Thinking back, I never would have expected that the journey I took in 2011 to Kaoma, Zambia would completely alter my life. I had barely ever been out of the country and now, I was traveling to Africa? What was I thinking? Had I lost my mind? Now I know that what I had been searching for in life was there for me in Kaoma. It was not the town in particular, but the people – the community I met. In traveling to Zambia, I had thought I would be able to give back to an impoverished community but what I was given in return has been more than I could ever have shared.
On that first trip to Zambia, I met Evan Haglund, now WISE’s Vice-President. We immediately bonded in Lusaka and I knew the journey before us was going to be remarkable. From the first day we arrived in Kaoma, it was as if we were welcomed by our own flesh and blood. Cultural differences aside, we saw each other for who we are as human beings, put on this earth for a reason. I call that reason “community”. And I could immediately see my definition of family evolving.
My concept of “family” changed drastically the day I met a 17 year old boy named Nawa at Cheshire Orphanage – an 11th grader at Kaoma High School. He was an inquisitive young man with a strong desire for knowledge. Given the struggles he had faced in his young life, I would have felt discouraged, but not Nawa. Spending time with Nawa and the other children I met at the orphanage and within the schools began to restore my faith in humanity – and as an educator, I found these kids tugging at my heart strings in a special way.
To see so many going without the things I take for granted every day, observing their perseverance, made me begin to reevaluate what I prioritized in my own life. Initially, it was the simple things I thought about: “Do I need to go to Starbucks every week? How much food do I throw away from my fridge every week?” Had I ever worried about not being afforded the opportunity to complete my education?
My thought process began to change and then I myself changed. I had a desire to do more. To be more. I loved this community and wanted to find a way to help. First, it was something that I felt was rather simple. I donated the rest of the money I had fundraised and gave it to scholarship support. It wasn’t enough. Then I asked, “What else can I do?” The board members at the time asked if I could help sell baskets the women at Kaoma WISE Trust had made. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! Basket selling was easy once people heard the story of WISE and how the money impacted the Women’s Center. But again, I found myself asking “What now?”
The following year, I was off to Kaoma once again – this time, with Lynn Twitchell (WISE’s first president) and Pat Stockford (WISE board member). No distractions of a team but instead time to deepen relationships with the women of the Center and the wider community. Once more, I was asking “How do I do more?”. In order to make an impact, we needed to take great leaps. I decided to consult the board and ask for the opportunity to join these remarkable women. With open arms they allowed me (which still humbles me to this day) to accompany them on this journey as a board member.
A few months after joining the board and making decisions which impacted the educational and agricultural endeavors we were invested in on the ground in Kaoma, Lynn made the decision to step down as president. What would happen to WISE now? I don’t know where the courage came from but something inside prompted me to consider stepping up and taking the reins. I prayed, I consulted friends and family, and decided to pose the idea to the board. In a board meeting, it was taken to vote and to my amazement, it was unanimous, I was now the president of WISE. The journey of WISE would continue. At that time, it was Evan, Pat, Lynn, and myself.
We have since teamed up to complete a water project at Sishekanu Basic School; installed over 25 whiteboards in classrooms; led 2 mission trips; donated school supplies and other necessities to schools, hospitals, and the orphanage; greatly increased the number of scholarship students; improved the infrastructure of Kaoma WISE Trust, etc.
This organization, started in 2004, has undergone many changes but one thing remains the same: our mission. Now you understand why WISE is so dear to my heart and why I believe in our mission — and you truly understand how far I’ve come from the person I was in 2011.
Our lives are meant to be shared with others. The community of Kaoma has taught me that lesson. So now, it is my turn to pay it forward. I am passionate about WISE because I believe in our mission. WISE and the community of Kaoma inspire me daily. Without inspiration our lives are meaningless. I’d rather be inspired.