As the plane started its descent into Lusaka, Zambia, two thoughts came to my mind: “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” and “Maybe I can just get on a plane and go back.” Throughout my last year at college and even after graduation, I spent countless hours researching various teaching and service opportunities both in the United States and abroad that would fit my educational background and passions.
Ultimately, God led me to serve as a teacher in Africa with The Rafiki Foundation. Rafiki is the word for friend in Swahili, which certainly embodies the spirit of this organization’s work. The Rafiki Foundation works in 10 countries in Africa where there are many orphans due to famine, war, and illness (mainly HIV/AIDS). With over 1.2 million orphans in Zambia alone, there are tremendous numbers of children left to fend for themselves in a harsh environment. Therefore, the goal is to rescue these children from starvation, disease, hopelessness, and despair in order to give them a healthy future filled with security, learning, promise, laughter, and love. To accomplish this, Rafiki provides housing and quality schools for orphans in order to help them become godly contributors to their own society. Within this environment, Rafiki staff care for all of the children’s needs: physical, emotional, educational, vocational, and spiritual.
I was so excited to be a part of this vision, yet on that airplane, my excitement was met with fear and nervousness as I stepped out of my comfort zone to begin this new adventure.
It is heart wrenching to listen to children and young adults describe their experiences–parents’ deaths, robberies, abuse, sickness, etc. However, here at the Rafiki village, there is such hope. It is absolutely amazing to see so much growth occurring nonstop. As children and students come here and are given the right nutrition and an actual three meals a day, they grow so much physically. The students also have grown tremendously in terms of their experiences–being given opportunities that they never even knew existed before. With all of these new experiences and opportunities, students have grown academically. It is hard to even describe the heartache of watching elementary age students struggle through the alphabet or students between 13 and 17 years old count basic addition and subtraction facts on their hands or struggle through reading a paragraph on a first-grade level, all because they have not been given the opportunities to a good education. However, here students are being challenged to think and learn in new ways, which is giving them hope for the present and future. And finally, through God’s grace and power, the students have grown spiritually and emotionally. As students come and learn about God, there is such evident hope and love.
I came to Zambia a year and a half ago to be a small part of that vision, but had no idea how amazing it would actually be. In addition, a fundamental and sometimes unexpected part of my experiences here in Zambia has undoubtedly been my own personal growth. I’ve grown as a teacher–learning how to conduct a classroom and help students master various concepts. I’ve grown in my relationships with each of my students, each member of the staff here, and many others here at the village. And, I’ve grown so much spiritually–learning more of what it means to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. I wouldn’t trade a single moment: A voice happily calling out my name. A student eager to play at recess. Proving that yes, I can really do the monkey bars! A big smile. A little hand clutched in mine. A sweet hug. A student’s face when he or she finally “gets it.” A walk on the dirt road. Seeing familiar faces out in the village. Driving by myself (and surviving!). It truly is the little things in life that have made this experience invaluable and the list goes on and on!
Amy Goad is a 2007 graduate of The College of New Jersey, where she majored in Special Education and Spanish. A year later she received her MA in Teaching. Amy’s father and I grew up together in a small Indiana town–a long way from Africa.