When I got off the plane at Livingstone International Airport in southern Zambia, I had just one mission: to help people in any way that I could. I was eighteen-years-old, and was confident that I could overcome my shortcomings and lack of experience through hard work and compassion. Sweating in a pair of heavy jeans and a long-sleeve shirt after an unexpectedly long journey from Boston to Zurich to Johannesburg to Livingstone, I set out to do as much as I could.
As a volunteer, one of my tasks was to teach English and tutor students at a community school in a village called Nakatindi. Every afternoon, I took a minivan ten minutes outside the city to a small outcropping of dusty concrete buildings called the Nakatindi Basic School. Each day, scores of students rushed around the van to greet our group of volunteers, eager to learn and excited to see different, new looking faces each day. I would sit with small groups of fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds, trying to teach them English and to help them with their studies.
During one of these sessions, I was lucky enough to meet Lewis Choongo, the headmaster of Nakatindi School. In one of our discussions, which would sometimes tail into the evening hours, he told me that many of the students he taught would not go on to high school, and this was particularly true for the girls. “There is no money,” he said. “There is no one to sponsor them, even if they receive top marks and gain acceptance to the best school in Livingstone. Many of them simply cannot pay.” This struck me as a grave injustice. When he asked me if I wanted to help him find a solution, I told him I would do everything that I could.
I decided that I would try to raise enough money to sponsor one girl that Mr. Choongo had described -- hard-working and intelligent, but prevented from attending high school because of poverty. Mr. Choongo and I decided on a girl named Sarafina, an orphan of an AIDS-stricken family who was living with her uncle’s family of six in a small, grass-thatched hut deep in the village of Nakatindi. When I met with Sarafina to hear her life story, I was amazed to hear how she had achieved top marks on the high school entrance exam despite battling abuse, crushing poverty, and homelessness.
A day later, I had already met with all the volunteers working at the NGO, I had written dozens of relatives and friends back home in U.S., and met with my program directors to try to sponsor Sarafina’s high school education at a Catholic school called St. Mary’s School. Nearly everyone was enthusiastic, and within two weeks I had raised nearly $3,000, enough to pay for Sarafina’s entire high school education.
However, my supervisor at THAF warned me of the danger of putting too much effort into one child; she also warned me of the possibility of failure. “Sam, there are a million ways to help Africa, and there are many million more ways to help Africa the wrong way.” I ignored her, and set out to eliminate the final obstacle for Sarafina to attend St. Mary’s – getting her elementary school grades certified by her former principal at a school fourteen hours away in northern Zambia. After breaking down repeatedly in a small pickup truck and being forced to buy gas on the black market, we got the necessary certification and returned to Livingstone full of hope for Sarafina’s future.
I wish I could tell you that Sarafina attended high school at St. Mary’s School, graduated, and moved on to pursue the career of her choice. Instead, two days later she disappeared. I learned weeks later that her uncle had taken her back to the north of the country to work for him. Mr. Choongo and I never heard from her again. I had failed.
I thought I had all the answers. I didn’t. I thought that simply by trying as hard as I could to do the right thing, I could help Sarafina. I didn’t know her uncle or her adopted family, or whether they would be supportive of her going to high school. I barely knew Sarafina herself.
Sarafina’s story taught me that it is harder to help people than I thought. My failure helped me understand the importance of successfully helping others, and I am hope to find success through Zamfund, Inc. a 501c3 nonprofit that offers full scholarships at St. Mary’s School to young women like Sarafina. In addition to a full scholarship, our non-profit to will incentivize the family’s support of the student’s education, by giving each sponsored student’s parents a monthly stipend to provide for the family’s fuel and food needs.
The Happy Africa Foundation Sponsor-A-Child team and Mr. Choongo will select sponsored students. Their progress will be monitored by the admissions staff at St. Mary’s School, and by its headmistress, Sister Magdalene. Unlike other sponsorship programs, Zamfund works with the pupil and the pupil’s family to ensure the successful completion of high school and provides constant support along the way. By combining hard work, compassion, and understanding Zamfund can provide a better future for these exceptional young women, and your participation in this program will also represent an excellent investment in a developing country.