Zambian teens experience life in U.S. thanks to group founded by North Stonington resident
North Stonington — Two years ago, a club at Wheeler High School video messaged with students from Zambia to discuss the book “A Long Walk to Water.”
After that Skype session, two of the students — Teddy Nosiku and Aaron Nyambe, who at the time attended school in Ng’ombe, Zambia — were promised they would travel to the United States with the help of Chikumbuso, an organization founded by North Stonington resident Linda Wilkinson that provides aid to vulnerable women and children living in the Zambian city.
That promise was fulfilled in January. The young men flew 7,500 miles to be part of an 8-month-long exchange program in North Stonington.
Robbie McCarthy, administrative assistant for the school system, worked to complete the paperwork required to bring the students from Zambia to Wheeler High. Unlike many exchange programs to the U.S., in which students with many educational options use the program as a language or cultural opportunity, the chance to study in the U.S. for free for Chikumbuso students was nonexistent up until that point.
The school administration encountered several snags, including a visit from the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that Wheeler was a "real school." Eventually, they were given the green light to bring in 18-year-old Nosiku and 19-year-old Nyambe.
"We did not believe it was going to happen," Nyambe said. "I was very anxious."
At Wheeler, they were greeted with the Zambian national anthem playing on a computer and welcomed by a poster from the students and staff.
"The national anthem is not usually played for common people," Nosiku said. "I felt as if I was a government official, so honored."
For Nosiku and Nyambe, the opportunity to study in the United States will make them competitive for scholarships and sponsorships that will help extend their education beyond high school.
Top students in the city of Ng'ombe, both are among the first in their families to attend high school, and were able to pay their school fees through Chikumbuso sponsorships. And both are planning to run Saturday in 12th annual Chikumbuso 10K/5K fundraiser at the Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington to benefit the organization.
"I grew up with the food I was given at Chikumbuso," Nosiku said at a recent talk he gave at North Stonington Elementary School. “The support has changed our lives."
Chikumbuso helps some of the most needy residents of Ng’ombe, which means “The Cow” in Swahili, earn an income and send their children to school.
After visiting with a dozen widows of the AIDS crisis in Zambia, Wilkinson in 2004 founded Chikumbuso, which means "Remembrance." The organization teaches women to sew and craft handbags, which are sold, while their children are fed and attend school.
What began as a small project helping 45 kids by educating them in a few grade levels has grown to 450 children, and a school that educates kids from first to sixth grade. Once they reach high school, Chikumbuso pays for their school fees, which often are prohibitively expensive for vulnerable families. However, for college-level schooling there are more fees and no way for the organization to support them.
Wheeler High School students and staff have been involved for more than 10 years with Chikumbuso, both raising money to buy vehicles at the Zambian compound and traveling there to volunteer time on behalf of the organization.
The two visiting teens are staying with Chikumbuso Treasurer Sabrina Buehler in her Cossaduck Hill Road home through August.
Nosiku, who aspires to be a lawyer, and Nyambe, who would like to be a brain surgeon, both have taken on rigorous classes — chemistry, biology and pre-calculus l. They were advised to step it back by their host, but it’s not uncommon for them to come home and study for hours straight.
Fortunately, there also have been opportunities for them to travel and have fun. They visited Washington, D.C., and plan to visit New York City.
“We want them to succeed here, we don’t want them to put pressure on themselves,” Buehler said. “When you have to help put food on the table or there is no food, it’s a big burden that people here can’t understand."
Nosiku and Nyambe hope to attend college in the United States, but both plan to return to Zambia.
"We want to set an example for fellow youths in the community (and) are trying to work hard,” Nosiku said.
The race Saturday, with a $25 entrance fee, will benefit Chikumbuso's food program, allowing them to provide meals to the hundreds of students they educate. Donations also are accepted at Chikumbuso's website and the event's page, http://bit.ly/2oduWBR.
Editor's Note: This article corrects the last name of Sabrina Buehler, who is the treasurer of Chikumbuso.
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