Friday, April 11, 2014

How to be the Best Volunteer

This is part two of my Volunteer Posts for this National Volunteer Week. 
You can read Part One here

We have had a fairly steady stream of volunteers ever since opening the orphanage and we love it! So do the children. Volunteers, as most organizations will tell you, are amazing! They come in full of energy and tackle big projects and add extra life blood to a work.

Though we've had mostly good experiences, I'd like to share with you some pointers on how to be a good volunteer:

Respect the daily workers. You are there as a volunteer for a very short time. Those working at the organization day in and day out will be there long after you have blown through for a month or two or three. Respect their time and decisions.

Be honest. One of the most frustrating things as a coordinator is having a volunteer say they are willing to do 'anything' but then watch them flounder and drag. It's great to challenge yourself and try new things, but please be realistic. It may be better for you to do something else that you really enjoy rather than only doing the other thing halfway.
  The best time to share your ideas and talents is before coming out so programs can be lined up. However, if you get to your project and it is making you miserable, speak up. Chances are those around you can tell you're unhappy. Just be honest and see how best to move forward.
  Additionally, if you are planning on using part of your in-country time for sightseeing and vacationing, please be upfront about that before arriving. Many times organizations will take advantage of volunteer help to allow paid staff their required time off. They might have planned programs that last a certain length of time. If volunteers cut their time short it can create a scheduling problem.

Remember you are representing the organization to the public. Even if you pursue your own projects, it is because of the 'parent' organization that you can do that. Be sure to help build the positive image of the work already started.
Of course it goes without saying that you should not do anything to reflect badly on the organization. Don't do anything that will offend or cause confusion in the local culture.
In the same vein but from a different angle: please work with your host organization in how to best share what you have with the community. What to you might outwardly look to be simple sharing of food, clothing or toys with a small child can cause attitudes of entitlement and turn into months of begging to other volunteers and/or organization staff.

Be a good steward of your own and the project's resources. Organizations working in developing nations often struggle to get the most basic of supplies. Water, electricity, internet and gas are not easily obtained and so should be given the proper respect. 
Take shorter showers than you would normally take. 
Keep your items put away and tidy. Just a few items left around can cause a clutter issue when many volunteers are working together, and also can create a temptation for local staff members. 
Save those cute cat videos for when you get home. Skype with your family, but keep it short to save bandwidth
In the same vein, it can be difficult to provide meals for volunteers when there is limited access to grocery stores and ingredients. Show gratefulness for what is provided and don't make thoughtless comments about the quality of the food. If you have allergies or food difficulties, do all you can to make life easier for your host organization by bringing your own additives or extras.

Treat the volunteer job like any other job. Find out clearly what hours you are expected to work and stick to a schedule. Be honest with your coordinator about what their expectations are. If you have suggestions feel free to bring them up, but try to stick to a good work schedule so that projects can be completed.

Respect the wisdom of those who have been there longest. They may not be perfect, in fact there's a great chance they're quite imperfect, but they have stood the test of time, and are getting the job done. Keep an open mind and figure out what you're there to learn even if you don't agree with everything. 
Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question. Ask away! You may have read books about third world development, you may have even participated in projects in other developing nations, but each situation is vastly different. Ask questions about everything and you'll be amazed at what you can learn.

Make an effort to get along with the other volunteers. It's not always easy to live and work closely with a bunch of relative strangers while also battling culture shock and homesickness, but it is imperative for the success of the project that you try. Take part in any team building exercises and recreation that is organized. Reach out and create bonds. You might form relationships that will last a lifetime.

If you have suggestions for how the organization can operate better or improvements that can be made feel free to bring them up, but remember that while you are helping out for a time, others are there full time and will need to work with changes all the time. An organization filled with volunteers over the summer looks very different the other nine months of the year and therefore certain things may be in place with those months in mind.

We really do appreciate the many, many volunteers that set out to help change the world. They find that they are the ones who are mostly changed, and that is an excellent thing. 

Please feel free to share this article with anyone you know who is ready to volunteer. 

All photos courtesy of Thomas Morrow. Just a few peeks into the world around us here in Kazembe. Come out and see! Click over to Kazembe Orphangage to find out how.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Volunteering is Grrreaaat!

There are also great joys in hosting volunteers.

This week is National Volunteering Week and I have two posts about volunteers. 

We've been receiving volunteers here in Kazembe since 2006. Our first volunteer came out in 2004 before we even imagined we'd open an orphanage. She worked with me in training teachers at the Community School--Flying Angels--which was our first project in Zambia. She then became one of my very best friends. Since 2006 when we began construction on the orphanage we've had more volunteers than I can count right now from many different countries. We've had volunteers from Australia, Northern Ireland, Ukraine/Russia, Switzerland, Germany England, the United States, Canada, and more! 

Click over to our volunteering page to see some of their lovely faces (scroll down to the bottom). 

We love having volunteers come work with us here at Kazembe Orphanage. There are so many reasons, but I'll highlight a few here.

Volunteers bring fresh energy to a project.
There's nothing like a volunteer fresh out of college, brimming over with enthusiasm to bring energy and excitement to a project. Regular, mundane jobs are transformed into FUN!

Volunteers bring fresh eyes to a project.
To a volunteer everything is new--new culture, new people, new climate, new views, new food. And sometimes it is good and refreshing to see the place we live and work through someone else's eyes. Watching a volunteer discover Zambia for the first time reminds me of when I saw more of the things around me and less of the work. It gives me a chance to reevaluate my priorities and my outlook.

Volunteers bring helping hands.
This kinda goes without saying. That's what volunteers are supposed to do, of course. But, you'd be surprised how many times a volunteer has come in just in the nick of time (having planned a trip months in advance) because God knew we'd need them there right then. At this moment, because we have volunteers, I know the sick babies and toddlers are being checked on even though I'm stuck in the office.

 Volunteers fill a need
Whether it's teaching, or building, or playing with a troubled child, or simply holding a sick baby, volunteers help us to do more than we could alone. 

Volunteers help us reach the community
Like the points above, without volunteers working alongside us, we couldn't have the impact in the community that we'd like. Volunteers spend time with our staff members, or other organizations in the community, or mothers at the clinic, and this all expands our reach and makes our project more successful.

Volunteers create awareness
Once a volunteer has been here and seen the work being done with their own eyes, seen the malnourished, neglected and deprived children, and then seen them transform in the care of Kazembe Orphanage, they can't help but spread the word back home about the needs and the vision. They become Ambassadors that people take seriously because they have been there.

Our kids love volunteers
Our kids have such an extended family spread around the world of 'aunties' and 'uncles' who have spent time with them, played with them, or just sat and listened. They are more well-developed, confident, and compassionate for having been so well loved.

If you'd like to volunteer, click over to our volunteer page or email us for more information!

Three Cheers for all our Wonderful Volunteers!

Extra Reading:
Great article about volunteering. Really good website overall.

Exactly One Year Ago: Visitors and Parties (speaking of volunteers)
Exactly Three Years Ago: Shopping Trips 
Exactly Four Years Ago: Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Two posts two days in a row. The shock may just knock a few people off balance.

This story I'm going to tell didn't happen today, but it seemed appropriate--given the date and all.

A few weeks ago while in Mansa I was packing up our hotel room after the overnight stay. They had given us a full bar of soap and it just seemed wasteful to have it thrown out after only a couple uses.. It was wet and a bit sticky so I tossed it into an empty potato chip bag and packed it in my suitcase.

I didn't give it another thought until the next day when Peter wandered into our office and began going through my things. It wasn't long until he discovered the bag of 'chips'. 

I heard him chattering about it and knew it wouldn't be long until he asked if he could have some.

Sure enough:

"Mommy, can I have some food?"

"Why don't you look inside first?"

"Oh, wow!"

"Take a smell first before you take a bite."

His look says it all. 
How could something so pretty, smell not so good to eat.

It was the perfect April Fools' Day joke--even if it did take place in February.

These photos were recreations of the event. I think Peter has a future in acting. What do you think?

Exactly Three Years Ago: What's in a Name?
Exactly Two Years Ago: I'm Going Slightly Mad

Monday, March 31, 2014

Anniversaries, Celebrations, and Milestones

This past Saturday was a big anniversary. It almost passed me by without notice, but I'm glad I stopped to pay attention.

12 years ago this past Saturday we set off on our African Adventure.

Twelve years!

I'll just let that sink in a bit.

When we came over here my kids looked like this:

This photo was from December, 2001 as we performed in nursing homes around the Houston area.
Unfortunately we have no photos from the first two years of our time in Zambia.
We accidentally deleted them when doing a routine backup. Ooops.
Also, please ignore my closed eyes......
This is almost exactly how they looked (including the cowboy hats) as we traveled through four airports and on three separate flights to finally reach Africa. Can you imagine the spectacle we presented with our little ducklings in a row behind us? 

One day I'll have to write the story of those days. What an adventure that was.

Now they look like this:

OK, this is a bit of a cheater photo.
 This photo was taken in August, but Troy and I weren't in it.
Thanks to the magic of Photoshop we got to pretend.
The last time we were all together was three years ago.

While on the one hand  it seems like just yesterday, it also feels like several lifetimes ago as well.

In the last twelve years we've been involved in feeding the poor and getting a community school started. We've taught countless Bible classes, leadership seminars, teachers' training, healthcare classes, and more! We've built an orphanage, given 44 children a home--some for longer than others--when they needed it most, helped local ladies support their families and/or go back to school, supported teenagers through high school, accepted volunteers from all over the world, rescued animals, met with Chiefs and studied local culture and history. and in the midst of that raised six of the world's finest people. (I admit to being the teeniest bit prejudiced)

When we moved to Africa we told everyone that we were committed to sticking it out for 10 years. We'd been involved in missions' work our whole lives, and instinctively knew that Africa was going to be our biggest challenge ever, needing an 'all-in' commitment. We didn't really look much farther than those 10 years. We were still in our 20s and 30s. Looking 10 years ahead was huge. 
Now, we have no desire to leave. This is home. We don't know what the Lord has in store for us in the future, but we are still just as dedicated to meeting the need here.

Things have changed though. We are no longer all one missionary family here. Five of our six kids have flown the nest. They are following their own paths and the Lord's plan for each of them. It is not easy being so far away. We miss birthdays, special days, celebrations, and even those days when a hug from mom and dad would mean so much. It isn't easy at all to be separated from your heart by an ocean.

This year we have some big family milestones. 

Our oldest daughter, Jennifer, graduates with her Bachelor of Education with an Emphasis in Reading (the teacher and book addict in me squeals with delight every time I say those words). I'll write more about some of her amazing accomplishments in May when we celebrate her graduation.

My sister, Priya, is getting married. She's the baby of our family. My entire family is turning out for the wedding. My family had seven children. Two are now in Heaven, and the rest of us live all over the world, which makes getting together for events nearly impossible. In fact, aside from a terribly sad memorial service three years ago, the last time we were all together in one place at one time was July 1989!

Tom and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage. Our actual anniversary is in July, but we want to celebrate with family. Our original wedding was with a justice of the peace. We were so focused on missions' work that we didn't organize a big wedding. Now it's time to celebrate the years we have had together. And we want to do it with our family and friends!

In December I had a big birthday. Again, aside from two friends who took pity on me stopped by to spend time with me, I had no family or friends around. I will just pretend that any parties we throw/attend in the States will be partly for my birthday. M'kay?

To mark all these momentous occasions, Tom, Troy and I will all the in the States this spring. Tom and Troy flew out on Friday, and I will join them in three weeks. I'll attend the wedding, the graduation, and perhaps have a party somewhere in there, and then head back to Zambia. Tom & Troy will continue on with the regular fundraising tour, and then come back in June.

It's going to be so much fun. 

It's also going to be challenging. Financially, it's a huge step for all three of us to travel in one year. Emotionally, it's going to be good to see everyone, but equally hard to separate again. Practically, it's going to be tough to leave the orphanage for four weeks with volunteers--we know they'll do a good job, but the logistics will be interesting.

It is also very necessary. Even Jesus took a break to climb a hill or pray in a garden. We all need times away from life's work to recharge and gain strength. 

I'm looking forward to family time, and then the adventures the next 12 years will bring.

Exactly Three Years Ago: Where Did the Time Go?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sympathy Pains

I never realized what a tender tummy I have until our trip to Mansa yesterday.

Since this trip to Mansa would be the last before Tom heads to the U.S we decided to take Peter with us for some special time. Troy needed a yellow fever shot in preparation for his upcoming trip to the U. S as well, so it turned into a family road trip. 

We woke Peter up early and he had a peanut butter sandwich with Tom before we drove out at 7 AM. 

It was a rainy, drizzly day. Not much to look at out of the windows. All grey and bleak. Inevitably Peter got bored. He began to ask to sit with me up front. 

After telling him no, it wasn't long before he started telling me he had a stomach ache. Even though Troy was convinced he was lying to get attention, I decided to hold him on my lap in case he was car sick. 

We had to make a short stop at our new land to  talk with the headman. He'd had an important dream he wanted to share with us. (More about this at a later date)

While waiting for Tom to have his conversation, I tried to interest Peter in some of the story books we brought along, but he was uncharacteristically quiet. I began to wonder if he really were feeling ill.

Sure enough, the stomach ache revealed itself to be real indeed. All down the side of the door--inside the car! All over my messenger bag! All over Peter! It was a mess!

I threw open the door and had Peter stand outside to complete doing what needed doing. Trouble was it was still raining. So I had to maneuver to hold an umbrella over Peter while comforting him and trying  to contain the mess. 

I couldn't  ask Troy to help because he was actually also sick with malaria. Did I forget to mention that? What a day!

Finally I called for Tom and he hurried over to dig the paper towels out of the back of the car. All the coolers, crates and shopping bags had to come out first. 

It took every last paper towel to get the mess under control, and even then my messenger bag was destroyed. Thankfully I had my laptop bag with me and I could transfer everything over. 

Ever since I had begun to wonder if Peter was car sick, I'd been battling my own nausea. Now having to deal with the aftermath if Peter's sick, I thought it might be a matter of not beating it, but joining in. Troy made it clear there was no way he was cleaning up after me should I take that route. 

The rest of the day was a trial indeed as Peter's stomach gave him, and us by extension, big trouble.

He cheered up a bit in the middle of the day, but by the time to go home he was feeling sickly again. We had another small episode, but he finally fell asleep. It wasn't the day we'd hoped for, but we survived it, which is always a good thing. 

My mom used to say her stomach would hurt when someone had a cut or injury. At the time I thought it was an odd thing to say, but now I find myself clutching my own stomach when I see someone in pain.  What about you? Do you get sympathy pains and/or nausea when someone else is sick? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

But it Seems Like Just Yesterday

Our first son, and third child, T.J,  was born in Mexico at a small clinic in Guadalajara.

 Funny story: fathers were not generally allowed in delivery rooms. Tom had not been able to see our twins born since theirs was an emergency birth (8 weeks premature) and they were delivered in a large, government hospital.

With T.J, we arranged with the doctor ahead of time that Tom could attend the delivery. 

However, once the day came, the doctor wanted to examine me first and make sure everything was set up before allowing Tom into the delivery room.

What the doctor didn't know is that I took after my mother and was not going to waste any time in getting that baby out. 

Out in the hallway, Tom was anxious and annoyed that the doctor had taken me away from him. He made up his mind to just barge into the delivery room anyway. A Catholic nun/nurse tried to block his way down the hallway, but he pushed her out of the way and burst through the delivery room door just as T.J took his first breath. 

I'm pretty shocked the doctor didn't turn to stone at the look Tom gave him, but how was he to know the baby would be born after only five minutes. The nurses were annoyed that they hadn't even had a chance to do all the pre-delivery work--IVs and monitors,etc. 

Three weeks after T.J was born we packed up our little family of five and moved to the U.S taking a break from fulltime mission's work for a time.

 Less than sixteen months later, our second son and fourth child was born. After that we constantly had to answer the question: "Do you have two sets of twins?" 

T.J was always very pretty (sorry, T.J--you were!), and people would constantly compliment us on our three girls. When our second son was born they would ask if we were glad we'd finally had a boy. This was despite T.J being dressed in boy clothes and sporting a boy haircut.

At three years old he pulled a table onto himself and knocked out his two front teeth giving him that adorable gap-tooth smile for the next few years.

T.J turns 22 today. He's a Junior at the University of Houston studying History. I love to hear him talk about history. He's going to make a great professor one of these days. While going to school he works as an assistant manager at a charity resale shop. He has a really good eye for the value of items. 

Happy Birthday, T.J! I'm so proud of you!

Related Post: read how T.J got his name here.

Exactly Two Years Ago: The Big Reveal
Exactly Three Years Ago: Water Play

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

School Days

I'm taking time out from my homework to update this space. I'm loving my time here in South Africa. Durban sits on the Indian Ocean and it is HOT and HUMID at this time of year. 

Even though I'm still on the African continent it's been easy to forget. My host for the week is a lovely, Scottish woman who lives in a sweet cottage surrounded by lush vegetation. As I do my homework on the porch her two Jack Russell Terriers come sit next to me. 
We drive to school on large highways with proper road signs and several lanes in either direction. Shops and office buildings line the roads and it feels more like Europe than Africa.

I'm here in Durban to qualify as an administrator to use the ACE curriculum so we can open our new school for the kids at Kazembe Orphanage. ACE is a unique, learning system that works with individualized education. It's going to be great for our kids. However, the procedures are very different from traditional classrooms and require some getting used to.

 Above you can see the space that I am occupying this week and half of next. Eight days of putting my nose down and getting work done. It's not that the work is that difficult, but the procedures are very exact and must be followed precisely. I'm a rule follower with a rebellious side, so you can imagine how well I'm getting on right now. 

We are being treated exactly like the students would be in our learning centers so that we can understand how things work from the kids' perspective. Each day we have to set our goals for how much work we'll get done and then take the extra home (if possible) as homework. In the mornings our books are inspected and our goals and homework slips checked for mistakes. Today I got four demerits!!!! I'm fairly certain I'm going to get at least one more tomorrow because I wrote the wrong page number on my homework slip. 
I'm praying God blinds the eyes of the examiners. Not sure if that's the theologically correct thing to do, but I'm desperate.

In the midst of all this modern living, there are a few signs that I'm still in Africa. Can you spot a couple of them below? This photo was taken just outside my classroom when school was out for the day.

I asked a few of the students standing around if they ever get away with saying 'the monkey ate my homework', but they said no. However, the monkeys do frequently steal their lunches. Life in Africa!

Exactly Four Years Ago: Be Prepared
Exactly Three Years Ago: London Fun
Exactly One Year Ago: Introductions
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