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Just the 14 of Us: Part I

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Oz Kids Mazabuka Orphanage

“Uncle. Uncle. Uncle! Less-see.” We are at Oz Kids Orphanage in Mazabuka, Zambia, and taking pictures when I hear the words from a little voice below me. They come from a smiling 3-year old boy named Joseph. You’d hardly know he’s 3, though. With his small stature, protruding belly, diapers and a presence that reflects his past, you’d be forgiven for thinking him 18 months.

Me and Joseph8 e1297441079118 Just the 14 of Us: Part IJoseph’s story is one of sadness. Like so many of his now-brothers and sisters that we share a home with, Joseph has a troubled past. He came to the home after it was discovered he was being physically abused and purposely underfed at another orphanage. The caretakers there were posting photos of Joseph on the internet and extorting money from well-meaning Europeans and North Americans wishing to help a previously healthy, baby boy. That this occurred is troubling. That his case is one of many, and that the other children here have stories that make Joseph “lucky” is almost too hard to take.

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Chipego or "Gift" in the local Tonga dialect

Chipego is the Tonga tribe’s word for “gift” and is often given to a child thought to be an unexpected gift from the powers that be. Unexpected she was. Chipego was found in a ditch on the side of the highway when someone walking by heard a baby crying. How long and who left her there were unknown. So she was brought to the local social services agency. After months in the hospital the beautiful, little Chipego was given a home and family here at Oz Kids. She’s now a huge monster of cackles that everyone respectfully refers to as “Momma.”

Witchraft. Murder. Betrayal. One or another child here has been affected or orphaned as a result of one of these. But all have been affected by sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest killer – AIDS. If not a mother or father who has contracted the HIV virus, then it’s an aunt, uncle, cousin or friend. Estimates state that in urban areas of Zambia, more than 30% of the population is HIV+. Think about that for a moment. 1 out of every 3 people you see or meet has HIV. So often we are bombarded by stats that it’s easy to become immune to the stories and sadness behind them. Now if you aren’t taken aback by this, here’s another one. The average life span in Zambia is 32 years.

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"Catching up" on the front stoop

It took a bit for that to settle in me and is precisely the reason why Laura and I are here. Having recently celebrated my 30th birthday, this was a very scary truth. That if I were not given all the opportunity in my own life and had been born to another family here in Zambia, my life could be ending at the same point I feel my life is now beginning.

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Changing time for Joseph = fun

Quitting our jobs and taking 14 months to travel the world has been called “courageous” by friends, family and colleagues. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow I wasn’t being courageous, but incredibly selfish. The money we had saved to do this could have saved lives. It could have provided real opportunities for others in need of opportunity. I didn’t even have to give it away, I thought. I could have stayed in my job and used that savings to provide micro-loans for one of the thousands of charitable causes sponsored by Kiva. Yes, on the contrary, I could have bought a car or spent it lavishly. True. And that certainly wouldn’t have made me a bad person, not in my opinion at least. But selfish? Maybe, I thought.

This was our chance to give back, even if just a little (this begs the philosophical argument of altruism, I know). We were unsure what to expect. Laura had done the legwork and this opportunity seemed a good match for us. We would have the chance to work with children, something we both enjoy. And we’d be able to work AND live at the home. If we only were going to volunteer three weeks, we wanted an experience where we could contribute as much and as often as we were capable. We learned quickly that with this, there would be no escape or outlet, no boundary between work and what happens after work. We arrived anxious, hopeful and full of questions. Would they open up to us? Would they accept us? Could we possibly make a real impact in their lives in such a short period of time? Would they even want us to try? We’d soon find out.

On October 9, we’re hitting the pavement, running 26.2 for these kids. Hope you’ll consider making a donation to make their world a little bit brighter.

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For more details on our efforts, click here.

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