Excerpts from Church News
By John L. Hart Church News associate editor.
Pictures by Alan Riser. Published: Saturday, May 13, 2006
KASAMA, Zambia —Following a path often tunneled by overhanging grass until it opened at a river, volunteer Alan Riser crossed a worn footbridge, then ascended a forested knoll to the village of Chafwa. Among the thatched roofs, he found two teachers and told them the news: books have come. These books are perhaps the first in Chafwa, part of a shipment from the Church's Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City. Brother Riser traveled halfway around the world to this developing central Africa nation as a volunteer. At Chafwa, children accompanied him back along the path to a parked Land Cruiser, filled with boxes of elementary school books donated to the Humanitarian Center by school districts in Utah. Children— students at a school without text books — soon hoisted the boxes on their heads and trekked to the village school. The boxes were not opened until the next morning, so a celebration could be held. For seven weeks after stepping foot on the African continent for the first time, the mechanic from Corinne, Utah, traversed the humid, malaria-ridden back country.
First, the 15-20 tons of books were a month late arriving by ship at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Then a semitrailer trucked the books' container to the Zambian border and customs
"There were at least 500 trucks on both sides of the border," said Brother Riser. "It was like a carnival atmosphere."
"In six hours we were driving that truck through the border; (as other trucks moved aside) it was like the Red Sea parting." Thousands of kilometers through Zambia later, the truck arrived in Kasama at the teachers college, where Principal Freddy Kapembwa eagerly waited.
The books had been carefully sorted and boxed by the Church and were ready for delivery. Brother Riser and his son Karson replaced a clutch in the college's Land Cruiser, and volunteers began delivery. After traveling to about eight elementary and high schools, and helping some orphans, time ran out. "I wanted to go to one more school," he said. He was told the next school was inaccessible except by foot. "I am going to that school," he told the college officials. At the school, "they were amazed. They couldn't believe someone would be so kind as to pick their village out of all the villages in Africa for books. Those were the first books in the village, which had 200 students. He slept in an abandoned village hut that night. "It was a very, very humbling experience," he said.
While he slept, a celebration was organized that began at 7 the next morning. A prayer, the national anthem, drums, singing, and a speech that he gave commemorated the opening of the books. The boxes were opened to the rhythm of drums and the people "started waving (the books) in the air, and singing — even the teachers got into dancing," said Brother Riser. It was quite a little festival. That went on for about 45 minutes to an hour. They were passing the books out and all the children were going through the books." Afterwards, a few students read aloud from the books. "I was so emotionally overwhelmed, I could hardly speak," said Brother Riser. "I told them God had blessed us in our lives and He wants us to share, and that's why we came over." Villagers ended by singing about his visit, and of the example of education he set for them. As he departed from the celebration to catch a train back to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, villagers followed him over the bridge and ran after the Land Cruiser as it left, waving, and thanking him for the books.
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