A Story of Connection in Mtendere Community
There is a game we played a lot while in Zambia. It is called “Do like I do.” We played this game with the children of the community support homes, with the women of the sewing and knitting cooperative and also with all the teachers of the preschools when we were all together at a workshop one day. It’s a game for all ages.
So here is how you play it. You form a circle with someone first in the middle. The person in the middle chants, “Do like I do” and the people around the circle sing “I do, I do!”; and again the middle person chants “Do like I do.” Join me now “I do, I do!” Then the person in the middle chants “I do like this” and makes a pose and those gathered round imitate it chanting “I do like this” and the middle person says “I do like that” “I do like that” and then the middle person says, and “I do it for you”. And then points to another and then the middle person and the one she pointed to switch places and it continues.
It is a game of imitation, and what makes it particularly fun is that the person in the middle often strikes unconventional poses, moves in ways that they don’t normally move. There are hands waving in the air, hips thrust out, silly twirling. Not ways we normally are in our lives.
In the time that has passed since returning home from Zambia, this game “Do like I do” has become emblematic for of what a lot of trip was about. It was fun. We laughed a lot. We were surrounded by people who cared a great deal for us. But for me, and I would imagine for others as well, it was also something more. It was also a time to think what our friends in Zambia are doing and how I am being invited and challenged to imitate? What rather unconventional poses, ones that are not common place in my repertoire, are the people of Mtendere inviting me to try?
Well, here is one. The council of women that oversee the workings of the community support home in Mtendere live in Mtendere themselves. They are of that community. And they understand that one important role that they play for the community support home is getting to know everyone in the neighborhood of Mtendere. They are to get to know who is having a particularly hard time. Whose children have just been left orphaned? Who is ill? Who is hungry? They want to know who is at the very edge of a community that in and of itself is at the edge, and it is these people that the women invite into the community support home. These children are the ones that come to school each day to learn and be fed so that they can have the skills and strength that they will need to achieve a seat in the government sponsored schools.
“Do like I do,” they tell me. Who are the most marginalized in our community? Who are the ones living on the edge of the edge? Am I reaching out to those in most need? What role can I play in drawing these people into a community that can help open possibility and opportunity for them?
And here is another move I observed while in Zambia. Kelvin, one of the teachers in the Mtendere community pre-school, arranged a “field trip” for the children to visit a nature preserve on the outskirts of the capital. This was mind blowing for the kids because 1) most had never left the impoverished neighborhood that they grew up in and 2) none had ever before seen the wild natural beauty of animal and plant life that was so much a part of the country but up to that moment was completely outside of their experience.
“Do like I do.” How can I too open opportunities for young people in our urban and impoverished neighborhoods to experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world? How can I help awaken a pride of place and a stewardship of the world around us?
In the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus challenges those around him to imitate him. “To do as he does.” To engage in actions that may be a bit unconventional “like visiting people in prison.” To try on new moves that may not be common place in our repertoire. Like welcoming the stranger.
So now it is my turn. It is our turn to move into the middle of the circle of the people who have embraced us. Our turn to join, the children, the women, the teachers, and Jesus himself. “Do like I do” they tell us. What will be our next move? I wonder…
- By Stacy Swain, CWB traveler and Minister of the Union Church in Waban Massachusetts, a CWB U.S. Partner