She has allowed us to proceed with putting a well on the property, which then just opened up everything else that came after that. So, we put in the well and was like the first big step to starting the development of the farm.


Jan 17:15

So now there's this partnership between you and Sew Powerful and it's going to benefit the Needs Care School. So Esther, who is the project manager there at the school, starts making trips out to the land to try and figure out what to do with it. And she has a chance encounter with a gentleman named Nicholas. Tell us about that.


David 17:40

Yeah, Nicholas and Esther met and immediately struck up a great friendship. And like you said, it was a chance meeting, which is a theme going through almost the entire story of the farm. Let me just go into why we named it 3 Esthers Farm.


Jan 17:56



David 17:56

So my daughter's name is Esther, she's from Zambia. Esther from the school, obviously, is the second Esther. And so many things happened, especially in that first year. That felt like it's just a coincidence of timing. But we know it's not a coincidence of timing. It's really God bringing people together in the right sequence for such a time as this. And so, we were thinking about the story from the Bible of Esther, and how she was just at the right place that God needed her to be at the right time to save the people of Israel. And so, we knew that Esther, my daughter, and Esther, the school teacher, were being supported by the Lord and all of us were. So that's where the 3 Esthers comes from - these chance meetings that just kept happening, like the one that you just mentioned, between Esther and Nicholas. Nicholas was working nearby, he was helping out a farm that was across the street, if you will, from our property. And he saw Esther coming over and trying to get some things going and and realized that she needed some assistance. Maybe needed some guidance, and they struck up a friendship. And that's how it all started. And he's been working with us ever since.


Jan 18:25

Right. So now he's the manager of the farm, is that correct?


David 19:13

That's true. He and his family. He and Lillian his wife moved on to the property. One of the first things we did was to build a caretaker's house after we got the well and we also been able to get electricity out to the farm. And so, Nicholas and his whole family are now involved. In fact, some of the most fun pictures over the years have been pictures of him and his family and his kids helping out, carrying cabbages that are like half the size of them, and so it's a family support thing with Nicholas and Lillian and they're doing great.


Jan 19:42

In this chapter of the book, Jason tells a story about oranges and orange trees that I think he was on a Sew Powerful mission trip in 2016 and decided that he would plant some fruit trees on the farm property. Tell us that story, but then tell us the unhappy ending about the oranges.


David 20:06

Yeah, for any farmers listening, I think they'll chuckle at this. But they'll also be able to recognize the challenges of farming. Farming is not easy work. And there's all kinds of obstacles that you have to overcome over the years. So yes, Jason and team were on a trip, and they purchased some orange trees that they were really excited to plant. And there's very good reason to believe that you can get orange trees to grow in that area of Zambia. So, they planted them before we had the well in. And before we had sustainable water coming through the irrigation system. And so, unfortunately, between a combination of a lack of regular water, and then some goats, that I think broke out of their fenced area, and help themselves to the leaves in the trees, those orange trees didn't make it. So, we've now got banana trees going instead. But those first batch of orange trees, they didn't, they didn't make it like we'd hope.


Jan 21:04

Hopefully goats don't like bananas. There have been several improvements to the farm. And you mentioned irrigation and electricity, the caretakers house, is there anything else I've left out?


David 21:19

I would say the big thing with the irrigation is that it's it's an elevated irrigation system leading to some drip lines. And for those that know what that brings to a farm, it's huge. So that increased the amount of area that they could farm regularly, that brought a much more controllable water supply, and allowed us to reach more of the property. We actually even today haven't fully cleared all 10 acres, it's still in development. And they also put in a chicken house. So, over the years, we've done a couple batches of poultry and chicken work, just to supplement some of the crops and vegetables that they've been raising.


Jan 21:54

In the story, Jason lists some of the challenges that the farm was facing, especially in the early days. Can you remember some of those?


David 22:05

Oh sure. You got all kinds of insects and critters that can be problematic. That part of the world definitely has battled for many years, some of the pests and some of which you can deal with with fertilizer and other things. But in other ways, you know, you can't. And so, there's been a series of things there. What we've learned, and I really credit Nicholas and Esther for this is they've become much better agricultural engineers, and I use that term to describe how they've become better at planting things in the right locations, putting them properly spaced, you know, putting the cabbages and the onions, properly distanced so that they can actually thrive together. Similarly with some tomato planting, so they've learned a lot about how to get the most out of the property. And you've seen the yields coming from the crops really grow, especially in the last two years.


Jan 22:56

Just this week, Jason's had some good news, bad news about what was going on at the farm. You've sort of alluded to that. But why don't you share that with us now?


David 23:09

Yeah, so here we are five years later, that chicken structure that I mentioned a few minutes ago, it's been serving us well. But unfortunately, they got a really big windstorm that came through just a few weeks ago. And the wind was powerful enough to blow the roof off of the chicken house. Well, thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but they definitely sustained some damage to the poultry house. So we have to rebuild some of that. I was just looking at a proposal earlier today for the cost of rebuilding that and there's enough damage, it's gonna be a couple thousand dollars at least and to rebuild the whole top structure and then put the roof on securely.


Jan 23:45

And there was a harvest. What did they collect recently?


David 23:51

So, they had a massive crop of cabbages, at least 2,000 cabbages. And these are big cabbages. They're like the size of a basketball for those of us in the US. And cabbage is one of the healthiest vegetables, just a lot of nutrients. And so, so great to see those cabbages coming off the farm, they filled several trucks, and they've taken some to market, they've taken some directly to the school, where we know that they helped to feed the children a couple times over the last few weeks, in one of their staple meals, a nshima based soup and vegetable combination.


Jan 24:28

In this chapter of the book, Jason shares a testimonial with the mother of a student at the Needs Care school where because of the abundance on the farm, they sent some produce home with the students. And that mom happens to be also named Esther. I just thought this was an amazing story. Can you share it with our listeners?


David 24:51

Yeah, this has happened actually several times where we've been able to, because the harvest was so good and so substantial, we've been able to share crops and share resources with the community at large in Ngombe. So, the number of children and families that are attending the Ngombe school is really large. And there's some of the most impacted and vulnerable families in the Lusaka area. And so, the need is great. So, you know, Esther is just a brilliant Community Development worker, she has a heart for serving not only the children that attend the school, but also the families. And so, she's been able to share resources like the cabbages and tomatoes, with with other moms, with other families who are really in need in in the area. And that's been a blessing to see. She sent us many pictures of families with their tomatoes or with their cabbages. And we did get a great story from from this other mom, Esther, who was just a very, very thankful she got to have two meals on that particular day. And not just one.


Jan 25:54



David 25:55

And a healthier meal with that. So, we're thankful for that.


Jan 25:58

Yeah, I mean, when I read this story, I mean, it brought tears to my eyes, because she said, "Today, we're going to have two meals, we usually have one meal per day around 4pm." And, you know, as I was reading it, I was thinking, what could I have for a snack right now, and I'm thinking, oh my gosh, these people are feeling joyful to have a second meal in one day, that was just amazing.


Jan 26:23

A recent development is the formation of the Farm Advisory Council. I don't know if it's formally kicked off or not, or if this is breaking news on our podcast here, but can you tell us what that's all about, and how that's going to benefit the farm and Sew Powerful?


David 26:42

Sure, that's kind of the next step in the development of the farm and the development of our farm strategy. And so I'm going to be convening a Farm Advisory Council with some colleagues and friends here in the US, and hopefully also some of the key leaders there in Zambia. And together, what we hope to do is to be able to really put together a longer-term business plan for the property, for the farm. Think through all the details about what would be the best things to grow, when, what quantities, how best to use the land, kind of a master plan for the next few years. And on this side, what would we need to do in order to provide the resources to help enable that? And you know, so we're still in the development of the farm where we still have some capital needs. And I think the Advisory Council will be really focused on what are the capital investments that we can help support in the next several years, that will really take the farm to the next level. So, I'm looking forward to that, I think it is time for that. So that'll be starting up here. Hopefully, by the end of this calendar year, end of 2020.


Jan 27:47

Cool. If our listeners want to make a financial contribution to the farm fund, they can always do that as a one-time thing. Or they can also do a recurring monthly gift by donating on the Sew Powerful website. Can you be a little more specific about how the funds for the farm are used? And how are they distributed? Tell us about the financial side.


David 28:12

Sure, the financials work like many of the other Sew Powerful programs work, where where Jason works very closely with Esther to transfer funds as needed to support the work there in Zambia. And so that's, as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, I was looking at a budget proposal today for what it'll take to make the repairs necessary to the poultry house. And that might be one of the next major things we do in terms of getting her the funding that she needs to hire the contractors to do the repair work. But beyond that, I would anticipate in the coming months we will explore other investment, maybe an additional garden area, maybe clearing some additional land as necessary. We're talking about other expansions that might be possible. Could be more chickens, or it could be maybe something with pigs. We could invest in some additional farming equipment perhaps. They don't have a truck at this point or any specific tilling type of equipment to really manage the land. In fact, they've had to rent that out or borrow from community members. So, there's some capital investment opportunities coming up, that if the funds become available and make sense to do that, with the Farm Advisory Councils blessing we'll, we'll probably look for those investments.


Jan 29:29

Well, what a vision and what a blessing to so many people through your acquisition of that land, because you wanted to have a future for your children Ivan and Esther. That's just amazing. David, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure to finally meet you. And your insights about the farm have been really inspiring. We're so grateful for the work that you do on behalf of Sew Powerful and I know our listeners enjoyed hearing about the 3 Esthers Farm and the important role the farm and you play in feeding the students of the Needs Care school. I look forward to talking with you again soon. Have a great day.


David 30:12

Thank you, Jan. It was a pleasure to be with you really appreciate the time. Thank you again.


Jan 30:16

Thank you. If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization, it's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.


Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at