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Retiring on faith


    After 50, most people make the final push to build a retirement fund. At 53, Carol McBrady is concerned about paying school tuition for all “her children” — 74 of them. That’s how many children the Maple Lake, native has currently rescued from the streets of Lusaka, Zambia, through her non-profit organization, Action For Children- Zambia. The former Minnesota social worker doesn’t work from afar in a comfortable home in the U.S. “Mama Carol” lives with 30 children in Salvation Home, a rented home in Lusaka, and has another 36 children on a farm, Kulanga Bana, (“Keeping our Children”) about an hour away. Other children she helps support live with extended families. In less than a decade, another 75 children have moved on from the home, education and counseling she provided to live with extended family members or find jobs and lives as independent adults. This month. she will be in Minnesota, and she invites churches, groups and anyone interested to arrange informal events for her to share her story and to raise the funds she needs to continue to grow and help more children. “Success begets more need,” McBrady says. “Our plans are still the same — only the number of children we serve is growing.” Finding Home A mission trip to Africa “to hold a baby with AIDS” was the beginning of McBrady’s journey. But it was a visit to Lusaka and meeting street kids abandoned by society that spoke to her heart — as a social worker and maternally. “After going back and forth for a few years, I finally determined that I would stay in Lusaka in 2004. There were lots of reason for staying — but mostly — I learned that no one else was able to do the work I have been equipped to do with the street children. There simply was no other organization that was implementing the family, community-based care in such a way that the street child was not stigmatized for life,” McBrady says. “I was never frightened. Looking back there were times when I probably should have been — just too naive to know.” While she collaborated with business owners, social work students and others in Zambia, her big Irish family and friends back in the states, helped created Action For Children – Zambia to raise money to pay for rent, tuition, food and all the things needed to raise children. Besides taking in the sickest children afflicted with HIV and malaria or who have been sexually and physically abused or are dealing with drug addictions, McBrady regularly visits the streets and provides first aid and assistance to about 300 children each year. And on many occasions, the 5-foot tall crusader has had to stand strong as an advocate for children, while fighting a system of corruption. While she feels loved and protected by her street kids, she’s been beaten and imprisoned by officials. It’s not easy work, McBrady admits, but her passion has only grown stronger. Physically the street work wears her out more these days, so she is putting energy into training young women and men of Zambia to take over and lighten the load as she grows older. “The work I do is troubling,” she says. “Why do human beings treat children like this? How can God allow such horrible things to happen to children? How can Christians, the ones who are commanded by God to take care of the widows and orphans, turn their backs on these children?” A Growing Family McBrady lives at Salvation Home in Lusaka, and receives help from a cook, a teacher, volunteers from the community, seminarians and novitiates, and university students as well as occasional visitors from the states and other countries — mostly Poland and Germany. Through health treatment, addiction rehabilitation and teaching basic living skills along with education, the goal is to transition the children into education and jobs including many in the hospitality industry as chefs or hotel workers. The addition of a 50-acre farm donated by a local village several years ago added a new dimension to ACFZ — and the potential for sustainability. With just hand tools and hard work over the years, several of the older boys have cultivated the hard clay ground of about half the property. At first they planted mostly vegetables and maize to feed the children. Maize is an everyday staple that is ground, boiled and made into mealy meal. While it was a treat for the city kids to take a bus to visit the farm and pick up food, the boys on the farm lived in simple thatch huts and tents. That improved greatly this year with the help of TOUCH Ireland, a nonprofit organization that helped build three cement buildings to each house eight children and a room for “parents” in addition to the housing that was already there for 12 boys. The children attend a local government school, and in late November the boys will plant vegetables, sweet potatoes and maize for consumption. “In addition, this year we are adding six hectares of soya beans to our fields,” McBrady explains. “The maize production costs are very high because you need so much fertilizer. Soya beans do not need so much. The soya will be a cash crop — not for consumption. We will also add two hectares of potatoes this year to try it out.” The farm has also added goats and chickens and recently received a PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) grant from the U.S. government to build a 1,000 laying hen operation. While that will be a big help, McBrady says growing more livestock is important. “Slowly, slowly we are becoming more sustainable,” she says. “What we really need is an infusion of building funds and starter animals. The money down here seems to be in pigs and poultry. It is just very expensive to start such activities.” Progress and Setbacks When McBrady first started, she spent a lot of time and money giving street children respectful funerals. Thankfully she’s doing less of that, and she is grateful for the positive life changes she has witnessed. “One day when I went to city market to pick up a sick child, Tunga (8) jumped in the back of the truck and refused to get out,” she recalled. We stopped, talked to him — begged, threatened — but nothing worked. He simply was coming home with us, and short of making a huge scene and being accused of kidnapping or assault, I decided to bring him home with us. He has never left. After sorting things out with social welfare, we went in search of Tunga’s family. He lived in Misisi compound with his mother and other relatives. Apparently Tunga’s mother paid her rent with the money that Tunga raised while begging in the streets.  She had even taught him how to walk like a “cripple” so he could get more money — all of which was turned over to the mother at the end of the day. Tunga was quite surprised that he could be fed without having to earn it. He is a delightful little boy to have around. After some serious counseling at Salvation Home, he has moved to a permanent home at Kulanga Bana, and for the first time in his short little life has a bed, people who care and a family that provides for him. He is in grade two and doing very well. The farm has proven to be the perfect place for some of the most troubled boys who couldn’t fit into society in the city and work for others. They can work with their hands and learn a trade to take care of themselves. McBrady feels fortunate when she finds children early, before living on the streets has corrupted them. This year, two well-behaved brothers came to Salvation Home and asked if they could stay. Their parent had died, and they were living with six other siblings with their grandmother, who already had four cousins, two aunts and an uncle in her one-room mud home. McBrady is in the process of getting the younger siblings to reunite the family under one roof. The successes and Christmas, when as many as 350 children come home to be with the AFCZ family, keep McBrady going, despite the difficulty of her work. “The senseless death of children saddens me — and the children with whom the counseling fails and they return to street life saddens me,” she admits. Ground Roots Support “I think the most astounding thing is how much we have accomplished with so little resources,” McBrady notes. “We have nothing but faith and your donations, and together we have managed to change many, many lives, build a small farm and also to impact a bit of the programming at the national level. There are other programs that are now trying to implement some of the methods we use.” Instead of isolating children in a type of orphanage, McBrady’s approach is family and community based. “Our children are not isolated from the community; they are part of the community. The children at the farm have to answer to the local tribal council if there is trouble. Every effort is put into equipping the child with what he needs to take care of himself one day and not be donor dependant as an adult. The cycle of poverty is destroyed, the labels are removed, and their identity is like that of any other child in the neighborhood,” she explains. But it all takes money — an average of $50/term for each of the 74 children for school, for one thing. AFCZ doesn’t have a steady income from any big corporate or charitable sponsors. Donations come from individuals who learn of Carol’s work and want to support her. There are some regular contributors, but to support current AFCZ projects and help more children continually requires more funds. “As any parent, I worry that there won’t be enough resources for the work to continue and the children to be taken care of. But I have to trust that we will continue to grow and get more support so this is not the case,” McBrady says. The thing that attracts ordinary people to donate to AFCZ is that it’s an all-volunteer organization. No one gets paid — including Carol. “Retirement? Don’t know that word,” she shrugs. “You can’t retire from your calling. I have put away enough from my previous life so that there will be money to bury me. No one should be burdened with that cost. Other than that I live by faith, so I guess I will have to retire by faith.”

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