The Words of the Byrne Family

2006 Discover True Friends Tour: Africa Edition - "Amazing Journey and Discovery!"

Paul Byrne
September 13, 2006

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to lead a service project with the International Relief Friendship Foundation (IRFF) in the southern African country of Zambia. The project, titled the "Discover True Friends Tour", took place in the Mackenzie Community of the city of Ndola. From July 24 to August 8, while most students were enjoying their freedom from school, my group of nine high school and college participants were giving selflessly of themselves in a multitude of ways as they embraced the people and the culture of Zambia.

From the beginning, our project had multiple purposes, but it quickly expanded even further as we spent time in Mackenzie. The first mission was to construct an extension to a school that IRFF had built in the Mackenzie community several years ago. This school is the only one in the community and does not charge its students tuition, unlike the public schools of Zambia. It is staffed by three teachers who volunteer their services to the community, receiving no salary. These dedicated teachers serve almost 350 students in grades 1 through 4, many of whom are orphans whose parents have died of AIDS (Zambia, a nation of just over 11 million people, has approximately 600,000 orphans whose parents have died of AIDS - a staggering number).

Under the guidance of professional builders from the Mackenzie community, our group worked tirelessly to construct the needed addition to the school. We quickly learned that supplies were not as easily accessible as we might have expected. Instead of buying cinderblocks, we had to make them from cement and sand ourselves. Instead of power saws that cut cleanly in a matter of seconds, we labored over the wooden beams for the roof with hand saws and chisels for hours. Despite the trying labor, however, I was amazed to hear hardly a word of complaint from my group. Instead, many of them pushed themselves at their work until I had to force them to rest for a few minutes, then quickly rushed back to help wherever they could be of use.

The second mission of the Discover True Friends Tour was to build personal relationships that transcended the common barriers of national borders, skin color, religion or language. To accomplish this, each IRFF participant was matched up with a "True Friend" from the Mackenzie Community. The purpose was to expose both our participants and the people of Zambia to each other on a personal level, creating friendships that would contribute to the building of an international culture of heart and peace. Again, I found myself astonished by my group, as they did not wait to be paired up with someone, but almost immediately went out of their way to create genuine friendships with the many young people who stopped by our worksite to help out or just to meet us. While I had initially been concerned that some of the relationships might be forced and not completely genuine, I was happy to see each of our participants develop real and authentic friendships, most with many different members of the Mackenzie Community.

As part of the experience, each participant took a day off from the building and spent it with their friends and their families, joining them in their daily activities. Without exception, this experience proved to be a powerful and touching one for our group as they had the chance to experience a small taste of everyday life for their peers in Mackenzie. They cooked, ate, worked, played, danced and simply shared with their friends and their families. In doing so, they developed an appreciation and an invaluable understanding of the intricacies of another culture.

Aside from these major missions of the trip, secondary projects developed – some before we departed, some spontaneously in the middle of the project. Due to a generous donation that IRFF received, we were able to give a stipend to the three teachers, their helper and the groundskeeper of the Mackenzie Community School. We were also able to start a new program, called "Supporting Success", through which we provided ten $150 scholarships to students who were completing the fourth grade at the school, allowing them to continue their education at a nearby public school that otherwise would have been unaffordable for them.

I will never forget the sincere gratitude expressed both by the teachers of the students and parents (or more often guardians) of the students who received the scholarships – many of whom, though they had virtually nothing themselves, came with small gifts of corn or peanuts to show their appreciation.

I will always remember the grandmother of one scholarship recipient, with tears streaming down her face, told me that she herself had never been able to attend school and thanked me for allowing her granddaughter the opportunity for at least one more year of school. This woman had to use a thumbprint to sign her name on the forms, as she could not write at all, yet she was deeply inspired by her hope for the future of her granddaughter.

As a teacher myself, I was also moved and inspired by the dedication of these teachers who were willing to give of themselves to the children of their community, with no expectation of compensation, and touched gratitude and appreciation for our token of support. I personally, of course, believe very strongly in the power of education and was honored to be asked to be the coordinator for "Supporting Success".

I am looking forward to expanding it in the future, within Zambia and in other countries that IRFF works in. My co-coordinator for project in Mackenzie was deeply affected by the young children of the community, especially those in the school choir, named the Mackenzie Little Angels.

He decided to begin a chapter of his "Hibiki Music Ministry" ("Hibiki" is Japanese for "Resonance") there and spent the majority his time training the choir and teaching them new songs, including one that he wrote in the local language, Bemba, entitled "Ichiloto Ichikalamba", or "Dream Big". Watching him pour himself out to these children to the point of exhaustion was a touching experience. Before leaving, Mr. Yotrue demonstration of his commitment, gave the money to provide them with uniforms for future competitions.

One other project that our group was introduced to as been running in Mackenzie. The purpose of this program is to empower families, especially women, by providing them with small loans at low interest rates to finance their personal businesses. Along with the loans come periodic business training and character education. Through their businesses supported by this program, participants have been able to earn enough to send their children to school and to even build new homes for their families.

The Micro Finance Program is just another way that IRFF promotes sustainable development to those people who… Despite these many projects that we implemented and all that we did for the commug, but of receiving. The Mackenzie community welcomed us so warmly, and through out our stay there continued to embrace us so sincerely, that we all left feeling that we had been given a rare and immense gift and extremely grateful for the experience.

Our time was not all spent on work, however. IRFF is committed to providing a comprehensive experience to its par the end of our project, the group took a trip to the majestic and impressive Victoria Falls. For our last few days in Zambia, we soaked in the beauty of one of world’s seven natural wonders, marveling at the beauty of God’s creation. We crossed the river at the top of the falls and swam in a pool at the very edge. We took a jet-boat ride up the Zambezi and then swam in its clear, clean water. Our fun climaxed with an exhilarating bungee jump from a bridge that spans the gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, just down river from the falls.

Although there were countless amazing experiences … us. The children, who were so excited to have us in their community that they would spend their whole day hanging around the school, watching us, playing with us, helping us, encouraging us. The barefoot and raggedly dressed children, who so often have to do without the things that we take for granted most in our lives – nutritious food, good health, even family. Children, who lack so much, yet were so quick to give us what they did have – their smiles, the laughter, their attention and affection; who would visibly light up when given the littlest bit of our time. Those amazing children, who were in need of so much, yet were happy to be given so little will remain in our hearts and minds as a reminder of why we participated in this project, why we stepped outside of our comfort zones and did the little that we could to bring this world together.

Those children and the people of Mackenzie will never be forgotten by the participants of this IRFF project; we will always be grateful that we had the opportunity to spend some time with them, to get to know them, and to serve them. I would like to include the reflection of one of partisans.

I was inspired by the children well as many peers in the community because offices, their strength and everlasting energy, despmade was named Hellen. Reserved and poised, I’d see her everyday, and started to get to know her very well. I was surprised at how young yet so strong she was. How her need to survive and struggles formed a nice young lady that I had a lot in common with. As the last day and last night settled in, I remember her begging me to not forget her, and to not leave, and how she continued to say she loved me and wanted to meet my parents.
When I read her letter, I can hear her sincere feelings and am moved every time. I did not realize how much of an impact I had on her and on each other. With this, I realized that she saw something good in me that I didn’t. I have concluded that the only way to see the good in yourself is through others and what they see in you.
Though I am not sure exactly what is good about me, I do know that there is more to me and that there is good. The experience at Mackenzie and the orphanage made me realize how much love everyone needs and how sim can do is give that love to everyone. I discovered a passion/purpose, which is to gimy heart to all those who desperately need it.
Since God loves everyone, then I can should as well. Now that I am writing this, I guess I have discovered something. The change is up to me. I know that this is not the last adventure I will take to far off places and to the inner core of my very grateful for this opportunity, this chance to learn, better understand and grow."

IRFF is committed to continuing the True Friends Tour and these amazing experiences in a different region of the world. We are committed to projects that promote … we are dedicated to building relationships that unite people, nations and cultures. It was an honor for me to be the coordinator for such a project, working with such a wonderful group of volunteers for such amazing people. I learned an incredible amount from this trip deeply inspired from all that I experienced, and am already anxiously awaiting next year’s project.

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