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Changing Africa, One Village at a Time

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CHISAMBA, Zambia -- It's 7:15 Monday morning in a cement-block house near this country's major highway, the paved, two-lane Great North Road. Supervisor Peter Phiri, who helped to build that road during the 1990s, is speaking to 40 employees starting their workweek in a country where AIDS, unemployment and corruption are all rampant. They sit on planks held up by cement blocks in the building their own hands constructed.

Intense and energetic, Phiri tells them, It's up to you, up to me, to choose. Pray to God to give you a right choice. Remember that without Jesus, you can't accomplish anything." HIV statistics in Africa show that many have chosen wrongly. The well-documented failure of many government and big philanthropic projects shows that many would-be helpers have chosen wrongly.

But the 230-acre Village of Hope farm here, located 45 miles north of the capital city, Lusaka, is a small-scale project designed and managed by those who have gained ground-level experience in the peculiar challenges that Africa offers. The project has Africans in key positions. It is designed to fight the welfare mentality that has grown in Africa as the West has poured in money.

The typical day here begins with a half-hour of call-and-response harmonic singing and Christian education provided by Zambian evangelicals such as Phiri and a local preacher, Pastor Zulu. Then comes harvesting of peanuts left in the sun to dry, or sunflower seeds that will be turned into oil. Some manufacture the thousands of construction blocks (five parts sand, one part cement) that go into building 900-square-foot, three-bedroom cottages for the orphan houses that are central in the village.

The emphasis overall is on village-level technology with no wasted resources. For example, the wood stockpiled during the stumping of the farm goes for fires for lunchtime cooking. The larger goal of the Village of Hope is to teach adults diligence and responsibility on the job, and to save the lives of orphans. American churches and individuals send contributions: To maintain one cottage of eight to10 children plus a widow caregiver costs $500 per month.

Africans administer the project, but one white American entrepreneur is on the scene: Last July, Benedict Schwartz, a Maryland software CEO, uprooted himself and his family and moved to the Village of Hope. Schwartz created an evangelical ministry that directs the project, All Kids Can Learn International (www.akcli.org). He is now recruiting others to build and adopt orphan cottages on the property, to take mission trips to the farm, and to pray for the children. For example, two teams from the U.S. had a Vacation Bible School for 400 children this past summer, and two Americans taught five Zambians to be welders.

Africa has lots of orphanages and agricultural development projects, but putting together the two is brilliant. A daily farm schedule helps to heal children who were child slaves, or took care of dying parents, or struggled to survive on their own in the African bush. Teen workers heal as well: Grace Mkazamwene, 18, explains that My parents died when I was young. I now feel that I have a future. I used to have a short, hot temper, but now things are different. I am more patient with everyone. I have learned love."

I've seen a variety of orphanages in Africa and elsewhere, and this model is the best. It could be replicated throughout sub-Saharan Africa. And it could be done without government money, which often hampers rather than helps. Schwartz's goal is one church, one cottage, including financial and prayer support. He would like to see a team from a supporting church take a mission trip every 12 to 18 months to visit the children and develop relationships with them. He challenges Americans who have already attained wealth: Don't think of what kind of home entertainment system or which set of golf clubs to buy. Think of lives that could be changed for the better."

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