As I sat there on the pew in late October frustrated and feeling alone waiting for praise team to start, Maggie came and sat down beside me for our first real conversation. One thing you should know about me, is that I like to be a very punctual person. One thing you should know about Zambia, is that scheduled events usually have fluid start times. So here I am sitting alone at my church in Lusaka, and it’s 4:30…practice was supposed to begin at 4. I really struggled throughout the year with how my personal interpretation of time was constantly being challenged and stretched.
As I am waiting for people to arrive, I begin to think about all of the things I still need to do that day. Working as a teacher at the CCAP community schools during my faith based year of service with the YAV program, I know that I need to start planning my lesson for the next day, and I have to get laundry done and hung up before it gets too dark, and I need to help with dinner, but I can’t do any of these things until I have attended practice. So my mind is going a mile a minute, and unfortunately/ I found myself thinking, “Why can’t Zambians ever be on time?”
And in that moment, Maggie walks in and is the first to arrive. Maggie is a young woman around my age, and is a very strong presence in the church’s youth fellowship. She takes a seat next to me and we greet each other, and go through the niceties of how is your family and how is work. Then she turns to me and asks me about my relationship with God, and we talk about my faith, and my beliefs, and the parallels, and differences that she herself holds for another 45 minutes until practice begins. From then on this becomes and normal thing.
Maggie and I would sit together and wait for events to begin, but instead of me focusing on the waiting, Maggie would help me focus on being present. We would talk about everything from politics in Zambia and the United States, to women’s value in relationships, to discussing the differences between having a personal relationship with God that you keep in your heart, to the joys of your faith that you share with everyone. I was able to be present and foster new relationships because I could put aside my personal need of punctuality and productivity, to concentrate on what was really important, the community around me.
What Is a YAV?
I am going to back up a little bit and give you all some more information about my year. I was in Zambia with the Young Adult Volunteer program, which is a yearlong service program for people between the age of 19 and 30. The YAV program allows young adults to immerse themselves in another culture whether it is in one of the 16 national sites or the 6 international sites around the world. YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while exploring the meaning and motivation of their faith in intentional community with peers and mentors. The Young Adult Volunteer Program is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and exploration that will change a person’s outlook for the rest of their life.
I Had Amazing Friends to Support Me
During my year, I thankfully was not alone. There were three other YAVs with my in Zambia, Kim Jurzcyk from Virginia, John Black from California, and Susannah Bryant from South Carolina. I am so thankful for the wonderful community that was there for me throughout the year, and am pleased to say that I have made life-long friends along the way.
Some Days We felt like this in Zambia.
We had days where everything seemed to be going right. Some days we felt like we were fitting in to the culture. Some days we felt like we were finally getting the language down and understanding our community around us. Some days we felt like we had made some true friendships and were creating wonderful memories. Some days we were dancing right along with the spirited music that we learned to love.
And then Some Days We felt like this.
We felt defeated when our Chinyanja was convoluted and misunderstood. Some days we felt alone because we were thousands of miles away from the loved ones in our life who support us. Some days we couldn’t figure out why we were in Zambia, because it didn’t feel like we were always wanted. Some days we got caught up on the parts of the Zambian culture we just didn’t quite understand yet. But it was during those hard days where we felt like it was game over, that we found how much our Zambian family and friends cared for us. How much the community wanted to lift us up and make us feel at home in a foreign land. It was during these hard moments that we found happiness in the little things that made us continue along our journey side by side with our newfound companions.
Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia (CCAP) Community Schools
During my time in Zambia I worked closely with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia’s community schools. The community schools provide a more affordable education for orphans and vulnerable children who may not be able to afford to school without the church’s assistance. As a teacher in the community school I was able to explore the Zambian culture through the eyes of the children who lived there. I definitely learned more from my students than I ever could have taught them. I also worked as the Deputy coordinator for the community schools where I helped in grant writing, project proposals, and income generating activities to bring organization and necessary teaching supplies to the many community schools around the country.
Special Hope Network
For half of my year, I also volunteered at an organization called Special Hope Network. Special Hope Network is a faith-based, Christian organization called to bear witness to God’s glory through caring for children with intellectual disabilities in Zambia by equipping families and caregivers to provide these children with a loving home, holistic health, and exceptional education, and therapies. During my time there I helped to create a math curriculum and aid in its implementation. I also held several teacher workshops training teachers in different ways to help students with disabilities reach their full potential. I loved my time at Special Hope Network and greatly enjoyed working with all of my students, their families and the wonderful staff at the 3 different centers in Lusaka.
I want to thank you all for your interest in the YAV Program. I hope that you will be involved in our program by praying for current YAVs and reading their blogs throughout their year of service. If there are any young adults in your life that you think would be interested or benefit from a YAV year, please encourage them to apply. There is also an option of supporting the sustainability of the program through a financial gift. If you would like more information regarding the program and ways that you can be involved, you can go to youngadultvolunteers.org. I would like to thank you for your prayers and support, because it is Presbyterians like you who have made it possible for me, and many others to have these experiences.
I hope that you find time in your life for strengthening and fortifying relationships by being present.
Churches and Presbyteries: Pray for current YAVs and the work they are doing…encourage a young adult they may know to consider or look into applying…give a financial support for the sustainability of the YAV program.
Non-Church Audience: Learn more about current yavs by reading blogs, consider applying, follow us on social media. @yavprogram
The Young Adult Volunteer program is now accepting applications. Encourage young adults you know to apply to a formative year of service and accompaniment. Follow @yavprogram for updates, info and more! Program benefits include a regular stipend, housing, transportation and student-loan repayment options throughout the duration of the service year. For more info, visit the FAQ tab at the top of the YAV homepage. Thanks for helping spread the word!
Olivia Orth is from Mayfield, a small town in upstate New York. She graduated from Westminster College with a degree in Elementary and Special Education and her YAV journey took her to Zambia, Africa, where she taught in a community school as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV). She is an avid traveler and takes every opportunity to learn from her surroundings and sees herself as a lifelong learner. She says: “I have never believed that I have learned enough, and am constantly looking for my students to teach me as much as, if not more, than I am teaching them.”
Albany Presbytery is proud to have supported Olivia Orth in her YAV experience. Olivia is blogged regularly during her trip. You can read about her adventures on her blog site: Teaching to Learn – YAV Olivia Orth