A Note from Fatty: This will be my last post ’til after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, remember that if you want a chance at winning the trip to NYC to see the pART show, you need to donate by midnight, Tuesday, 11/20. Thanks!
I have an annual tradition (e.g., 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007) of writing a post around Thanksgiving time, describing something I’m thankful for. This year, that post will take the form of a story about one of the days I spent in Zambia this summer, getting to know a group of caregivers: people who spend their time helping others.
You see, schoolkids aren’t the only ones who are eligible to receive bikes from World Bicycle Relief – just the most prominent one.
World Bicycle Relief also provides bikes to volunteer caregivers who take it upon themselves to look after the sick and poor in their community.
As part of our trip, The Hammer, The Swimmer, my 16yo boy, Brice, and I got to spend a day with them. (By the way, I highly recommend reading the story Simon Dunne, Global Advocacy Manager at Specialized, wrote about this same day.)
Meet the Caregivers
We started the day by meeting at the district office where the Caregivers meet — a group of about a dozen adults who volunteer their time to visit AIDS patients, orphans, and the sick in their neighborhood.
We were a little bit worried it was going to be a very sad-feeling, depressing day. Instead, when we arrived at the office, the caregivers were outside singing and dancing for us, and having us join in. This wasn’t the first time we had been invited to join in singing and dancing with a group of kind-hearted Zambians, and we were starting to love this ice-breaker.
The caregivers all had interesting, very emotional stories of their own about why they became caregivers. One was because she was an orphan herself. One was because she wanted to do the right thing for kids in her community, with the hope that if her kids ever needed help, the favor would be returned.
And they were there to give hope to people who otherwise would feel hopeless — to show the sick that someone cares about them.
All of these people had a very difficult time helping others before they got bicycles from World Bicycle Relief. Getting the 3+ miles to a client’s house (the caregivers called the people they are in charge of seeing “clients” [see Simon's story for the thinking behind this]) without a bicycle took an hour. Getting to a clinic to get medicine for one of their clients took more time. And emergencies were almost impossible to respond to.
Theresa, one of the women we talked with, described how having a bicycle made a huge difference. She told a story of how one time she rushed to a client’s home, gave the lady in labor a ride to the clinic on her bicycle (!), then got a call while she was there from another client and went to take care of the sick child there.
She couldn’t have done any of this without one of the bikes World Bicycle Relief provided her.
We got ready to head out, with the plan being that we would visit a caregiver’s home to see what their homelife is like, after which we’d be visiting with some of their clients, too.
But as we were getting ready to go, school got out, and a bunch of curious kids came over to see us. They seemed to like having their picture taken, saying, “hello” in English to us (kids and adults alike we passed during the day always waved and said “hello” — it was the friendliest place we’ve ever been).
Most beautiful eyes, ever.
The Swimmer and Brian (who’ll be joining us for the Africa in Moab trip) get photographed with schoolkids.
And then it was time to ride.
Brice rides a very typical road in rural Zambia.
The Swimmer navigates through a patch of deep sand.
As we rode, we’d wave to kids walking home from school. Every single one of the people we waved to waved back.
I am the Happiest Bike Taxi In the World
While we were heading to the next caregiver’s client, I saw a boy walking in the same direction we were riding. On a hunch, I gestured to the sturdy rack on the rear of my bike. The boy nimbly hopped aboard before I even had a chance to slow for him, and with such smoothness — he didn’t disturb my balance at all – that I knew he had practice doing this. He stayed aboard ’til his path went a different way than mine, then hopped off.
For the rest of the trip, I made a point of giving as many people (both kids and adults) rides as I could. It was in fact one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.
We first went to the home of Lackson — one of the caregivers in the area — and his wife Brenda. They were kind enough to show us their 3-room house (the entirety of which was smaller than our bedroom). The kitchen is a separate building with a firepit. Here we are with Lackson in front of it:
Here’s the inside of the kitchen:
Here’s Brenda, standing next to their chicken coop (on the poles to the left of her) and corn they have drying in the sun so it can be ground into meal (to the right of her):
They have no running water or electricity, but act like they live in a castle. Lackson was very proud of his house, that he had a garden that feeds his family, and that he is able to be a caregiver to those who have less than him.
Lackson is an amazing, generous man — an incredible example.
Paying a Visit to Caregiver’s Clients
We then rode our bikes to see one of Lackson’s clients: Juliana (a widow) and her son and grandson. Both these boys have sickle cell anemia, and so have very frequent emergencies that require Lackson to come and help. Juliana said that having Lackson’s help was “like having a husband again.”
Juliana had the nicest house of any we saw that day; World Vision (a large charity) had built it for her. It had 3 good-size rooms, as well as a tin roof and a concrete floor. Here she is with her grandson Louis, Dave (the head of the caregiver’s association), Lackson, and Dulani.
We had one of the real highlights of the day here, when we gave this family some gifts to thank them for inviting us to their home: some wet wipes, some t-shirts, and a soccer ball. They were very polite when they got the first two things, but when we pulled the soccer ball out, the boys went completely nuts. Huge smiles. Juliana screamed and then laid down on the ground, clapping her hands — her way of showing extreme appreciation:
When Juliana found out that Brice is my son, she couldn’t believe it. “He’s so much taller than you!” she kept exclaiming. She wanted a picture of us with Dulani, because Dulani is a couple years older than Brice:
And here’s The Swimmer with Louis, who I expect has not yet let go of the soccer ball:
Next it was time to head out to see one of Theresa’s clients, a man named Godfrey who is living with AIDS.
Godfrey took us to the bore hole (well) where the community gets water. He’s lucky; it’s less than a half-mile from his home. Theresa showed us what it’s like to be strong by lifting the basin full of water (probably 50 pounds), putting it on her head, and walking it back to Godfrey’s home.
Theresa talked with us a little about what caregivers do, which was pretty much anything that needed doing. Fetching water, bringing food, going to the clinic for medication (or giving the client a ride to the clinic), or — often — being a source of tough compassion: making sure that people who might otherwise give up, don’t. Make them understand that their clients understand that taking their medication will make a difference. That they shouldn’t just lie down and wait to die.
Lackson and Theresa were both happy to do the work. And by “happy,” I mean that specific word. They weren’t just OK with doing a good deed because it needed doing. They were genuinely happy people.
Gratitude for Those Who Help
This blog has put me in a position to experience some amazing things. But by far the very best thing I’ve seen is what happens when people help each other.
Think about it: Good companies help me put together great prizes to make contests interesting. Then you and I help World Bicycle Relief by donating to them. World Bicycle Relief helps caregivers take better care of their clients.
People live longer. People live better. All because people help other people, whether they know each other or not.
I’m grateful for being able to witness this. Partially because it’s good to see and be a part of it. And also partially because I’m a pretty selfish person at heart, and am not very proud of that fact. When I so often see the good that can be done by those who aren’t selfish, I at least sometimes am able to put aside my ordinary self, and be more like those I admire.
So, for those who help — no matter how you help, or who you help: Thank you. You make a larger difference than you know.