Last month, Outreach International President Kevin Prine visited communities in Zambia and Malawi. After talking with him about the trip, I was able to get a little more insight into his thoughts and the impact of Outreach programs in African communities. Touched by the overwhelming sense of hope and community, he observed the human spirit in its rawest and most genuine form. Let’s become a little more acquainted with Kevin and Outreach International’s work in Africa.
Q: What was the transition like when you entered the first community in Africa? Did you feel an immediate sense of culture shock?
A: Strangely, poverty looks like poverty where ever you find it. The people may look a little different; the building materials might change; the climate may be warmer or colder—there are several surface-level variables that bring a slight change to the pictures. What doesn’t change is a pervading culture of silence and isolation combined with a lack of clean water, not enough food, the prevalence of untreated preventable disease, and a lack of basic education. Something else I see that doesn’t change are the multitudes of bright lights that will shine with the smallest outside spark.
Q: What were the families like? How did they interact with one another?
A: There were many, many moments with families that I could share, but a conversation with two couples comes to mind. These individuals looked to be in their mid-40s, and were obviously good friends with each other. We talked about their history—I had originally believed them to be related. One of the men replied, “No, we are not related. Before we started working together on community projects, I never spoke with him because we come from different tribes. There have been things that happened in the past that made our two tribes not want to interact, even though we live in the same village. Now I call him brother and call her sister.” With a big smile, he said, “It is much better this way, don’t you think?”
Q: How did village members respond to your visit? Did you feel a particular bond with any one of them?
A: One of the most interesting aspects of the work of Outreach International is the response of community members to visitors. When I go to a village where we have been for a very short time, people generally act in one of two ways—either they push to see if they can get anything of value from me or they remain so shy and reserved that they won’t interact. When I visit communities where we have had one of our human development facilitators working for more time, people respond with genuine interest and a desire to connect with me personally—not because they feel they can get something from the interaction, but because they find it interesting to get to know a person from another place.