There is a new word that has emerged in much of Africa.  The word is “orphan.”

Although the breadth of diversity of the continent makes most generalizations suspect, it seems that, until recently, the idea of a child without parental figures in their life was an unknown concept for much of Africa.  For example, Dominique, our staff coordinator in Zambia, told me recently that he always recognized the importance of his lineage and loved his biological mother and father, but also considered aunts, uncles, and cousins similarly connected.  “We didn’t have Swahili words for extended family members – we just called them mother, father, brother, and sister.”

What a beautiful concept.  Consider how powerful the love is between a mother and her children, and then multiply those same feelings to an even wider community.

Unfortunately, disease, famine, and war have forced the word, orphan, onto society.  For a family already struggling to feed their children, to double or triple the number of hungry dependents because of the deaths of one’s siblings becomes impossible.

As seems typical, there are bright spots in spite of this situation.  In a few communities in which we work, that same feeling of responsible love that people used to feel for their extended families have now expanded to include their village.  Right now, Outreach Chairman Harry Ashenhurst, Director of Field Operations Dennis Labayen, and my former Tradebot colleague Ryan Albarelli are accompanying me as we work with our field staff in Zambia.  In the first three communities we have visited, each put a priority on the village children; whether it is a feeding program using homemade “superfood,” creating the first grade school in the area, or establishing a school with over 300 children without biological parents.

With the help of Outreach staff and donors, our brothers and sisters living in our communities are redefining what it means to be an “orphan.”  Perhaps they can teach us the meaning of this word as well.

Kevin Prine – President & CEO, Outreach International