Posted on July 28, 2017
Comments Off on Growing the Family Tree
… ACT Trustee Abby Olufeyimi reflects on the recent ACT Partners Convention in Zambia
Just a few short years ago I was in Malawi on a ‘scoping visit’ for the Ulemu project. A particular African proverb struck me as I spoke with some of the community leaders in Nyerezera about challenges of the work in the community- a challenge that no doubt can be replicated in myriad communities across the continent. On that occasion, however, the strategy proffered by the village elders was “an elephant cannot be eaten at once”; in other words, bit by bit, we will get there. My refrain was, “true, so let’s start chewing, because the elephant must be eaten.”
This proverbial elephant would reappear, as I spent the last day of what was a most fulfilling and rewarding week in Ndola, Zambia, where I was attending the 2nd ACT Partner Convention. The event brought together 30 people representing twelve ACT partners from 8 African countries, and the UK. On our last day, the ACT partner in Zambia, Hands of Mercy, led by their Chairman Amos Kauzeni, had come to say their goodbyes to us. We were each given a parting gift in the form of a lovely carved wooden elephant, as well as a parting statement from Amos, Chair of the ACT team – “The elephant does not forget.”
It was his way of saying that they, the children, and the community will not forget ACT and its supporters and friends as we work collaboratively to educate children and support the widows.
Back in England, my elephant stands in a place of honour on my window sill. Each time I look at it, I am reminded of my call and assignment, not just as a Trustee of ACT, but also as a widow myself and as a pastor. So what are some of the moments, the events and people that are etched in my mind from the Convention?
I was delegated to facilitate Ice breaker exercise with a view to getting the delegates to unwind after the challenge of long and arduous travel and to help build the team. The whole idea was the ice would so melt with enough water to swim.
The theme was “Inside Africa” where delegates paired up and got to know each other and like a good CNN correspondent “presented” their partners by asking them 5 questions:
What is your name?
What is the meaning of your name?
Where are you from?
What does ACT mean to you?
What one good thing about yourself?
Inside the core of an orange
Taking my cue from the theme of the 2017 Convention “Growing the family tree” I was tasked with presenting to delegates the core values of ACT:
From the core values exercise the Malawian delegation, came up with the slogan:
‘Love for empowerment shall bring purpose in achieving integrity and justice for widows and orphans.”
As a visual representation, we looked at the core of an orange where the seeds are held. Seeds need to be planted and in order for the family tree to grow, undergirded by its core value.
Inside the heart of a child
I recently read the 2017 Forum Report “African at a Tipping Point” commissioned by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. It was quiet enlightening and it confirmed to me that the work of ACT in addressing the educational and vocational needs of some of the most marginalised children is both timely and key to breaking the cycle of poverty. This and other such reports have mind-boggling statistics, and the sheer numbers can leave one feeling rather jaded. However, we must look beyond statistics and, instead, into the eyes of a child, of a grieving widow.
On one of the afternoons, we got to meet some of the children supported by ACT. In the midst of the happy reunion with the children, Andrea, an ACT UK volunteer, drew my attention to Napthali* who, as a result of rape, became a mother at the age of 14 and bravely returned to school after the birth of her child. Despite her courage, I could still see the hurt in her eyes. And then there was Manuel*, an orphan whose late grandmother had been his sole carer. For a long time the spark had been removed from his eyes, unbearable grief, yet he was brave enough to go to school. It was both an honour and a humbling experience to pray for both children. And there were the celebrations, where we met some of the young adults who despite insurmountable odds stayed the course and have gone on to get a university degree or vocational college qualifications.
Inside the heart of a mother
On a very personal note, after my trip to Zambia my son TJ went on a two-week leadership challenge to Durban, South Africa. He proudly wore his hoodie as part of the challenge kit brandished with the ACT logo; his group was tagged the “Elephant Group”, and he was given a Xhosa name – Melisizwe, meaning ‘leader of the nation.’
It occurs to me that African’s children are Africa’s treasures, not her liability, and they will yet lead their nations. This I will not forget as I wait with bated breath for our treasures to come into their own and take their rightful place.
To find out more about ACT and the work it is doing in Africa, click here.
If you would like to find out more about how you can sponsor a child in Africa, click here.
* for the purpose of protecting their identities, pseudonyms have been used