As fun as it is to be out at the Living Compassion property surrounded by the energy and enthusiasm of hundreds of small, adorable people, it makes it challenging to find a space quiet enough to hold a meeting. So, Theresa, Joy and Beatrice came to the guesthouse, and we used a lovely dining room/meeting space they have. We are beginning the process of looking at this past year of the Girls Program. As a way of allowing the next steps in the program to be revealed, we want to ask each other and Life all the questions we can think of. What worked? Were there disappointments? What challenges do we face currently?
We do this each trip, looking at where we’ve been, where we are now, and what’s next. It feels a bit like making an etching. The questions we ask and the discussions that ensue are like rubbing the charcoal on the paper—the wisdom of Life seems to emerge. Each time, we come to places none of us even knew existed and could never have told you we would have gotten to. But there it is, clearly evident on the paper. The process is fun and creative, an experience of not needing to think up anything or solve problems, or even know anything. Rather, it’s being willing to be present for what Life is communicating.
At this morning’s meeting, we got out our metaphorical charcoal and started rubbing. Some amazing successes were revealed. One of the most remarkable was the difference in parental attitudes in just one year. When the program began in 2016, very few parents attended Girls Program meetings. There were minimum requirements from the parents of the girls, such as buying school uniforms and meeting with the team to go over parental agreements, but there was very little participation above these basic requirements. Theresa told us that at the first 2017 parents’ meeting, every girl was represented! Wow! “Why such a big change?” we asked. “The parents are really seeing the difference in their daughters,” she explained.
Theresa used a couple of examples as illustration. One mother told a story about asking her daughter one evening to please go to the place where they sell mealie meal and buy a little sack and bring it home. “I can’t do that, Mama, she protested. That place is right by the bars. The Living Compassion eyes are everywhere (all of the cooperative members live in the community), and I have agreed not to go to the bars.” Her mother was thrilled. It illustrated so many things: How seriously her daughter was taking the agreements, how seriously Living Compassion is taking the agreements, and how supported her daughter is to have women all over the community looking out for her!
The other was about a girl who had told her mother she did not want to miss school to go out to the family farm to pick maize. Again, this mother was so happy. For all the same reasons. And this one struck us as especially remarkable as it would be very easy for a mother to feel her daughter going to school instead of helping with the farm would be a detriment; but there is beginning to be enough momentum with the education of these girls that the parents, who have not had the benefit of education and see few people who have had their lives improved through education, are starting to realize there is are long-term benefits. This is huge.
Of the 37 girls in the program, one is now pregnant and another is getting married. This is difficult for the team. These girls are very young. The aim of the Girls Program is to provide support for girls who want another option. Ten years ago nearly every girl in Kantolomba would have a baby by age 15. Today it is still very common, though decreasing all the time. Beatrice told us of a group of girls who had much promise five or so years ago, 12 or 13 years old at the time. They all have babies or are married now, she said. She realizes that the fact that 35 of the girls have NOT gotten pregnant in the last year is a giant statistical success.
It was inspiring to have an honest discussion about what we have learned from these two girls. One thing we agreed on is taking a much more down-to-earth approach to sex education. The team talks constantly to the girls about sex, but it emerged that the adult women being very frank about their own life experiences, acknowledging both the draw to be sexually active as well as the very real consequences, may have a beneficial effect. Having it be simply information and less about morality may allow the information to be more real for the girls.
We soon realized we could talk for the next two weeks straight and still not uncover all there is to explore. And, having committed to being in Kantolomba the afternoon, we put into practice our favorite African proverb: panono, panono—slowly, slowly.
One consequence of not meeting in Kantolomba is far fewer photo ops! Truth be told, at the end of our meeting we realized we had not taken one photo so we had a good time sitting back down to stage this photo, Theresa insisting everyone look like they are very engaged! (Which, for the record, we definitely were during the actual meeting!)
We arrived to girls racing to greet us. What fun it was to see them! It really is like being an auntie or uncle who has been gone for a year and marveling at inches grown and faces growing up! We were regaled with exclamations of, “It’s so good to see you! We missed you!” And giant hugs!
The grade 9 girls were the first to gather for a group photo.
Two of the grade 12 girls: Mirriam and Esther. Every time we look at these girls we just want to hug them and tell them what a miracle they are!
Monica, Brenda’s daughter is now in grade 8.
These are the grade 7 girls. They will sit for their first standardized exams this year. They will be getting extra, special support this year. You can do it!
A few more grade 9’s arrived so of course we had to take another photo!
We all gathered in the room where the Girls Program meets and started chatting. Again, Life led and we ended up talking about reading. “How many of you have a library book (Living Compassion has a small library on the property) at home currently?” No one raised a hand. We had a great talk about the importance of reading and what a difference that can make, especially in learning English. It was a fun discussion, Auntie Theresa telling the story of what a huge role reading had played in her life, and the excitement started to build. “How about we all go choose a book right now?” we suggested. Big cheers. Several dozen of us descended on Josephine, our able librarian, and we all started searching for books relevant for each girl.
Meeting in the Girls Program room
Nearly as soon as we had finished that process, the heavens opened and we had a signature Zambian storm. The rain hits the tin roof like hundreds of hammers, the lightening lights up the entire grey sky, and the thunder feels like it is shaking the building. If you wanted to communicate something to the person next to you, you would have to shout as you would on the tarmac of a helicopter pad. So no one does. We just sit. And it is lovely. There is no fidgeting. No awkwardness. Just complete surrender to thisherenow.
Car washes are not big business in Zambia!
The girls had gone back to the room, and most of us grown-ups were still in the library. After about 20 minutes we walked outside just to marvel at the rain. Looking up towards the girls, we realized they were all reading. Just sitting together, each silently reading her book. Giant smile. Perhaps Life saw us choosing our books and wanted to give us a little boost—How about now? You could start reading your book now… Very heartwarming.
Terrible quality photo with the dark light of the storm, but so worth including!
After an hour there was a break in the storm, and we made a dash back to town, where only a drizzle had fallen. Amazing.
It already feels like every retreat where we say, “Really, I think this is the best one ever.” And here it seems obvious how that can be true: it always IS the best one ever because this brand new moment is informed by all that have come before; the awareness, the attention, the willingness, the experience of this moment is enhanced by all that has been. Much gratitude.