Extra time on the east coast and the night in Johannesburg turn out to be a very humane way to make the 15,000-mile journey from California to Zambia. Friday morning we felt great—like we had been here for a week.

Beth joined the team today, arriving from South Africa. After her first experience of nchima, the traditional Zambian meal (eaten every day, twice a day, Theresa explained at lunch), she rested while Jen and Theresa went out to Kantolomba for the first visit to the property of this trip.

Beth’s plane arriving.

Over lunch we had been filling Beth in on the weather patterns of the rainy season in Zambia. Clear, blue sky, dotted with those puffy white clouds one minute and a sudden deluge of water the next is a nearly daily occurrence. Right on cue our outdoor meal was cut short when the dark clouds suddenly rolled in and the proverbial heavens opened up. A few minutes later as we drove out to the property we passed through areas only minutes from the guesthouse where the roads were completely dry, not a drop of rain had fallen. These are truly “isolated” thundershowers (well, actually torrential downpours).

Dry roads

Even before we reached the property, our welcome in Kantolomba began. A group of Living Compassion children on their way to the property spotted us and began shouting their greetings. “You have come!” They pleaded to ride with us, which we readily agreed to, being only two in a large vehicle. Fun for all!

Isn’t the delight in those smiles infectious! Recognize Philip, in the middle? Son of cooperative member Joanne and the late Ruben.

Once at the Living Compassion compound, we received the usual royal welcome!

Since we were last here, six new folks have joined the team. Pascal, our first carpenter, retired and his son Elias took his place. Benendetta has gone back to her village due to illness and her sister Ann has stepped in. And, as you may recall from reading Theresa’s weekly updates and/or listening to Good News, a couple of months back we added Saturday and Sunday meals to the program. Four new cooperative members came on board to help make that happen: Charity, Natasha, Mirriam and Florence.

Elias. What a relief that we still have Pascal’s beautiful smile represented on the property!

Jen learning new staff names.

Greeting “Older Foster.” She has been with us from the start.

As we were finishing our greetings, we heard great cheers coming from the largest classroom. Theresa smiled, motioning, “The Girls Program.”

Challenging to put adequate words to this moment, it almost feels like one would have to start recounting the 10-plus year history of the project in order to convey the magnitude of the joy and pride we projected onto Theresa’s smile.

Knowing that there are countless past trip blogs and weekly photos from Theresa archived for folks to read if desired, and that the activities of this trip and their corresponding blog reports will no doubt elucidate the detail, we will settle here for simply saying that supporting young girls in Kantolomba to stay in school and build a future for themselves is a deeply inspiring, heroic undertaking. It is the main focus of this trip.

Joy, Beatrice and Josephine were with the girls today. Friday afternoons are a time open to the girls to talk about anything that is on their minds—anything they could use some guidance about, mentorship. The adults tell us the girls talk about anything from schoolwork to peer pressure to challenges they are facing at home. These girls, many of them young women, face all of the same challenges of young women everywhere with the addition of poverty, prevalent disease and a more blatant gender inequality than most folks in a place like the United States are used to; much of what we would consider a violation is considered “normal” in their community.

Especially for the girls who have made it as far as grade 9 and above, they are in the minority. Most of their peers have dropped out of school—have become pregnant, married, are taking care of younger siblings, or simply don’t have the funds to continue. It is the commitment of the entire Living Compassion team that any girl who wants to will get full support to continue her studies, whatever it takes. This trip will be about formalizing that support.

A bit fuzzy of Jen, but look at that light highlighting Josephine’s beautiful face!

There were about 40 girls present today. Each one stood up, introduced herself and told us what grade she is in. When the first grade 8 girl introduced herself, we spontaneously gave her a high five. It is a big deal to make it to grade 8. Coming from a British-based system of education, there are standard national exams one must pass in grade 7 to make it to grade 8, in grade 9 to make it to grade 10, and at the end of grade 12 to make it to university.

From there on each grade 8 student and above received a high five. When the first grade 11 girl stood up, again, without planning or thinking about it, we were so moved that we gave her a huge hug. The whole room was delighted and erupted in cheers. Each subsequent grade 11 girl was honored with a hug. It is a giant accomplishment for them to be where they are. Out of 1,000 children in Living Compassion, more than half of them girls, 5 are in grade 11. We intend for these girls to feel like royalty. They are beacons of hope and possibility, not only for their fellow girls but also for their entire community!

The girls. In the foreground, in the white shirt is Mary. She was in the first 100 children. She’s a grown up!!

A special portrait of the grade 11 heroes. Left to right: Rachel (17), Rachel (15), Sylvia (16), Mirriam (18). We look forward to getting to know these young women over the next two weeks.

As Theresa called them, “Vero’s team.” Veronica was not on the property today, due to caring for a sick daughter, but she was well represented nonetheless. Here are her daughter, two granddaughters, niece and nephew.

Tomorrow is Saturday. It will be our first experience of being here for weekend meals. Yea!