Keep up with the Express in Zambia
Sunday, January 1 - 9:43 p.m. (1:43 p.m. CST)
**I apologize for the delay in getting these posted. The wifi here at Family Legacy Lodge is really intermittent and we haven't really had it consistently for the last few days.**
Happy New Year from Zambia! Today was the day we had all been waiting for. It was the entire purpose of this trip. Today we opened Jana's House to 12 of the most adorable, funny, charming, loving little girls. It has been an emotional rollercoaster since breakfast. We all gathered around the table while Reid shared the stories of the 12 girls who would be moving into Jana's House. It was so difficult to hear where these girls are coming from. Think of the worst possible living situation you can and multiply that times ten. Then you might be in the ballpark of their living situations. I almost couldn't make it through the entire breakfast because my heart just kept breaking. The silver lining to all of this is the fact that in a few hours these girls would be moving into a beautiful new house that would become their home, their safe space.
After breakfast, we loaded up and headed down to Jana's House to finish decorating it. We spent about two hours putting sheets on the bed, dishes in the cabinets and clothes in the closet. We filled that house with love and memories of Jana. There were family photos all over the walls, memory boards covered in pictures of friends. We made sure there was love pouring out of every corner of that house.
We finished decorating around 11:30 and headed to town to get some lunch and shop at the local market. It was a really fun experience. There were about 6 rows of stalls with a variety of handmade items -- everything from purses to paintings to rugs to jewelry. We loaded up on Pizza Hut and headed back to the Family Legacy campus.
That afternoon there was a "Sponsor Party" were American Dream Camp ambassadors who sponsor children in the slums to go to school (Legacy Academy) get to hang out and worship with their sponsor kids. They bus in hundreds of kids from the slums for the afternoon to sing, dance and be loved on. One of the families with us, the Trojaceks, sponsor Andre, a boy from the Kabanana compound. He's the only boy from his compound that goes to Legacy Academy so he traveled here by himself while all of the other kids came in with friends. Amelia, Jeremy and their son Hunter brought all of us over to dance and sing with Andre so he would be surrounded by more love than he has ever experienced. He left with the biggest smile on his face.
Following the party, we went back to the lodge to get ready to open Jana's House. We arrived back at the house at 3:30. Kids were starting to line up outside when we pulled up and then rain started to fall. We said it was Jana's happy tears from heaven showering us. We filed into the house and prayed over the opening of the house and the lives of the 12 girls that were about to change. We were led in a traditional Zambian prayer, which is a lot longer than the prayers we were used to. Chris, Chase and Luke all spoke about Jana and the importance of this house to them. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. Even the film crew who was with us were wiping away tears.
After we pulled ourselves together, it was time to meet the 12 girls of Jana's House. We walked down the road armed with pink "Team Jana" t-shirts for the girls. After they put on their new shirts, we all walked back to Jana's House. There we were welcomed by the Next 50 Choir (the Tree of Life Choir), other Dream Camp participants and Family Legacy staff. It was a true celebration. The choir sang beautiful songs welcoming the girls to the Tree of Life. We took photos. We shared Jana's story. It was finally time to let the girls into their new home.
Opening that door and seeing these girls' reactions was indescribable. It was overwhelming joy. They had new clothes in their own closets, new pillows on their own beds, new socks and underwear in their own drawers. They were so excited over a simple thing of chapstick and a pair of sunglasses. Things that we take for granted every single day these girls thought were the greatest thing in the world. It was a beautiful experience.
After the excitement of exploring their new home, the girls sat at their dinner table for some cookies and cupcakes. Chris talked to all of the girls and explained to them who Jana is and what she meant to all of us. It was a special moment for everyone.
We hung out and played with the girls for a little longer before we left them to settle in for their first night in their new home. We were all emotionally drained when we got back to the lodge. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a day. It was the day we had all been waiting for and the reason we were even on this trip together. It was the most beautiful day and I don't think we could have honored Jana in a better way.
Saturday, December 31 - 11:06 p.m. (3:06 p.m. CST)
Happy New Year's Eve! Today was another great Dream Camp day, but more importantly, it was sunny all day long! We started the day at 7 a.m. again and went down to the soccer fields to meet up with our Zambian helpers and the Tree of Life kids. Once the kids finally got in their lines, we sang and danced again (seriously, can every day start like this?) and then broke into our groups.
Most of us split up between softball and baseball. The girls in the first softball session had it down! We were so impressed with their hitting and fielding. Some girls had some serious cannons for arms. Most of the girls in the softball group were 12-20 while the baseball coaches had kids from 4 - 20. We thought we had it a little bit easier...except for the fact that most of these girls have never heard of softball let alone played it.
The morning went pretty well until about halfway through the second class. Chris got word that the shipping container with all of the Jana's House decorations and supplies (bedding, curtains, clothes, photos, etc.) still hasn't been delivered. It's currently stuck in Mozambique. We're supposed to decorate and open the house tomorrow to 12 orphaned girls so obviously this put a wrench in our plans. The people with Family Legacy have been great in talking us through our options. They even went shopping today for new supplies just to tide us over until the container does arrive. We're still going to open the house tomorrow because, in reality, that's what Jana would have wanted and that's the whole reason why we're here. The purpose of this trip is to open the doors to a house that will give 12 girls the opportunity to lead a full, successful and faithful life - whether it's with the plaid curtains Chris picked out or not. Tomorrow at 4 p.m. we'll do just that and this entire group couldn't be more excited.
We cycled through all of our classes then broke for lunch (more PB&J sandwiches). After lunch, the boy houses watched Air Bud while the girl houses played board games. I have a girl house so we played some card games, talked about our families and then had a dance party. These girls don't have TVs or access to the internet, but they know all about the Macarena and Chicken Dance somehow.
This evening we've just been hanging out at the villa, playing card games, indoor football and talking about our day. A few of us are staying up another hour to ring in the new year. We'll toast with tropical juice at 8 a.m. when it's the New Year in Texas, too.
I'm so excited to start the new year by opening Jana's House and starting a new chapter not only for us, but for these girls. It's going to be a great year.
Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve from the other side of the world….
Friday, December 30 - 7:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m. CST)
I'm not even sure today is actually Friday but that's what my phone is telling me so I'm going with it. Today was absolutely exhausting. It was the first official day of Dream Camp where we all split up into groups and teach these kids different sports/activities/skills. We had groups teaching baseball (obviously), softball (by Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman, no less), photography, baking and dance. The kids we taught ranged in age from 4 years to 20 years. The one thing to remember is even though a kid might be 20 and college aged in the U.S., s/he might only be a sophomore in high school in Zambia. Our day started at 7 a.m. when we met our Zambian volunteer helpers and then went down to the fields for a fun little song and dance session with all of the kids and teachers (check out the video on our Facebook page). Then we broke into our small groups.
We were all supposed to see three different groups of kids in the morning, but a torrential rainstorm hit us towards the end of the second group. (Let's just say we were all so thankful there was no tarp to put on these fields!) The rain fell...and fell...and fell until we were sure we would be swimming back to our villa. Thankfully we got a ride back but we had to forgo our last class of the day. We took an early lunch (PB&J sandwiches for everyone), changed into dry clothes and then headed down to our assigned houses. Each family attending Dream Camp is assigned to a specific house full of 10-12 boys or girls. We spend every afternoon with those kids in their houses doing different activities. Today, we made rice crispy treats. Tomorrow, we'll play board games. It is so amazing to connect with these kids on a personal level and spend time with them in their environment. Some of them are really slow to open up, but I have a feeling we are all going to leave here with a bunch of new friends.
This first day was so special for everyone on this trip whether they are seasoned Dream Camp vets or first timers like myself.
Day two of Dream Camp starts early for us at 7 a.m. (11 p.m. CST) again tomorrow. Right now, we are all up in the big great room after dinner, but let's just say we may not last too much longer tonight. It has been a long, long day and we have a lot to look forward to again tomorrow.
Thursday, December 29 - 3:40 p.m. (7:40 a.m. CST)
Today we were supposed to decorate Jana's House but because the delivery of the shipping containers with all of the bedding, curtains, etc. was delayed, we went on a tour of the city of Lusaka. It was another emotional day. We got to see the compound slums where most of the girls who will be moving into Jana's House come from.
To see the "houses" (and I use that term loosely) that these kids come from and then to know the life-changing experience they get with Family Legacy is unbelievable. The minute our bus entered the compounds, kids came out from every which way and ran alongside our bus smiling and cheering. Our mere presence brought such huge smiles to their faces. As our bus drove through the streets of Chaisa, more and more kids found their way towards the bus. They met us at the gates to the school and crowded the bus as we got off just wanting high fives and hugs. For a moment, we all felt like rock stars.
We stopped at a local mall for lunch and boarded the bus and toured two more compounds. Overall, we visited four different neighborhoods/compounds that Family Legacy works with and toured two different primary schools and the construction site for another school complex.
We're back at the lodge now relaxing before dinner tonight. Tomorrow, the real fun starts with Dream Camp!
Wednesday, December 28 - 8:50 p.m. (12:50 p.m. CST)
Wow. Two flights, an overnight stay in Dubai, and over 24 hours later we're finally at Family Legacy in Lusaka, Zambia. We're fighting jet lag right now so all 24 of us are hanging out up in the living room of our lodge playing card games, attempting magic tricks and sharing travel horror stories from the last two days.
The flight from Houston to Dubai was 14.5 hours with a 14-hour layover. Since we didn't get to our hotel until 8 p.m., our options for exploring the city were limited. We went to grab a bite to eat and explore the world famous Dubai Mall. (And yes, we traveled 8,165 miles to eat at a Texas Roadhouse. We were all craving burgers!) We stopped to get a picture in front of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa before heading back to the hotel just after midnight. Just our luck the train system stopped running at 11 p.m. So all 12 of our group piled into three taxis and crossed our fingers we told the cab drivers the right hotel. It all worked out in the end and we made it back safely.
This morning we took a 7-hour flight from Dubai to Lusaka and got to Zambia around 2 p.m. local time (6 a.m. CST). We grabbed all 72 of our checked bags (most of those are duffel bags full of donated clothes and equipment for the kids here) and our carry-ons and headed to Tree of Life.
When we finally arrived at Family Legacy, we stopped by and saw the reason for this entire trip: Jana's House. To say it was emotional is a huge understatement. We all hugged and cried and laughed and smiled knowing that in a few days, this beautiful house is going to become a home for 12 orphaned girls. It's going to change their lives and keep Jana's giving, loving legacy alive for so many years to come.
The delivery of the shipping containers that have the items to decorate Jana's House have been delayed so instead of decorating the house tomorrow, we're going to tour Lusaka. For now, we're going to go back to card games, magic tricks and story telling... before we all pass out from exhaustion.