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Communities Without Borders arranges annual summer service trips for members of our U.S. communities to visit Zambia. The trips are a vital part of establishing and nurturing the relationships between the American and Zambian communities. Learn more about our self-funded trips to Zambia: read the trip information sheet. Click here to get an application or read a recent trip handbook.

Our U.S. travelers go with these goals:

  1. To make friends, build, and deepen relationships with Zambian communities.
  2. To make a contribution that has a positive impact on the communities with which we are partnering in the areas of education, health, or economic well-being.
  3. To understand and learn more about Zambian culture, economy, history, and people, and how the AIDS crisis is impacting children and communities.
  4. To share what we have experienced with our communities upon return from the trip

CWB travelers have enjoyed making new friends in Zambia. The travelers arrive there laden with school and craft supplies, books, and clothing for the orphans they will be working with. They are greeted by women and children singing and dancing. During the course of the trip, travelers have often taught and arranged community-wide ceremonies to acknowledge children who have successfully passed their exams to advance in school. This recognition is a most important experience for the children as it means they can continue their education and the pursuit of their dreams. We also visit various institutions in Zambia such as UNICEF, the American Embassy, university teaching hospital and hospices, and participate in construction projects for facilities in our partner communities.

A Zambia Traveler’s Story – “It was a great privilege”

Meg Landers celebrates student graduation with the women of the Linda community.

My name is Meg Landers... and about a year ago I sat in a pew at First Parish, listening to parish member Cherie Noe and her daughter talk about their experience of going to Zambia with Communities Without Borders. I remember very clearly having their story trigger an intense feeling in me that created the desire to make a similar trip with my own daughter, Nora. Our lives in Lexington give us so much opportunity. We are incredibly fortunate; but it is only a thin slice of the reality of the world. The experience of Zambia would offer another perspective on life from different part of the world. It felt like a meaningful gift I could give Nora, something we could share together before she leaves for college.  

Still, it was an uneasy process to commit to... such a major trip and expense for me. I also felt some skepticism and didn’t want to fall into a voluntourism-guided expedition. Nora wondered why we wouldn’t take the airfare money and just give it to poor people we were coming all that distance to help. The arm of ambivalence held us in a noncommittal mode. So many responsibilities in our own lives of work, bills, school, sports teams; and, most importantly who would I find to take-care of Eric, my 10-year-old son… that alone felt huge. I was surprised how hard it was to unplug from our life.

Fortunately something kept on tugging at us and one night we returned to the CWB website and looked at pictures of the community we support. The feeling of desire and curiosity presented it self again. Finally, Nora and I looked at each other, and the willingness to take a leap of faith dominated over all our doubts and unanswered questions. Hugging one another we exclaimed ZAMBIA HERE WE COME! We made the commitment to go.

I believe the ability for us to commit also sent out the signal for everything to fall into place. It was only a few days later that I got the perfect offer for my son to spend time with his best buddy on the cape. He was as happy as we were! With everything in place Nora and I join up with our travel group and took off to Zambia.

On the first day we went to Ng’ombe, the compound within Zambia that First Parish supports, we traveled the dusty dirt road that was barely wide enough for our vehicle. Deep ditches closely bordered us on either side. Our driver navigated our van carefully, dispersing the people walking in front of us, and the children running along side had an easy time peering in the van’s windows. That was when I first saw the beautiful black faces, both eager and hesitant towards the uncommon sight of our van and then astonished at the uncommon sight of white people in their community. Cautiously curious, they would smile big, dark eyes turning bright, and hands waving happily, greeting us with loud calls of hello.

We bumped along at a sedated pace that matched the surreal quality of Ng’ombe poverty. It was beyond belief, never had I seen or experienced anything like it. The dust from the road swirled picking up litter that danced in front of the windshield at eye level as if waltzing us further into the compound towards the CWB school we sponsor.

No one said much in the van as I recall, except when Ruth from Pilgrim Church, who had been on the trip 5 times and was our supportive lead teacher, finally recognized a woman and some children. The sightings caused an ecstatic chain reaction and launched us into a welcoming that was remarkably penetrating. I later realized this was a genuine characteristic of the people we help support. It appeared that no matter their circumstances, their poverty, or their empty stomachs, they always recognized and responded to our presence and our support with curiosity and joy.

On a subsequent day of teaching, I was handed off about 18 little children ages 4-12 out of one of the two classrooms. None of them spoke English, or if they did it was extremely limited. I chose an oversized alphabet puzzle from the desperately needed donations of school supplies provided by our partner churches. Spreading out a bed sheet on the dusty concrete floor. 18 little bodies enthusiastically heaped themselves in front of me sitting so close that it was difficult to stand back up and motion to them to create a circle.

I laid down the first puzzle piece, and had them repeat A for Alligator, then B for bear. Their voices sang out and repeated enthusiastically after me. Hands went up eagerly for the next piece, “Teacher me next, me next”! … Competitively they lunged towards me reaching for the next piece held in my hand!

It was challenging! The concepts of spatial RELATIONSHIP: fitting puzzle pieces together, and ORIENTATION: upside down and right side up, were new to them. Many would attempt to force fit pieces by pounding on them with the bottom of their fists. The few experienced children would help the inexperienced. It was an effort to keep the order… but I did.

As one of the children who had been further away came closer to me, a foul smell caught me off guard. I realized a few of the children had been wearing clothes where they had soiled themselves… who knows how many days or weeks have gone by since the last washing. Should I have been surprised, water was such an ordeal to get in the compound… thoughts of Ng’ombe mothers and caregivers waking up mornings faced with the choice between food for the children or clean clothes.

What would you choose?

I witnessed my awareness shift and was pulled back by the authentic jubilant and earnest energy of the children. The repugnant sensory distraction diminished and was written off to me as irrelevant… I was drawn into the complete comfort and mutuality of our shared experience and the nectar of being in relationship with them.

During our weeks of travel I constantly marveled at all the dynamic contrasting dualities faced by the Zambian people, of: desperation and hope, fragility and strength, loss and survival; all of these powerful forces, and many more, that pulled and tugging at Ng’ombe people living under constant and extreme poverty.

Yet remarkably, these people and especially the women and children I met, display an unrelenting openness and determination to improve their circumstance. Central to their way is an unyielding faith of God and gracious reliance on community, near and far. It was a great privilege to be a part of the commitment our church has to Communities Without Borders and Zambia. I witnessed first hand how our gifts of money, school supplies and service trips plant significant seeds of change, and make a huge difference in their lives.

More information

For the past three years, Tom Murphy has set up a blog for Communities Without Borders travelers to post messages about their experiences while they are in Zambia, and Amy Archibald has been in charge of providing content and the recruitment of guest bloggers. In 2012 an edited version of some of their entries have been provided by Patrick O’Reilly in our Travelers Journal called “Muli Bwanji.”  Click here to read the latest journal.

Learn more about our self-funded trips to Zambia: read the trip information sheet. Click here to get an application or read a recent trip handbook.