Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Field trip to the farm... to visit our fluffy friends!

After spending 5 days in Ndola at Hope Ministries, our partnership trip travelers headed south to Lusaka, the capital and largest city in Zambia, to visit the poultry farm. The poultry farm was established in collaboration between Spark and Hope Ministries to serve as a sustainable source of revenue to support Hope Community School and Orphanage; all profits from the farm go directly to serving the children of Hope. This field trip allows our travelers to see first-hand how the poultry farm operates and sheds light on the successes and problems of running the business. It seems, however, that our travelers get most excited over the baby chicks!

Trip participants enjoying lunch at Fig Tree Cafe, en route to Lusaka! This establishment has become one of our favorite places to stop for great farm-to-table food and beautiful outdoor scenery.

Upon arriving at the poultry farm, our first stop on the tour of the facilities was the new convenience shop just outside the farm gate which sells, among other products, bread, eggs, and coca-cola.

Farm Manager Mr. Hatimbula prepping us to enter the poultry house, home to 6,000 2-day old chicks. Mr. Hatimbula has over 15 years experience in poultry farming.

There they are! There is ample room for the baby chickens to roam in their chicken house. 

Charles explains to the group that with additional investment from Spark, the poultry farm is hoping to open 4 more poultry houses and increase the farms capacity 75,000 to 240,000 chickens per year.

The day in Lusaka closed with dinner with the group and members of the Hope Ventures board and staff, including special guest from Zambeef, the outgrower manager, Mr. Milupi, who is a great advocate for our project.

Everyone is all smiles after an engaging and educational day at the farm!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sharon's Transformation Story

Transformation stories are important to the fabric of our partnership trips in Zambia. During this segment of the itinerary, we highlight one of the students at Hope Community School and allow our travelers to get a glimpse at life outside of Hope - and to see first-hand some of the hardships the students continuously face. This trip, we had the privilege of following Sharon for the morning. Sharon was brought to Hope by her neighbor and teacher at the school, Juliet. When Teacher Juliet found out about Sharon's harsh living conditions and family situation, she realized she had to do something. 

Teacher Juliet - teacher, mentor, and advocate for Sharon.
Sharon was a young girl when her mother, 27 weeks pregnant with twins, was bit by a poisonous snake. Doctors immediately induced labor, but both twins died from being born prematurely. Sharon's mother passed as well, leaving Sharon and her younger sister, Justina, with no caregiver. They eventually went to go live with their Aunt Beauty, who has 9 children of her own. 

Teacher Juliet heard about the challenges she was facing, and quickly moved to get her enrolled in Hope Community School. Sharon has come a long way since. Now, Sharon is doing remarkably well at Hope and is continuing to thrive, thanks to Juliet's intervention and encouragement. 

Rich, along with our partnership trip travelers, walked with Sharon to her house - about a 20 minute walk from Hope Community School. In villages such as Twapia, there are no school buses or government provided public transportation systems. Sharon walks this route to and from school everyday, with no complaints. Aunt Beauty welcomed us into her home with open arms and introduced us to Sharon's cousins and extended family. It was an eye opening experience for all.

Walking alongside Sharon from Hope Community School to her home.
Sharon (center) was proud to show us her family.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Empowering Girls - Changing the World

The Girl Effect - its a global movement, and Spark is proud of how our partner's work is moving the dial! The statistics are alarming...
  • In the developing world, 1 in 3 girls gets married before the age of 18 (UNICEF)
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, for every 100 boys who enroll in secondary school, only around 82 girls enroll (UNESCO)
  • Countries that fail to educate girls to the same level as boys are currently loosing up to $1 billion a year in lost potential economic growth (UN Education First)
Those facts are hard to believe. But, fortunately, there is a solution. When we include girls in education, we have a better chance of halting the most persistent problems seen in developing economies, including child marriage, HIV/AIDS, and teen pregnancy. Moreover education helps break the poverty cycle. We know that the more education a girl receives, the more likely she is going to postpone marriage and motherhood - and the more likely it is that her children will be healthier and receive a better education. Empowering girls changes families, communities, and entire nations!

We are proud that our Zambian partner organization, Hope Ministries, has an equal representation of girls enrolled at school, helping to reduce the gender gap and create equal opportunities for each and everyone in the community. The girls (and boys!) we serve are transforming into empowered and strong-minded individuals because of their education. Take, for example, Else - Else is at the top of her 7th grade class at Hope. She serves as an inspiration for her peers and for the community.

Else and her reading partner, Monica.
Else's name at the top of the list. You go girl!

We are also proud of the impact the strong women who travel with us on Partnership Trips leave with all the students at Hope Community School. Our partner's leadership team consistently tells us about the inspiring impact our travelers leave on all the children they engage with. It is important and empowering just to see independent female travelers as roll models for the youth at Hope.

Maggie, right, holds a photo profile of a student from Great Falls, Virginia who, along with her classmates,
sent artwork and a banner to their new friends at Hope Community School.

If you'd like more information on the Girl Effect, check out their website here. And, be sure to return to the Spark Ventures blog again - more inspiring stories about our students in Zambia coming soon!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Goings on in Zambia

Every day in Zambia is new and exciting, even for those who have made the trip to visit our partner in Ndola many times before. It's wonderful to see Ndola develop economically over the years.

Ndola development - new mall with a Subway, grocery store and more.

Our partnership trips are filled with different learning experiences, for Hope students and trip participants alike! On the second day of the trip, a lesson on Bemba, the local language in Ndola, was given by teacher N'goma. Look at our bright and attentive students!

Our trip participants are really put to work--no matter how old they are! It's great to see families joining us on our trips, a trend that will continue for our August trip to Nicaragua. It's never too early to start traveling and connecting with people around the world!

Genoa and her sister took the painting quite seriously and helped out big time!
Maggie and the Spark crew painted the inside and outside of the school kitchen building.
Kalyss and Marcia working hard.

One of the most exciting things about our partnership trips is the two-way street of learning and giving that happens. Our trip participants get so much from the students, teachers and staff members they meet at Hope, and also have a change to give. Krupa, a second-time traveler with Spark, taught oral hygiene to Hope students in a fun and creative way. Krupa and the students used the bottoms of 2-liter soda bottles to be big teeth, and then had students brush hard boiled eggs that had soaked in dye. This educational session all served as a part of Krupa's master's course in public health. New grade 4 teacher Dorcas helped translate.


Speaking of learning and giving back, one of our favorite components of our partnership trips to Zambia is reading partners! Top students get the chance to make a new friend and read with one of our trip participants. What a treat!


Here are some other sights and scenes from our trip thus far.
Genoa stirring the pot for school lunch
Gravesite. Always sobering to see so many young deaths.
New Hope House mother reads with Elijah and others.
New lockable classroom cabinets, purchased with revenue from this trip!
Theresa and students.
Tooth brushing program still going strong!
Dinner with the Mumbas ended with fun storytelling!

Thanks for following our journey, and keep checking back for more updates. Shalenipo (goodbye) for now!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Warmest Welcome from our Zambian Friends

Our first full day in Zambia began early and (as always) was filled with learning, dancing, and eating with the children and staff at Hope Ministries. Upon arrival at the Hope campus, we were greeted with a joyous welcome program. Staff and students alike enjoy welcoming their foreign friends by dressing up and performing dances. The best part about the welcome performance is when our trip participants let down their guard and join in.

Teachers and students of Hope Community School dancing their way to the welcome program.

A new, temporary assembly facility has been built at Hope and allowed for all 300+ of the children, teachers, staff, and trip participants to escape from the sun.

Our fearless Board Member, Patti O'Neil (center) having fun with the students!
Teacher Dorcas, in green here, instructing Kristen, supervised all of us as we danced
and kept yelling "lower, lower... go lower..."

Each year, the children's costumes and dances become more elaborate.
These students were about to debut a new warrior dance for the travelers!

After the energizing welcome program, our trip participants had time to socialize with the students and take part in the daily meal program.

Krista helped serve the lunch of nshima, vegetables, and soy pieces to the children.

Chirsta, a traveler from Chicago, is surrounded here by new friends. The children of Hope Community School and Orphanage are friendly, welcoming, and always energetic and eager to make new friends and to learn. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

News from Ndola!

Before our partnership trip participants arrived in Zambia, Spark CEO, Rich and Finance Manager, Marcia, met with our partners at Hope Ministries and at the Poultry farm to carry out a financial audit and take care of other Spark work. They also spent time preparing and making sure everything was set and ready to go in anticipation of the arrival of our 14 trip participants.

Marcia, above, settling in and working from her hotel room - as finance manager, she is juggling audits both for the Poultry farm and Hope Ministries, preparing fiscal year financials for Spark Ventures' upcoming budget meeting, and supporting logistics for the partnership trip. All work and no play? Not quite! Marcia and Rich took children from the Hope House Orphanage out for a special dinner in the days before our travelers arrived.

The dinner was to celebrate the progress the Hope House Orphanage children had made reading books - a contest Rich had set out for them about a year ago. They tracked their progress over the past year, and Rich had promised a fun night out if they all met the goals he had set out for number of chapter books read. Thankfully everyone stepped up to the challenge and a celebratory evening was enjoyed by all.

The girls - giggling and having fun after their meal!

Sunday marked the official start of our long-awaited July partnership trip! Ba Mambwe helped Rich and Marcia hold our "Welcome to Zambia" sign at the airport as our 14 trip participants arrived.

The trip to Zambia is long - approximately 8,156 miles from Spark HQ in Chicago to our partners in Ndola, Zambia. So, participants have to set out a couple of days early in order to arrive on the Sunday start date. Our travelers this time around hail from Illinois, Pennsylvania, and even the province of Alberta in Canada. Most of our participants had a layover in Europe, then flew through sunny Johannesburg, South Africa, before making the final flight to Ndola, Zambia. Fortunately, everyone made it in on time on Sunday - bags included! (phew)

After hours of travel, one would think that our participants would want to rest up for the week ahead...nope! Genoa and Kalyssa (our youngest travelers to-date), decided to get a head-start on Bemba (the local dialect spoken in this part of Zambia). They pulled out the list of words Spark had provided them immediately upon arriving on Sunday afternoon and began practicing the language with fellow travelers Krupa and Julie. 

Stay tuned for another blog post shortly about the exciting week ahead. 

Mukese bwangu!! (Come again soon!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

...And They're Off!

After months of planning and preparation, the time has finally come! Spark CEO, Rich, and our Finance Manager, Marcia, have bid farewell to America and are finally on their way to Zambia for our July Partnership trip. Although our 14 trip participants won’t be arriving for another week, Marcia and Rich are traveling early to take care of some important business before the trip officially begins.

Rich and a few graduates of Hope Community School

Rich is doing a handful of prep work with our partner organization, Hope Ministries, while Marcia will be performing audits at both Hope Ministries' non-profit operations and the Poultry Farm in Lusaka.

The poultry farm in Lusaka supports the children served by Hope. 

The reading partners program is always a highlight of the trip for both our trip participants and the students.

Partnership trips are always exciting times here at Spark HQ. Even though the itinerary is tried and true (Our CEO, Rich is nearing his 20th trip to Zambia), we still look forward to hearing the stories that our trip participants and leaders bring home – we especially love to hear how the youth we support at Hope are succeeding and blossoming into mature, driven, and wonderful individuals.

Smiling faces all around during one of our previous partnership trips!

The infamous "kissy" face... popular even in the heart of Zambia!

We are looking forward to keeping up-to-date with the travelers, and we hope you are too! Stay tuned to the Spark blog for next few weeks for updates directly from the field.