Young Josephine was in seventh grade at a Salesian school in Kazembe, Zambia when something unimaginable happened: in a heartbreaking attempt to escape the agonizing grip of poverty, Josephine’s parents sold her for a mere $30. Such desperation is one of the many reasons that Father Slawomir Bartodziej established the “Distance Adoption Program” in this rural village.
Far too many families living in the area can’t afford the food they need to feed their families -- let alone send them to school. In fact, according to UNICEF, the poverty rate in rural Zambia is as high as 80 percent due to plummeting incomes and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. Increasingly, in addition to food, residents can’t afford housing or medical care. Mere survival is a daily struggle.
“The promise of what, in Zambia, amounts to a significant sum of money is impossible for profoundly impoverished families to turn down,” says Fr. Slawomir. “Do they feed a few of their children, or let everyone go hungry yet again? The choices they face every day are truly heartwrenching.”
The Distance Adoption Program seeks to remove one of the major barriers to education by matching international donors with some of Kazembe’s poorest children so that they may go to school. Donations cover enrollment fees, books, supplies, and uniforms.
“We know from experience that education is key to paving a pathway out of poverty and despair,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “This is why innovative initiatives like the Distance Adoption Program are so crucial.”
Thanks to the generosity of the program’s supporters, dozens of Kazembe’s children are now learning about their own country, as well as to read, write, and speak English. This gives them the knowledge and skills they need to find stable employment and reverse the conditions of poverty.
Noting that many of these students had never seen or used a colored pencil, or even played with a ball, before attending school, Fr. Slawomir says, “My greatest joy is to see the children walking along in their white shirts and heading to the classroom. I also see hope in their parents’ eyes -- all because of the Distance Adoption Program.”
And what about young Josephine?
Having removed her from school, which they could not afford, her parents sold her, and Josephine faced a lifetime of forced labor and exploitation with no chance of breaking the chains of poverty herself.
Because Josephine had been living at home along with her three sisters and three brothers, Salesian missionaries could not have anticipated what happened to her. But when they learned of the situation, they acted quickly to intervene on her behalf: counseling her parents, supporting them in successfully breaking the sale contract, and returning her to their home. Now, thanks to the Distance Adoption Program, Josephine has also returned to school. Her parents are overjoyed.
“Today, even though she lives more than an hour away from our school and oratory, Josephine is always among the first to arrive -- eager and ready to learn,” says Fr. Slawomir. A truly happy result to what could have been a tragic story.
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