Students and faculty build homes in Zambia
Two Elon University professors and eight students spent several days in Zambia late this spring to help Habitat for Humanity with building homes for orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV/AIDS.
Led by professors Tom Arcaro and Stephen Braye, the students who traveled to the African nation returned to the United States on June 3 after working on two cinder block homes and a latrine pit for a village in the northern part of the nation, a project followed by visits to points south, including a safari excursion in Botswana.
During their work with Habitat, the Elon visitors slept on concrete floors in buildings with no running water or electricity. “When it got dark, it was dark. Beyond the imagination of the students, most of us were asleep by 9 at night,” Arcaro said. “We had worked hard every day and had gotten up early. Everyone needed the rest, and there wasn’t much to do with the lights out.”
The program retraced efforts made by the Periclean Scholars Class of 2009, which worked with Habitat to construct homes in the same village of Kawama. The most recent homes measured 10 feet by 30 feet with three rooms and corrugated tin roofs. Periclean Scholars are part of Project Pericles at Elon, a program committed to raising the university community’s level of civic engagement and social responsibility.
“Because we were a returning group with more experience and had already built in the village itself, they put us on building two homes for orphans and vulnerable children, and their caretakers,” Arcaro said. “HIV/AIDS is a fairly major problem in all of sub Saharan Africa, and in Zambia, roughly 14 percent of the population between 15 and 49 is HIV positive. Frequently, the caretaking falls on the grandmothers, which was the case in both of the homes that we built.”
One student on the trip said he was motivated to take part in the program because of the many blessings he has already received and a desire to “give back.” Still, for rising senior Kyle Herbert, an exercise science major from Hillsborough, N.C., and a lineman on the Phoenix football team, nothing prepared him for what he saw.
“It doesn’t really hit you that this is how people live until you’re there,” Herbert said. “Children don’t play with toys. They play with dirt and with sticks. They make their own toys.”
Yet Herbert said he noticed something else about the villagers: their spirits. “Unlike here, even though they didn’t have a lot of money and were struggling, everybody was happy. The kids were happy and played with each other all the time. Adults were always talking or singing.
“That was refreshing, seeing people still had a positive outlook on life, no matter the circumstances. That’s the reason when you build them a house, they’re able to take that blessing and turn it into other things.”
Arcaro said he hopes to work with the Office of Alumni Relations for return visits to other nations that have been the focus of Periclean Scholars in past years.