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You step across the railway line to get into the Misisi slum in Lusaka, Zambia. And when you cross the line, you enter a world of squalor and suffering. Children with nowhere to go and nobody to care for them sit silently along the edges of the streets, staring at me as I pass. Unloved and forgotten, there are no smiles to be seen on their lips, no hope to be found in their eyes. Mothers, seeking to provide for their children, are often forced into selling themselves for a pittance before they can purchase scraps of food. Young men with no opportunities, no prospects, and no chance get stoned on the local brew, get into fights, and fall headlong into a life of crime. They mill around me as I walk through the streets, lurching and shouting obscenities in my direction. The streets of Misisi are a place where fear and the threat of violence are constant, unwelcome, companions.
There is no sewage system in Misisi. The stench lingers wherever you go and worsens as the temperatures soar. It is the rainy season now, flooding the streets and the ramshackle, makeshift houses with water and human waste. This is a place where the rats thrive. They are everywhere. Waves of disease sweep mercilessly through the camp at times like this. There is no escape. Malaria, cholera, AIDS all take turns striking down their victims. Yet death is an everyday event in Misisi. And, for many, when it comes it is almost welcomed – a relief from the agonizing, daily struggle just to exist.
Yet in the midst of ugly deprivation, starvation, desperation, Kids Alive is working to bring salvation. Our committed Zambian staff team is giving hope to children who are orphaned, abandoned, and living in extreme squalor. These kids come each day to our care center, receiving nutritious meals, support and follow-up with their school studies, counseling, and gentle love and care from our caregivers and teachers.
The first graduate from the care program, Annie, went on to study at a local college and now runs her own small clothes-making business, from which she supports her younger brother, Abraham, who now has plans to go to university. Annie is active in her local church, where she leads one of the children’s groups.
Another of our students, Beauty, has been both orphaned and then abandoned in her life. Beauty has struggled with her studies in high school, but with the constant support and encouragement of the staff, she has persevered and is now in grade 10. Like Annie, she loves the Lord and is active in her church, where she sings in the choir.
What would have happened to Annie and Beauty had Kids Alive not stepped in to help them? This was a question that I posed to Wesley, the director of the program. He grimaced before responding. “They would most likely be married as young girls, living in the slums, probably with several children of their own by now,” he replied. “Instead they have an education and a better future. And they have Jesus, which is the best possible gift we can give them.”
Finally there is a glimmer of hope for children living on the other side of the railway line.