A Different Kind of Thanksgiving: ZOE Children Become ZOE Donors
Nestled in the valley, surrounded by Mount Kenya and many national reserves and parks, lies the quaint African village of Tharaka. Although its flat and dry landscape feels remote, almost desert-like, the lush rolling hills in the distance give context to its central location.
Traveling primarily by foot, or seated three-deep on a motorbike, children from four ZOE working groups gathered, roughly two miles outside of the Tharaka city center, at M.C.K. Karwamba Church. The hot African sun was high in the sky, casting short shadows on the long wooden benches and multi-colored plastic chairs previously arranged in a circular formation outside the church.
The ZOE children anticipated this celebration, of which they called ‘Thanksgiving,’ for several months. Instead of a single day of feasting with friends and family as we know the holiday in the West, this was the kickoff of a two-month initiative, self-organized amongst the groups, to collectively raise money to fund another ZOE empowerment group in Africa.
Less than two years prior, these same children, most of whom were head of their household, in charge of one or more siblings due to parental death or abandonment, survived by eating once a day, battled recurring illness and called ill-equipped shelters home. They were trapped in the cycle of poverty and believed in nothing, not even themselves.
Since joining ZOE’s three-year empowerment program, these young people, now in their second year, have realized that to reach more orphans living like they once were, they, too, must join the fight to end poverty.
This realization is one of the many ways empowerment manifests within ZOE children. When lack of connection, income, food and resources become challenges of the past, the feeling of gratitude emerges. As a result, their sense of obligation to help others is ignited and events like Thanksgiving in Tharaka are self-organized amongst the groups.
In tradition with African culture, each ZOE group entered the circle formed by the seating arrangement with a unified song and dance. For several minutes, the children loudly chanted predetermined phrases such as “The Lord has done so much for me so that’s why I’m praising him” and “We are bringing Thanksgiving” as they made their way into the center of the circle, moving naturally to the rhythm of homemade percussion instruments and high-pitched whistles.
One-by-one, the ZOE children danced their way to the front of the circle to drop their personal offering into a hand-woven collection basket situated on a small wooden table attended by two group mentors. With each dollar contributed, the chants loudened; the dance moves exaggerated. Sidelined groups laughed, smiled and moved in-place, waiting for their opportunity to give.
As the ceremony came to a close, the donation total was announced. Collectively, on the first day of the Thanksgiving initiative, the four groups raised an impressive $1,143. Cheering erupted amongst the hundreds of ZOE children gathered. As of November 27, 2018, $12,415 has been raised by over 1,800 children to donate back to the ZOE program.
When asked why being a donor at the Thanksgiving initiative was so important, ZOE group members replied:
“I want to give so others don’t have to suffer the way I suffered.” -Edward, 20
“I’m happy I have come so far, and now I feel I need to support others.” Joseph, 16
“I just wanted to thank ZOE for the support.” -Lillian, 19
As dusk began to set in and the light cloud of red dust that billowed above the gathering, kicked-up from heavy foot traffic, slowly settled onto every square inch of clothing and belongings of those in attendance, a lighthearted buzz could be heard amongst the children—now donors—as they mingled and conversed in small groups. Joyful, grateful and generous young people; this was the definition of empowerment. This was the work of God.
380 million children living in extreme poverty will rely on charity forever.
Today, we’re asking you to join the ZOE children. A monthly gift of $38 over 3 years empowers 5 orphans to never need charity again. How many children can you give lasting sustainable change?