My husband Graeme and I were first invited to Ndola, in northern Zambia, in 2009, to teach at Northrise University, a private university founded by friends of ours, Moffat and Doreen Zimba, to give affordable higher education to the largely rural and poor Zambian people. One of my students was a woman named Joyce Chimbila, who I learned had been working for the Zambian government travelling around the country teaching small business entrepreneurship to women in villages.
Joyce had recently begun a feeding program for abused and orphaned children, in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Ndola, Old Mushili. She invited me to come and see the work. I then persuaded Graeme to see what had amazed me: the love and care being offered these children, along with pre-school teaching and regular meals.
Together, we experienced a ‘Damascus Road’ moment. Like many developed world people of conscience, we had long felt dissatisfied with the ‘scatter-gun’ approach to overseas aid, wondering if it really made any difference. We felt we had now found our calling, which was to support Joyce’s work in any way we were able.
Graeme has always had a special love of children. To see these vulnerable and troubled kids being given a chance at a future became a lifetime’s passion. We have since visited Joyce 4 times, for 4-6 weeks each time. In between visits, Graeme spent many hours trawling though sporting shops, gathering appropriate games that would work well in the school’s context (yes, by our second visit, the feeding program had become an ever-growing school, as Joyce found more and more local children who could not afford even the small sums needed to attend local government schools).
Each visit, Graeme would carry large bags full of Frisbees, soccer balls, skipping ropes, badminton sets, volley balls, rounders sets, and kites – with one small bag for his own actual luggage. He was always greeted joyfully as ‘Uncle Graeme’, and spent hours playing with the kids – when he was not helping dig holes for fence posts, or any other jobs that needed doing. Not to mention baking brownies for the staff and students… It was his honour to present the new uniforms and school books to each of the graduating students as they moved up to high school – these tall, proud, intelligent young people the same children who we had first seen all those years ago, coming hurt and suspicious to be fed.
Graeme died suddenly just as we were about to attend a fund-raising dinner for this school. His passion for Joyce’s work had led to an ever-widening ring of support here in Australia, and the growing school – then farm – was only possible because of the on-going devotion of the many who caught the vision.
This man loved Zambia; loved children; loved the work being achieved by Joyce and her committed group. He would love knowing that the new school (only a future dream at the time of his death) is going ahead. We are proud to present this project as a fitting memorial to this wonderful man.
Rev. Dr Merryl Blair, 2020