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Taking the Kids: Let's hear it for women pushing their boundaries

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

At the village's newest project, women are busy making beads from recycled bottles that have been ground to a fine powder. The women then painstakingly put the prepared glass into molds by hand, and then put the molds into a wood-fired kiln. Abercrombie & Kent sent experts to show the women how to prepare the kiln and make the beads, which become necklaces and bracelets to be sold in upscale shops. Already, the first group has graduated and a new group of 10 is being trained, said Charles Mathe, who is overseeing the project. He adds another plus has been to provide work for those with disabilities.

Visitors like us are encouraged to visit ongoing projects -- a stark contrast to the deluxe accommodations and gourmet meals we've been treated to at the Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma where we're staying -- with every amenity -- in thatched-roof tree houses along the Zambezi River. Five percent of each guest's stay supports the nearby village projects.

"There is a dramatic need for the travel industry to do more to help sustain destinations around the globe. We need communities living on the edge of wilderness to tangibly benefit from tourism," said Geoffrey Kent, the company's founder and chairman.

The company has eight full-time community development people stationed around the world -- everywhere from Africa to Brazil, India and Southeast Asia.

Many companies, of course, support global philanthropic efforts. I've been on trips where locals solicit donations from visitors directly -- uncomfortable for all concerned. What's different about these projects is the way A&K facilitates their success, from identifying a pressing community need, strategizing a solution and providing supplies and ongoing training and support.

The best part: The money stays in the community. Some $30,000 profit from the bike shop, for example, has gone to support the new maternity hospital and clinic Abercrombie & Kent helped build. Before it opened, women would give birth often on a dirt floor without hot water or electricity.

The day we visited, smiling mothers and babies were waiting for vaccinations while a gaggle of kids surrounded us.


The school in this small village has fewer than two dozen teachers teaching more than 800 children, many of whom come to school hungry. Six children must share one book here, according to Kingfrey Kahlila, the head teacher. There are just eight computers for the entire school and only some of the classrooms have electricity. Only 20 percent of the student body goes on to high school. "We have many, many needs," said Kahlila.

Hopefully, the women in the bike shop say, their children will have more opportunities.

But they are not only helping themselves and the village, said Esther Kawewe, "We are showing girls here what they can do."


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