I met Wisdom while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program in Zambia. Wisdom worked tirelessly with my group volunteers over the course of a few days as we built a home for a Emilia, an elderly caretaker who is benefitting from Habitat’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project (much more on Emilia soon!).
One day Wisdom was feeling ill so he left us to visit the local clinic (the bags cement we used to build this home were being stored in his bedroom and caused him some respiratory distress). Despite our protests, he tried to jump back into work immediately upon his return. He was so proud to be helping us and wouldn’t let anything slow him down. Even when he could only “supervise” from a seated position, Wisdom told us that “a sleeping dog is better than a dead lion” – a reference to his inexhaustible desire to contribute, no matter how strong (or not) he was feeling.
Wisdom is 40 years old and lives with his wife, Maureen, and their three children (Justin (4), Susan (7), and an older boy whom I did not have a chance to meet) in two rooms of the house where Emilia currently lives. The house is unsafe, and has already partially collapsed. Wisdom’s rooms are at the back right of the photo above. Here are some photos of the inside of the house where he and his family currently live:
Clockwise from top left: 1) families clothes hanging in bedroom where cement bags are stored 2) leaking roof which allows water in during the rainy season 3) living room storage with family supplies 4) living room seating
Wisdom rents these rooms for 100 Zambian Kwacha per month, the equivalent of about 13USD. The conditions of his home are substandard, but Wisdom constantly insisted that he was grateful to have a roof over his head. He is, himself, an orphan and was excited that we were there to help Emilia and her family – even though he will not directly benefit from the new home.
Maureen works each day as a house maid and their eldest child is able to attend school. Justin and Susan were home, gushing over their dad and full of smiles. Even in poverty they find happiness:
Wisdom told me that when his parents died and he had nowhere to live, he had to teach himself a skill so that he could provide for his family. He now spends his days repairing shoes in the shade of the tree in the yard. His advertising is a small cardboard sign tacked to the tree on the street:
Neighbors know Wisdom and his quality work. There are regular customers but the work is still sporadic, with money for “unnecessary items” often scarce. At most there may be 3 repairs per day. There are also plenty of days without work. It takes Wisdom about 15 minutes to perform a simple repair by hand and the charge is approximately 1 Kwacha ($0.15).
I’m proud to call Wisdom my friend. By all standards, he lives a very difficult life. But in him I see a spirit that we would all be lucky to possess. He is determined, caring, resourceful, and giving. He is open, friendly and welcoming, takes pride in providing for his family, and does not allow life to defeat him. When I next worry about where to go for dinner or whether to buy that next pair of shoes, I will certainly think twice about Wisdom and his family.
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