Raising hope out of horror

A tragic coincidence transformed the lives of four young girls in Zambia, and while the cause of the chance meeting is nothing short of heartbreaking, kindness and compassion nurtured hope out of horror. Matthew Raymond, co-founder of The Limapela Foundation, tells the story.

As we headed to the Zambian mining town of Kitwe on a Wednesday in June 2017 for a birthday lunch for Mary, our visitor from Auckland, the police were stopping vehicles on the main road. They indicated that we should proceed. It was a mistake.

Within 200 metres we were confronted by rioters throwing rocks. One rock came through the driver’s window, hitting me with tremendous force on the forehead. “Go! Go!” my wife, Alison, shouted. Somehow, I got my foot back on the accelerator to escape the immediate danger.

Mary’s birthday lunch didn’t happen. In fact, we didn’t eat at all. At the clinic the doctor stitched me up and sent me home, but I was concussed and in a bad way. Mary and Alison watched over me with expert eyes, then took me back to Kitwe for a MRI the following day. Thankfully, there was no brain bleed.

Our Limapela teachers all came over to see me on the Saturday. One of them, Emmanuel, lived in Mulenga, a settlement within the city limits, and knew what had caused the riot.

One of his neighbours, Anita Siame, worked as a street vendor in Kitwe. The previous week the city council police had been clearing the vendors away from the city streets. Anita resisted, so they beat her, arrested her, and locked her in the local police station.

The beating was so brutal that three days later the police sent for her family to take her away. Only then did she receive medical treatment at the local clinic, but six days later she died of her injuries. Anita was 26. Her four young daughters were left orphaned. Gift, the eldest, was 10 and Patience, the youngest, was only two.

On the day of Anita’s funeral, violence broke out in Mulenga. Wanting to hold the council police responsible for Anita’s death, the mourners tried to march with her coffin to the city council premises for a confrontation. Their attempt was thwarted, however, so they resorted to throwing stones at vehicles.

As I recovered, I began to ask more questions. I asked Emmanuel to take me to the house to talk with the grandma, who was now caring for the four young girls. One by one I met each of them – too young, precious and vulnerable to lose their mother in such violent circumstances.

And thus, my relationship with the family began as Grandma poured out her pain and frustration – a relationship that would never have begun had I not been injured by stone-throwing mourners.

The injustice of it all preoccupied me. I wrote a long letter and visited the provincial police commissioner in Ndola. The dossier had been mislaid, she said. But I had the coroner’s report, which astonishingly entered an open verdict. The pathologist had found no signs of injury relating to a beating.

The cause of Anita’s death was screaming from her grave; the perpetrators had been identified but no one had been held accountable. I consulted Kitwe’s top lawyer who spent some days investigating. He said a civil case could be brought. The body could be exhumed. A pathologist could be brought in from outside the country. It would cost a lot of money, and it would probably open Pandora’s Box.

Then I thought, no! The Limapela Foundation wasn’t set up to initiate court cases and none of this would help our four girls.

Alison and I co-founded The Limapela Foundation in 2008 for education in poor communities in Zambia. We purchased Cedric’s School in 2009 and took over the running of Luyando Community School in 2013. By 2017, we had some 750 pupils enrolled under the care of 25 committed Zambian teachers, and dozens more individual vulnerable children who needed basic support in one way or another.

One of the vision statements of Limapela is to support the vulnerable in both schools and communities. After reading the story about Anita’s four orphaned children in our monthly report, one of our supporters donated $1000. The Rotary Club of Canberra, ACT, supporters of our water projects for many years, has carried on the sponsorship since then.

We have been able to get the girls back into school, pay their school fees each term, buy clothing and help Grandma with their daily needs. It is wonderful to see how resilient the girls have been in their loss, and to see them flourish under the care of their grandparents. But what gives me most joy is to be greeted with outstretched arms and warm embraces every time I visit.

The family members see me as a saviour, and the girls greet me as their father. But ‘saviour’ and ‘father’ are designations far too noble. I have simply allowed myself to be used as an agent for good, a means to connect a needy family with people in Australia and New Zealand who have generous hearts. The ugly violence that happened back in June 2017 opened a door to mercy and compassion, and that is what Limapela is all about.

To learn more about The Limapela Foundation, visit www.limapela.org or contact Matthew Raymond via matthew@limapela.org or Desmond Woods from the Rotary Club of Canberra via desmond.woods51@hotmail.com