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Giving helpers a hand

Wendy Stricker of Red Wing traveled to Zambia to support local volunteers caring for orphans. Children especially loved playing with a parachute during game time, Stricker said. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Wendy Stricker of Red Wing poses with children during a day camp/vacation bible school held last August in Zambia. Stricker was part of a group of Americans that traveled to the African nation to support local volunteers caring for orphans. (Submitted photos)2 / 3
Trevor Wilcox of Hibbing, Minnesota, and a Chisamba care worker lead children in a coloring activity. The group of Americans who assisted with Hands at Work in Africa included Wilcox, Wendy Stricker of Red Wing, plus Jessica Risinger, Laurel Lehmann, Jed Heubner, Pam Heubner, Donna Wilcox and Mikhayla O’Leary. 3 / 3

When Wendy Stricker returned home three years ago from a humanitarian trip to Zambia in southern Africa, she said she felt good having seen children there were happy and fed.

Her most recent trip in August changed her mind.

“I felt like things were under control there, and I came back with a completely different perspective this time,” said the Red Wing resident, who traveled with a team of volunteers to the town of Chisamba located about 27 miles north of the capital city of Lusaka.

Development in Chisamba has caused the value of land to skyrocket, forcing even the poorest residents living in grass huts to pay to keep their homes, Stricker said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them.”

The eight-person group also heard heartbreaking local stories, from a boy living on five meals a week to a grandmother caring for 16 orphaned grandchildren and only able to feed four.

The trip was organized by Hands at Work in Africa, a non-profit Christian organization working with volunteers and churches to care for the dying, orphans and widows. Its community model involves housing orphans with “family-unit groups” supported by home visits from care workers.

“They say in every village there’s somebody who has a heart for the children,” Stricker said, typically a woman who takes in and cares for orphans. Hands at Work then mobilizes local care workers and churches in Africa and abroad to lend a hand.

The group held an appreciation day for Chisamba care workers during the trip to show gratitude to the volunteers who Stricker said are not always honored or respected in their community.

“Some people think they’re wasting their time on poor kids,” she said. “We wanted them to know that we feel what they do is really important.”

Hands at Work

Hands at Work was founded by George and Carolyn Snyman of South Africa in response to rampant poverty and the HIV and AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa — and the untold number of children left orphaned in its wake.

“Hands (at Work) works in communities that are considered the poorest of the poor, places where people have no choices,” said Brooke Heubner, CEO of the Hands at Work U.S. office and Stricker’s niece.

Heubner volunteered in Africa full time with husband Jed Heubner from 2007 to 2010. Jed and his mother, Pam Huebner, were part of the most recent trip to Chisamba.

Heubner said Hands at Work gratefully accepts monetary donations, though volunteer trips are vital to the organization’s mission.

“I’ve never met anyone who has come (to Africa) and regretted it and wished they sent money instead, because it changes everything — it changes your life,” she said.

Around 1.1 million Zambians were living with HIV in 2012, and nearly three-fourths of the country’s 14 million residents live below the international poverty line, according to estimates by UNICEF.

Hands at Work helps care for 100 children in Chisamba — up from 50 when Stricker first traveled to the country — and hopes to expand that to 150 soon if monthly donors can be lined up to pay for the extra food.

Though she felt discouraged after coming home, Stricker said re-watching a video recently of Chisamba children singing in a classroom gives her hope.

“I felt to some extent I had to trust God with them,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s not a plan for these kids, and that it’s a plan for good.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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