Visiting Shaughnessy Elementary School (VOH Partners)

Last week Nancy and I attended an assembly at Shaughnessy Elementary School in Vancouver, B.C.  Nancy’s Sister, Beverley Neville, is a teacher at the school and, after a visit to Village of Hope – Kitwe three years ago, spearheaded a partnership between Shaughnessy Elementary and VOH Community School in Kitwe, Zambia.

Over the past 3 years Shaughnessy has raised over $30,000 and has also collected and sent clothing and school supplies to the Village of Hope. This initiative has involved the staff, parents and students of Shaughnessy Elementary.

The purpose for the assembly was to celebrate the achievements of the fund raising initiatives and the success of the partnership. Three cheques were presented for Village of Hope totalling over $10,000. Over $8000 of that amount was raised through the ZamZoom walk-a-thon.

The assembly began with the Singing of both the Canadian and Zambian national anthems. Some of the students even entertained us with an African Dance. Many students read letters that they had received from their pen pals in Kitwe.

Present at the assembly were the principal – Mr. Barrie; the Associate Superintendent for the Vancouver School Board – Dr. Valarie Vangaard;  the teachers; members of the PAC (parent’s council); the

Shaughnessy-VOH partnership student committee, and the students of Shaughnessy Elementary School.

I had the opportunity to address the students and began by thanking them for their hard work in raising the funds. Then I spoke to them about my role as one who speaks on behalf of the vulnerable children of Africa. I used the illustration of “big people verses little people”. I told them that no matter how old we are, how big or how small and no matter what the colour of our skin, we are all equal as human beings.

Unfortunately, in the world today, there are many children who are not treated as equals and do not have a voice and therefore need others to speak on their behalf.

I also told them that what excites me most about their involvement with Villages of Hope is the fact that little people are speaking on behalf of other little people, that through their various initiatives they have made their community aware of the need in Kitwe. I challenged them not to forget what they have experienced when they become big people – that they need to continue to speak on behalf of the many vulnerable children in the world today.

Nancy and I had the opportunity to visit Ms. Neville’s grade 7 classroom after the assembly. The principal Mr. Barrie presented us with mugs, lapel pins and pens, all with the Shaughnessy Elementary School emblem, to take back to Zambia for the staff.

The students then had the opportunity to ask us questions about the work we do in Africa, life in Africa, and specific questions about the community school and students in Kitwe. We were very impressed with the student’s depth of knowledge.

The partnership between Shaughnessy School and Village of Hope-Kitwe School has been a huge success. Not only has the partnership been fruitful in raising funds and supplies, it h

as helped to spread the word of what Villages of Hope – Africa Society is doing overseas. It has also been a great teaching tool for the school; the students through this partnership have learned to be global people. Finally, I believe that for many of the students this experience will remain with them throughout their adult life. I expect that many of them will continue to speak on behalf of the many vulnerable people of the world.

The Shaughnessy partnership is one which needs to be replicated.

I would like to thank Ms. Neville and her team for all their hard work, Mr. Barrie for allowing this partnership to happen, and all the students for their energy, enthusiasm and dedication to this project – you are all an inspiration!

Until next time,

Sergio Bersaglio

Executive Director – Villages of Hope-Africa

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Director’s Blog: Chaos

Chaos. Can we avoid it? Should we try to?  Should we run from it or do we belong in the middle of it?

I recently spent a week in a small remote community where one of our Villages of Hope is situated. The area is rich with natural beauty and has the most stunning view and the people are warm and welcoming.  This region, however, is extremely impoverished and living conditions are harsh. The town is run down with only one multi-storey building existing as the only sign of modern development. One should not be fooled by the exterior of this building, however – its interior has been neglected for decades.

Other than the main road coming in from the west and exiting to the south, the roads show serous signs of deterioration. One must be careful driving and parking as the drop off on the shoulder is often as high as a meter. Most buildings are in desperate need of a paint job and shopping is very limited – there is one main grocery store, which, during the week that I was there, was not able to bake bread because the mixer was broken. Apparently this is not unusual; I was told that a couple weeks earlier no yeast was available for the bakeries to make their bread.

During the week that I was there, I was struck with the sense of chaos that seemed to be present everywhere I went. The administrator of the Village of Hope and I visited several government offices and I was amazed at how difficult it was to get appointments with the government officials as some had gone to the capital city so appointments were made for when they were due to return, but not kept because the individual had not returned as planned.

When we entered the offices of the officials, we were overwhelmed by the stacks of files on their desks; no filing cabinets were available to them. The officials we did meet with were doing their best with the limited resources available to them and it amazed me what they were able to accomplish in such conditions. Yet, from my western point of view, it all seemed so chaotic.

Villages of Hope – Africa cares for vulnerable children and in Africa today there is no shortage of children.  In the countries where VOH- Africa is working the majority of the population in each country is under the age of 18. You can imagine the potential for chaos when you have that many children to care for in your nation. I was conducting a Child Protection seminar one morning and two babies from one of the children’s homes were in the meeting because with the house mother and other staff all at the seminar there was no one else available to care for them while the meeting was taking place. It was great to have them there, but, as you can imagine, it did make for a more challenging time during training and interaction.

That same week, I had a group of Canadian visitors with me who came to help at the Village – a real blessing for sure – but on top of doing Village of Hope business, we needed to ensure that things were in order for these visitors.  Part of what made that week exciting and yet still feeling chaotic, was the fact that in the mix we had African, Canadian, South African and Irish all working together in one location, each bringing their own cultures and worldviews. I’m sure you can imagine what communication was like with everyone speaking English, but each with a different accent and a different worldview.

Chaos is defined as a state of utter confusion, and this is how I would have defined my week at the time. On my return trip to Lusaka with the Canadian visitors, we stopped at a lodge in a national park for the night. The next morning the group decided to get up early and go on a safari drive. I chose to stay at the lodge and enjoy peace and tranquility sitting next to a beautiful African river. The water was perfectly still and the reflection on the other side provided a perfect mirror image of the trees and shrubs. As the birds sang and went about their daily business, I enjoyed the peace (it was a nice change!). However, as much as I was enjoying the moment, I was reminded that chaos is where we need to be, for where there is chaos there are people; in fact, the more people the higher the chaos. Yet this is where we need to be. It is fine to retreat at times to rest and re-energize, but if we want to make a difference we need to place ourselves in the midst of chaos.

I salute the many workers at all our villages, those who place themselves in the midst of chaos every day in order to care for vulnerable children. Many of them have left the comforts of home, peaceful environments, and family to work and live among the vulnerable. I am so thankful for each and every one of them, from Village Directors to Administrators, to house mothers, teachers, and security guards and all the others who work to care for the vulnerable children in our care. Their work is not easy but very much needed and appreciated!  Thank you to all!

Until next time,

Sergio Bersaglio

Executive Director – Villages of Hope-Africa