You Can't Give Up: Helping Thousands of Zambia's Orphans
They're usually barefoot, their clothes don't fit and they need a good scrubbing. Some suffer from AIDS, tuberculosis, herpes, malaria, neglect and abuse. Many hunger for food, others for attention. To Elizabeth Chisembele, the AIDS orphans of Kitwe, Zambia, are worth all the effort and love she is capable of giving.
Some suffer from AIDS, tuberculosis, herpes, malaria, neglect and abuse. Many hunger for food, others for attention. To Elizabeth Chisembele, the AIDS orphans of Kitwe, Zambia, are worth all the effort and love she is capable of giving.
Chisembele, 53, raised seven children of her own. Now she helps raise thousands whose physical and emotional needs are so great they can appear crushing. A petite woman, she has the boundless energy that sometimes blesses the small of stature.
She walks smiling into scenes that could make a Spartan weep.
"Sometimes it's emotional," she admits.
"When you find a child without food for three or four days," she said, and you have nothing left to give them. "You cannot meet all their needs. The number of children is so huge."
Chisembele has spent the last nine years working for the CINDI-Kitwe Program where she is one of 14 employees who monitor and attempt to assist 14,000 of the estimated 65,000 orphans in and around Kitwe, Zambia's second largest city with a population of 700,000.
Most of the children live with relatives, often grandparents in the shanty towns surrounding the city center. In the dry season the unpaved roads are dusty, in the rainy saeson they are mud.
Among other things, CINDI arranges feedings for the children in their neighborhoods three times a week. Volunteers round them up and do the cooking. The mass feedings were arranged, she said, when it was discovered that food left at homes for the children was often being eaten by others.
It is supposed to be a five-day work week, but she works six. On the seventh day Chisembele, a Roman Catholic, who describes herself as religious, goes to Mass.
CINDI's work can only be done with the assistance of hundreds of neighborhood volunteers, many of them elderly widows just one step removed from destitution themselves. Chisembele said she wished she had something she could give the volunteers as a token of appreciation.
Many complain they need boots and/or umbrellas during the rainy season, she said.
Chisembele said the job can be difficult, but it is inspiring to see the work that goes on in the neighborhoods to help support the children.
Does she ever feel like giving up?
"No, no, no, no," she said. "You can't give up. You can't."
Her reward is seeing children who were once hungry well fed, clothed and attending school.
"That is my satisfaction," she said.