‘Tis the Season and while lots of folks are holiday shopping and planning gatherings, we’re dismantling the Meditation Tent and planning the New Year’s Retreat. Colder days, getting some much-needed rain and maybe some snow; time to draw inward and have more time and space for quiet, solitude, and deeper practice.
Deeper practice? For those of us who are coming to the final days of the Yearlong Retreat imagining a deeper practice might be a bit of a go, huh? This has been one deep year of practice, hasn’t it? Joyously deep, astoundingly expansive. How could it ever get better, you may be wondering. Well, at this juncture I am always wondering!
Haven’t we done it all? Haven’t we covered everything? Where could we possibly go from here? Don’t know. But here’s where the ever-expanding faith comes in: We will know. We will see the direction and I suspect that direction is going to be going deeper into HERE. But how could that be? Don’t know. But it will happen. Of that we can be assured. Of that we are assured.
So, what now? Nothing left for us to “do” other than to thoroughly, absolutely, and utterly enjoy thisherenow. For those of us at the mothership, that looks like caring for the safe storage of our faithful meditation tent, getting the information about the New Year’s Retreat up and running and out to all (thank you, Chris, for once again sorting out a nearly impossible international schedule), taking the beginning steps toward having a permanent Meditation Hall building here at Four Acres Zen Center, engaging in all that is needed to support the Africa Vulnerable Children Project, getting the rest of our old books current—as print or e-book, e-book being preferable as planet care—and moving forward with our new book. Just a few of the reasons we’re grateful for long, dark winter days!
Here’s the tent getting prepared for hibernation.
Yes, we finally feel guided enough to begin the Meditation Hall here at FAZC. The one thing we were sure of is that we wanted it to be beautiful. Numberless people through the years visited the Zen Monastery Peace Center and remarked that just being in the building they were able to feel the love and care of the practice. That exquisite building “embodied” the spirit of our practice. We knew that what we built next could be that same touchstone for Sangha, and we want to steward that process with conscious, compassionate awareness. When it dropped in that we had already built that building, we had our direction.
Pictures of the ZMPC and the building we plan
In being on the call with Theresa on Saturday (two more coming up if you’d like to join), it occurred to me how far we’ve all come with that project and how many folks with us now were not with us through the journey. Now we see these happy children with huge smiles showing strong white teeth and it’s hard to picture that when we arrived in Kantolomba the children had huge, extended bellies, and balding heads with patches of reddish hair as a result of malnutrition. Hard to imagine that seven out of 10 children died before the age of five due to water-borne illnesses easily cured with clean water or a few pennies of water treatment. Theresa herself grew up in a 10-by-10-foot mud hut with no windows, a hut that collapsed regularly in the rainy season. She lived in that hut with her mother and three brothers. Thankfully for the 1000 children in the Living Compassion Cooperative those days are in the past. It’s so important to realize how tenuous this progress is, how dependent on the care and generosity of people around the world who will likely never visit this particular slum. Each one of those smiling faces on happy, healthy children and their care-givers can be a moment for us to be grateful that we are the ones who get to make such a difference in the lives of people so far from us in miles and so very near to us in our hearts.
Some photos of Kantolomba through the years
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ― Lilla Watson
When we visit Kantolomba for the first 6me, we encounter a squa;er slum on a cemetery site.
The only available water is unclean, community taps which aid in spreading malaria, cholera, diarrhea
Houses are constructed of un-fired, mud bricks with only scraps of materials serving as “roofs.”
Walls often collapse in heavy rains.
Malnutrition is rampant.
Theresa and community members tell us anecdotally that 7 in 10 children die before the age of 5.
As we stand outside the home where Theresa and her brothers grew up, surrounded by hungry children, we ask Theresa what one thing she would do to make a difference. “I would feed them.”
The first funds are wired to Theresa which she and a handful of friends use to provide food for 25 children, 5 days a week.
They use a local church as a space to cook and serve meals.
We meet with the community to talk about the greatest needs of the project now.
From that seminal meeting, the transformation begins to take root.
A property is purchased to be the home of Living Compassion in Kantolomba.
“Mama Cheri” surrounded by friends assisting in making notes about the new property.
A well is dug.
We got water!
Celebrating the news that the water tested clean! It’s impossible to overstate the impact this will have on the health and lives of the entire community.
The nutrition program expands and adds preschool education.
The growing group of volunteer residents running the project are as poor
as those they are assisting and a cooperative is created to provide the
volunteers with the financial means to support their families as they spend
their days in service to their community.
(It took us a while to explain the cultural value we place on smiling in photos, for most Zambians it is a formal affair!)
Construction begins on the new community building.
Construction on the community building continues
Once complete, this well-crafted building becomes a thing of community pride.
Such a beautiful building here in our own community!
The cooperative needs safe housing and a roof loan program begins.
Each Living Compassion team member receives a loan to put a proper roof on their home and make necessary improvements.
The repayments of those loans became a revolving loan fund, still in use by the cooperative today.
Grand celebrations when the new roofs are complete! Imagine the difference—now being able to sleep soundly through the night not needing to worry that the walls will collapse on your children as they sleep.
A program to facilitate community members gaining access to medical care is
implemented—taking everyday issues such as cuts, burns, high blood-pressure from
being life-threatening to being treated in a timely way.
English becomes a primary education focus of the project, in recognition that
it is not only the language of commerce in Zambia, but also a language of
Sister Phil and Joy beginning the new Genki English program with “the little ones.”
Reading is strongly emphasized through the establishment of the Living Compassion library.
In recognition of ‘girl children’ not receiving the same access to education as their male counterparts, a Girls Program is established.
Girls get access to quality education.
Nearly 10 years into the Girls Program, the first young women attend college.
As these young women graduate, it is an achievement for the whole community.
There is jubilation at having achieved what once felt impossible!
...Over the years the number of children eating at the property has grown.
It began with the original 25, then 100, then 400, then 800…
And today over 1,000 children eat 365 days a year at the Living Compassion property!
The cooperative is now a team of 35 women and men who do all of the cooking, teaching, maintenance, care-giving… for the project.
The whole cooperative team with their families.
It has taken, and continues to take, all of us…
Whether you are the one…
pitching in on the fun of keeping the compound tidy…
volunteering to put on a fresh coat of paint…
learning to sing new English songs…
participating in generating funds…
leading the community…
modeling unconditional love and vision…
...you are part of creating a place where people now have clean water, safe housing, access to medical care and education, daily nutrition and are part of a community filled with love, joy and possibility!
Our liberation is, indeed, bound up together.
We are Here, participating in This, together, in Love.
This year’s Africa campaign is focused on encouraging Sangha to become the Monthly Donors (MoDos) that will sustain the project.
This is the last Blog of 2023. What? How is that possible? Well, it’s been a grand and glorious year, moment by moment, day by day practicing together until here we are. I think I can speak for all of Sangha in saying that we have loved being together, that we have learned from and grown from one another in ways unimaginable. It has indeed been Happy and Blessed.
Have wonderful holidays, stay warm, take good care of your self, and if the good lord is willing, see you in the New Year.