At Least


Anastazia became ill last year around this time. We’d just finished doing a fundraiser for getting her roof up. She’d had several difficulties – a relative dying, and a tough landlord selling her rental from underneath her before she could finish her house. We were super happy that so many people jumped in to help and we got the roof up. We thought.

Ana really wanted to move and underestimated the cost of the roof in her hurry and anxiety. When Gertrude went to visit her and take some follow up photos of the completed roof, she found Ana sleeping on the ground under the section of the roof that was done, shivering in the cold June weather. Not good for someone HIV positive whose body is also beginning to resist the drugs. We finished the roof.

A very long sick year ensued. Her father died. Ana became more and more ill. A big lump began to swell on her neck. She was moved to a relative’s home closer to Chikumbuso so the ladies could keep check on her and help. She started having heart palpitations. Doctors recommended first Gas-X and then scans, then surgery – which didn’t happen, thank God! Midnight phone calls and taxi rides to the hospital became frequent. She could hardly eat and lay in bed. Children were dispersed to others to be cared for. We became quite despondent.

“At least!” people say when they’ve been sick for some time and they come back. It means “At least I didn’t die.” One lady was telling her story of a prolonged illess. “The grave opened before me, and tried to draw me in, but I cried out, ‘Grave you can’t have me yet!’” There were many amens from ladies who had experienced similar close calls.

At least! Ana came to visit, though she was very worn out from the walk. Even though she was closer, it was still quite a distance for a woman who’d been lying in bed for nearly a year. But we encouraged her, keep coming, even one day a week so the muscles can get even a small bit of exercise, and so the stomach can get filled up with a yummy, nutritious Chikumbuso lunch.

She is now coming three days a week and looking more and more alive. I don’t quite know how beautiful, black skin can look grey, but it is frightening when it happens. Ana’s skin has lost that grey look and the rich chocolaty hue has come back to her cheeks. It’s a delight to see. She was sitting on the carpet on Wednesday with a couple of the women, helping them with color choices for some beach bags we’re sending to Linda. She’s our best designer and to see her taking a renewed interest lets us know she’s really come back to us.

But now the family that has been keeping her is also seeing her progress and they are quite ready for her to move on. We chatted about this as a community because when someone miraculously survives like Ana has, we all feel that we have a stake in keeping it up. Rather than go back to the house that is so far away in Kabanana, it was suggested that she rent a small place close by and rent out the house. But the house needs some other things completed before it can be rented out.

Pangono, pangono. A bit, a bit. Some of the ladies have built houses this way. A few blocks and a couple bags of concrete. A roofing sheet. A section of cement flooring. The pit latrine is always last, if you can imagine. Often folks without latrines move into the house anyway, hoping to use a neighbor’s until they can get their own built. It is a tortoise race that one must endure to have freedom from a landlord’s whim of selling or increased rent.

We bought a bunch of bracelets from Ana on Friday; she isn’t quite up to bags again yet. It will give her some money to get through the month, settle into a rental just behind Chikumbuso so she will remain close and not fall right back into the cycle of illness the cold weather inevitably brings. This is a short term fix as we contemplate different long term solutions. But, “At least!”

Nice finish to a busy week

Friday’s afternoon sun was streaming in the store while ladies climbed up and down ladders with cleaning rags, sweeping and polishing the floors for our second big visit this week.  UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School came on Wednesday and WBR Africa Rides is coming on Sunday and we want to be ready.  Several students were outside playing basketball on our refreshed court (thanks, Margaret Voland!) and riding their bikes around the merry go round.  A lovely finish to another busy week.  It was the first week of term – excellent attendance – classes ready to go, lots of lunches served to hungry kids!  Munali Secondary released last terms’ results and many of the ladies walked together to pick up their children’s results.  Maureen came in looking tired, but satisfied.  “No one fails in my house.  I just go there with my head held high.”

That was a good enough place to end the week, but then the sweetest thing happened.  Agness walked past us and I asked how her daughter, Royce, was doing.  I knew she was ill.  “She’s just ok, I’m taking her for injections now.”  Royce is HIV positive.  “Let us help you with the cost for the injections.”  They are about $10 per injection – a lot of money in her house.  Her face lit up and I could see her shoulders and neck relax.  Help unasked for and unexpected – for once not having to struggle.  And then it got even better.  Maureen sidled up next to Agness, put her arm around her, smiling, with her cheek pressed against Agness’ cheek, and said, “I don’t know what I would be doing without this one.  She has been rushing up and down helping me with all Meketayi’s grandmothers.  It’s good that you are helping her today.”  Meketayi is one of our caregivers for the elderly and she has been sick.  Agness stepped into that gap to help with delivering all the mealie meal and food rations.  Agness hugged Maureen back, and shyly said, “Come, let’s go together,” and off they went hand in hand.  This moment was so beautiful because these two at one time were not friends, not even close.  At one time, jealousy and rivalry defined their relationship.  But today, under that sunny sky, in the unique warmth that is Chikumbuso, they had slipped back into loving each other.  Forgiveness ruled the day, amazing gift!


Exploring new territory


Thanks, everyone, for the nice comments about our new leather bags we posted on Facebook.  You were very encouraging!

I thought it would be nice to just to give an idea of where these came from and where we hope to go with them.

A few years back, a friend started working with another group making leather bags.  The group ended up consisting of three men with some background working with leather, tailoring and patterns.  When our friend left Lusaka late last year, she was very concerned about these men who had become dear friends and who depended on the work from making the handbags to help their families, also affected by the crisis of HIV and poverty.  We began a conversation about what it might look like for their group to merge with Chikumbuso.

Chikumbuso’s artists, both the widows and our at risk youth, have come so far!  Our plastic and chitenge bags are so popular.  But we continue to think, “What can we do next?  What new products can we make?  How can we help more people?”  Thinking about expanding our product line just seemed like a good idea.  And the fact that all our leather is locally sourced from Zambian cattle seems in-line with our goals of products made eco-friendly, locally sourced, locally crafted.


The other goal of our merge is to train our at risk youth in leather craft.  Through a generous grant, we will be training our top tailors to make leather products.  This will allow our up-and-comers more opportunity to make existing items.  Our new students will then have opportunities to make smaller, easier items and grow in their skills.  Helping more people.

When you buy that new leather bag, you can know that, again, in purchasing our products you are directly helping real people affected by HIV and poverty – they get an income and the ‘profit’ comes back to help run our programs, mainly, educating tons of kids that would never have even had the chance to learn to read, much less go all the way through to university!  Crazy, right?  So, a big Zikomo! to everyone who supports us, and remember to spread the word!




Small things

Grace and Mabel have been attending Chikumbuso School for some time.  We were really sad when Grace, the older of the two sisters, came to say her family was moving and they would no longer be able to attend school in the new area.  Grace wants to be a journalist when she grows up.  At Chikumbuso, she has many opportunities to meet members of the press from both print media and television.  Her dreams might be big for a little girl from the compounds, but when you watch her quiet dignity and inquisitive questioning, you can see that dream becoming a reality.  We knew we couldn’t just let it all fall apart for her.

We asked her parents to visit and talked with them about the possibility of having Grace and Mabel stay at the Safe Haven when school is in session.  At first it seemed that just Grace would stay, but we urged that Mabel also should stay.  She is in Grade 3 and her parents felt she wasn’t old enough to stay away from them, but we reasoned, that if she can stay in school, her future has great potential, too.

Mabel has turned out to be quite the comedian.  The little girl we thought was just a shy one, unsure of her future or dreams, standing in her sister’s shadow, has shown us who is boss.  She’s been very clear about her chores, which ones she wants and which ones she thinks are too hard for her, since she’s just a ‘small one.’  She likes cleaning the room every day, and is very diligent about it.  But laundry is out of the question – that’s Big Sister’s job.

Food Lover’s Market dropped a donation of sweet buns.  Mabel held onto hers until after dinner as a dessert.  When Gertrude popped her head in the bedroom next morning, Mabel was still holding the bun in her hand.  She’d fallen fast asleep before she’d finished it!  The joy of savoring that first bite dropped her off into a dreamland of sugary confections.  Gertrude suggested that she come have a proper breakfast, “No, no, my bun, I’m still eating it,” as she wiped some sugar off the corner of her big smile.

She is a darling and it is very sweet to see the Safe Haven operating at full capacity with so many smiles and lots of laughter.  Mabel may not know that the small things she says and does help to ease everyone else’s load, but smiles and laughter really do the trick.  Keep it up, Mabel.

Life can be tough no matter where you live or your economic circumstances.  But small things like smiles and laughter – they’re good stuff.  Find a reason to smile today, even if it is just imagining this one little girl holding onto her sweet and dreaming adventures through the night.



International Women’s Day

From Gertrude

Early in the morning of International Women’s Day, I was sleeping, I just wanted to sleep in.  But then someone began knocking on my door, and I got up to answer it.  I found there was this old, old lady.  She was carrying this big sack on her back like a baby.  I said, “Ah, Sylvia, what are you doing?”

“I’m coming from Mandevu.”

“What were you doing there?  Visiting your relatives?”  It was so early in the morning, I imagined that she must have left there very early to get to Ng’ombe at this time of the morning.

“No, no.  I left early from my house this morning.  I went to buy some groundnuts because I know that I am owing Chikumbuso some money.  Now that my son’s funeral is over, I want to start selling so I can start paying again on my loan.”  Sylvia, like many older Zambians, believes that if she is owing a debt on earth, she won’t be free to die.  At 104, with all she has seen, you can imagine how this grips her.

“So,” I asked her, “how much do you have?  Have you started selling by this time?”

“Yes!  That is why I’ve come!”

I had her scoop out the groundnuts, bit by bit; she looked up at me in the eyes, “Is that enough?”  “No, keep counting.”  She counted until they were all out.  The total price was 10.50 kwacha, with a profit of 1.5 (about $2.10 in total, profit about 30 cents).  She was very pleased and grateful for the money and turned to go.

“No, no, Sylvia, you must stay and have breakfast with me.  It’s International Women’s Day.”  During breakfast we talked about her plans to earn some money for her loan and I shared the story with my children who would easily look down on working so early and so hard for such a meager profit.

After breakfast, she turned to go.  “No, no, Sylvia, you must stay – I will get your clothes washed and pour you a nice bath.”

After we had washed the clothes and ironed them and she finished her bath, she turned to go.  “No, no, Sylvia, the day isn’t over yet.  You must stay for tea.”

By the time Sylvia went home she was very happy – she’d eaten three meals, sold all her groundnuts and her clothes were nicely ironed, folded and back on her back in the big sack wrapped with chitenge – these are clothes that she will sell to pay back her loan and now that they are clean and ironed, they will be much more likely to sell.

She was happy, but I found I was even more happy.  Sylvia is a very old woman and her last child was just buried and yet, she was up very early in the morning, out and about, trying to make just a little profit to get herself going again.  And not only that, all the time she was here, she was smiling, laughing, even giving us a small dance – I thought, “Would I have that courage going through all these problems?  I kept thinking of her – what if she were my own umbuya (grandmother) and I wondered at her courage when she’s all alone.”

At the end of the day, I was so very happy I’d spent my day with her, celebrating a Grand International Woman.

February Already?

This month – Happy New Year! Land Acquisition status, Carly’s Student Spotlight, and more!
From Mama Linda
2013 is the start of a new year for Chikumbuso Project without Mama Linda on site. When I left last year for Brooklyn I was not sure what was going to happen at Chikumbuso (founder syndrome :)) but its growth and strength have been such a blessing to watch “from afar”.
We have Lisa V. to thank for this as well as the widows themselves who have stepped up to the tasks ahead. No one has been afraid to move on and to get better. The school under our great teachers is growing and thanks to many of you will soon have their own sixth grade room.
Mary and Rose in the single moms continue with their new classes, reaching out to those who just need a bit of help. I am so pleased and look forward to returning there in April to sing, dance and boast about what the Lord has done.
Thank you all, our supporters, for entering in and staying with us. You are a blessing to so many who have nothing to offer you but their thankful hearts and hard work.  Blessings for this new year of 2013. 

Carly’s Student Spotlight

We now are almost one month into the new school year, and I am happy to report positive results from the Christmas book drive and reading program at Chikumbuso. Safila, grade 4, is one shining example. As my sponsored child she is always looking to read with me or my parents in the library. The first week of school she asked me if we could sit down and read the book she received on Christmas, “ The Hidden Hunter.” I was amazed at how well she read, and she laughed as she told me it was her favorite book. Just this past week after reading a few books in the Library with my mom, she went to her backpack to pull out “ The Hidden Hunter” when asked what her favorite book was. Safila told my mom that she carries it to Chikumbuso every day. And to think, just 3 years ago she was too shy to talk to the “muzungu” in her broken English.


Happy 2013!

Back to School

Seeing all the Chikumbuso students rush back to school in January is truly wonderful.  A wise friend once said about working with small children – “Isn’t it great? We get to work with people who want to be here!” It is certainly true about Chikumbuso’s students! It’s been a blur getting everyone settled with supplies, fees and uniforms for the older students while waiting for test results for our 7th, 9th and 12th grade students.  We are all celebrating our outstanding students – every 7th Grade student passed with the Zambian equivalent of A’s and B’s!  This is an amazing achievement and speaks volumes about the standard of education they received at Chikumbuso through 6th Grade.  As of this writing – we are waiting for final results for Grades 9 and 12.

Great Visit from Sabrina and Paul!

January has brought our great friends and supporters, Sabrina and Paul Buehler.  Paul is working very hard interviewing all our students getting up to date information about their lives and new photos.  Sabrina has been tireless working in the library, organizing books and helping with our reading program; helping with bag design; clearing our new land for farming vegetables with volunteers from World Bicycle Relief; helping in English Class with our widows; and, so much more.  It’s been so much fun having them here – and their daughter Carly, our intern for 2013, has been happy to see them, too!

Land Acquisition Update

A quick word on our new land… we have fundraised for the FULL purchase price!!  THANK YOU! Our actual possession will take place later this month once all the title information is cleared.  Look for updates and photos on

Donations are tax-deductible!


Happy Thanksgiving from Chikumbuso!

Wow!  We have been so blessed by Mama Linda’s visit.  What a great few weeks!  Too short, but wonderful and with the promise of another in April 2013.

When Linda arrived, a VIP came in on the same flight.  A police escort awaiting the VIP, but that was nothing compared to the greeting Linda received!  Forty dancing and singing widows, tears of joy and laughter filled the small airport lounge.  The students and staff prepared a wonderful assembly at Chikumbuso – songs, poems and skits welcoming Mama Linda home to Zambia.


Big hugs at the airport!

Many of you know we are in the process of purchasing a piece of land adjacent to Chikumbuso.  It has been wonderful to have Linda here with her wisdom and vision.  We are working hand in hand with our seller and attorney to get a clear title and will keep you updated on the progress.

The new Off Site Safe Haven has been progressing nicely.  We had hoped to open while Linda was home, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Our official opening will come in the first weeks of January, where we will be transitioning some of our older girls to the new site and taking on some new girls in the On Site Safe Haven.  This is going to be a tremendous help in keeping girls in school!

New Off Site Safe Haven for Older Girls

Linda encouraged us to send out more requests for local assistance and it paid off quickly with National Milling offering an ongoing monthly donation of roller meal and rice for Chikumbuso.  The ladies were thrilled when the first donation came in – lots of dancing with bags of mealie meal!

Dancing for joy

We have a new intern just in.  Carly Buehler has been involved with Chikumbuso from the beginning.  She has been to Chikumbuso twice before and will be with us for a whole year!  She’s just completed her Masters in Education.  We are so happy to welcome her!  Carly will be updating the Chikumbuso tweet – so please, if you aren’t a follower already – be sure to follow us and keep up to date on the latest at Chikumbuso.  Believe it or not – it’s very important to have Facebook and Twitter followers when we apply for grants!


Finally, we closed our time with Linda at the big Zambian Art and Design Show where we displayed our new bags combining chitenge material and plastic called the Khala Pamodzi, combining ‘all together’ the widows and STARY youth.  The designs were well received and we had a great sale day – about $3600.

Awesome sales ladies

What a great time!

As Thanksgiving Day closes, we find ourselves most grateful.  We have had challenges that have been overcome, great sales, loads of laughter and some tears – but most of all we are grateful for all of you who love Chikumbuso and support the work being done here.  We count ourselves most blessed.

With thanks and prayers for a wonderful holiday season for everyone,

The Ladies of Chikumbuso






Help us grow!

Help us grow!

Jealousy and Jail

October 13, 2012

Chikumbuso is light in a dark place.  Darkness doesn’t like to be displaced.

Just before Linda returned to the US, she said to me, “Watch out for jealousy.  It’s a terrible thing here.”

People can be jealous anywhere, anytime, this isn’t something endemic to Zambia.  But I’ve discovered that in a place where people aren’t sure that justice is always going to be fair to them or to others, jealousy can move beyond a feeling into actions that are meant to exert power over their ‘enemies.’  A Zambian friend told me, “Jealousy here drives a person crazy until they can push the person they hate into the streets and insult them and make fun of them in front of the whole community.”

We are so very fortunate at Chikumbuso to have leaders whose integrity is available to be seen any time by any one.  If ever an accusation has arisen of not performing their tasks and responsibilities to the letter, they have been willing investigated by their peers in the group and over and over found to be blameless in all their work.  What a rare and beautiful thing!

However, as we have grown, jealousy has grown right alongside the good things that God is doing – educating orphans, giving women a chance to have community when they are HIV positive and work alongside each other with encouragement.  Some in the community have celebrated this, but others have thought, “Why should some do well and be happy?  They should remain poor and lost just as we all are.”  To push everyone to the lowest common denominator is sadly a reason so many communities can’t shake poverty – material and spiritual.

This has eaten away at someone’s heart until they decided to take action this past week.

An arrangement was made by a local community member to divert meal being delivered to grandmothers by our students and then have the local police confiscate it and arrest Maureen.  This was done.  On returning from the immigration office on Wednesday, I found the entire Chikumbuso community standing outside flabbergasted at what had happened.  Police were waiting to take me and Gertrude to the police station.

We had an entirely strange and un-Zambian encounter at the police station.   The demand was to fire Maureen or face further consequences – up to arrest of the leadership and government shut down.  We refused to comply on such scanty evidence.  God miraculously was at work and we left with our meal and dear Maureen.  But we all felt we hadn’t heard the last of it.

On Friday morning, the same community member came to Chikumbuso and insulted all the widows and warned, “By tonight, Beauty, Maureen, Mary and Gertrude will be in the cells.”

Shortly after, the police came and arrested our day guard, Mr. Banda.

We prayed like crazy.  We called our local board member to come and assist.

This is when things began to change.  The head investigator of the station came upon all this happening and took over the case.  He went to Chikumbuso and searched Gertrude’s house.  Beauty offered to have him come to her house.  Mary offered to open her house.  Mind you, the police here have to produce a search warrant; our leaders, full of the integrity that Christ has grown in them over the years, offered to be searched though the police had no right to do so.

At the end of the day, the head investigator congratulated us on the good work happening at Chikumbuso, cleared Chikumbuso of all allegations and released our guard.  He also gave Gertrude his personal cell number in case she has any issues.  He said, “Many people give lip service to their faith, talking, talking, but here Jesus’ work is being done.” Our end was much better than our beginning.

But here is the troubling thing.  A community member has been this jealous of the leadership.  This jealousy has only been thwarted, and is most likely growing in anger rather than congratulating us on avoiding their plan for a second time.  This is where we can use help.  We need your prayers.

Many think that when someone says, I’ll pray for you, it’s just an excuse to do nothing.  But I personally agree with Ghandi,

When every hope is gone, when helpers fail and comforts flee, I find that help arrives somehow from I know not where. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else unreal.

All this comes at a time when our leaders are feeling under tremendous pressure in personal circumstances.

Maureen, HIV positive for over eleven years, raising all her nieces and nephews, taking care of her sick mother for ten years – this and more has taken a toll on her health.  She was just out of the hospital with extreme high blood pressure when all this happened.  She said, “If I had gone into the cells, I know I would have died.”

Gertrude has lost way too many family members this summer.  Her beloved niece, Precious, is experiencing heart trouble.  Precious is a Chikumbuso graduate – she is young at 25 to be experiencing such things.  The doctor told her the other day, “I can’t tell you when you are going to die, but you could blow up any time.”  So much for bedside manner.

Mary’s brother, one of our tailors, Hassan, has been in and out of the hospital with aggressive TB.  There has been much strain on her as the breadwinner for her family and the caregiver to her last remaining sibling.

Chikumbuso widows and our tailors constantly face many challenges.  They are extraordinary in their ability to bear suffering and sorrow.  But the level of challenge they’ve been under the past two months seems beyond even what is ‘normal’ for Zambia.  But today, we are all alive, un-jailed and praying.

Please pray – not just for us to be safe and well – but please pray for the community, pray that jealousy can somehow be displaced by love.  Please pray specifically for peace with this community member and with our Ng’ombe neighbors.  Pray the widows, students and grandmothers can continue to come to us for medicine they can’t get from the clinics as the clinics have empty shelves and food for their families.  Pray for our students to continue to focus on their education and to see in themselves the possibilities of their own future leadership in this country.

We all feel very sorry that the good work that God has done and is doing at Chikumbuso has driven someone to such lengths. However, we continue to give back to our community, we continue to remember to do for others.  This challenge isn’t going to stop us from surrendering to God and continuing to be available to him so that light continues to shine out in Ng’ombe.

Thank you, all, so very much for your friendship, prayers, sponsorship, and support!

Lisa Veitenhans

Executive Director, Zambia


Brooklyn 1

Rosh Hashanah surrounded me yesterday in the streets of Brooklyn and in Prospect Park as the Jewish community celebrated their new year. I loved it. The energy of family photographs in the park, children dressed in holiday best, and the anticipation of what a new year may bring resonated with my own hopes for this new year that we start as a family in Brooklyn.
Associated with these aspirations, and never far from my heart, is the Chikumbuso Project as it continues under the direction of women like Lisa, Trudy, Beauty, and others. Over these past six months I have seen growth in their daily determination to work hard, love, and give back. Hearing from those at the project and seeing photos of all that has taken place over these past six months brings my heart’s thoughts to peace, to Shalom, and all this word incorporates. Shalom is more than a greeting of peace, it is a wish for wholeness in the lives of those who receive it. In Ng’ombe it is wholeness brought to these women who struggle daily to feed their families, keep them healthy and send them to school. Chikumbuso has brought wholeness and balance to the orphan children as they attend our free school and learn to heal by confronting their losses and moving on in hope. The presence of Shalom brings a freedom from injustice as young adults pick back up their lives through learning to tailor and cook knowing that facing stigma can empower them to become part of something so much bigger than themselves. Receiving and giving back on a daily basis to the community has healed the wounds of so many at Chikumbuso. This gift of wholeness, that you are giving as you continue to be a part of Chikumbuso, through your support and love, enables each member of our community to stand on their own and to stand together as one in love.
In this “new year” of Brooklyn my worries for Chikumbuso have been alleviated by your willingness to carry on as I transition to a new role, trusting that Chikumbuso is so much more than a project to those in Ng’ombe. It is their life, their reality and I am assured that they will never let it go. And I will continue to help Chikumbuso grow by creating and growing our Chikumbuso community here, for just as in Ng’ombe, our mission statement in the US is: To remember those who have died, to remember where we come from, and to remember to do for others. Please reach out to me if you are interested in having me come and speak in your community, or if you’d like to become more involved in the coming year. There will be many new opportunities to grow your relationship to this whole and loving community.
So I leave you with a Rosh Hashanah blessing, “ shana tova u’metukah” may this be “a good and sweet year“ to come. Blessings on each and every one of you.

Mama Linda