Of course, Zambians are as diverse in character as any other people. Still, there are some qualities that resonate throughout the communities we work in and contradict the war-torn, poverty-defined stereotypes we are fed in Canada. We think these deserve to be celebrated.
Zambia has never been involved in war, and its people are proud of that fact. Its independence movement, led by a Ghandi-inspired Kenneth Kaunda, was non-violent. Crime and violence is extremely frowned upon. There is a joke amongst Zambians that if you want to guarantee a life without conflict, join the military.
The villagers place high value on hosting a guest. Families struggling to feed themselves will not let visitors leave their household unfed. Often they’ll give a bag of nuts, a chicken, or, in one observed case, an entire sheep to departing visitors. It is more than just a cultural rule - they continuously go out of their way to make sure you feel safe and comfortable in their village.
In rural, southern Zambia, the communities are continuously having their efforts impeded by environmental forces outside of their control, such as vegetable-destroying frosts, road-destroying floods, or crop-destroying drought. Their ability to survive these conditions is impressive. Even more impressive is how their compassion, culture, and ambition survives as well. In the face of enormous absences and obstacles, they maintain the ability to appreciate what they have and try again. And foreign assistance is by no means a pre-requisite for survival or success.
Zambians' capacity to show compassion in the face of suffering should not be confused with an immunity to suffering. Losing a loved one and struggling to feed your family is just as devastating as it would be for a Canadian. We only want to show that Zambians are much more than the hardships they face. Those in poverty deserve not only our pity, but our respect as well.