wiseIt’s a long way from a small library in Hallowell, Maine, to Kaoma, a small village in the southern African bush. But a talk at her local library led Honorary Degree recipient and alumna Cynthia Murray-Beliveau to Kaoma, Zambia, for three weeks in the spring.

When she heard four Maine women at the library talk about their work in Zambia, she knew she wanted to help. The foursome had created WISE, Women Initiatives That Strengthen
and Empower, and told the library group about the projects they sponsored in Kaoma over the last nine years, including an orphanage, a community school, a women’s center, a scholarship program, and a system to provide water to the town.

While in Kaoma, Murray-Beliveau and the other 14 members of the WISE team had limited access to water and electricity. (And forget about phone or Internet.) Villagers spend much of their energy each day gathering water and food, she says. Often the women carry it from a distance in 40-gallon jugs balanced on their head.

Murray-Beliveau filled in wherever she was needed, sometimes teaching, tutoring or working at the clinic. In Kaoma, the schools have huge classes and no books. She had brought along maps and games from home to use for teaching materials. One of the favorites proved to be a National Geographic matching game that the teenage boys loved.

She also took joy in the Zambian culture, which included colorful fabrics, dance, spontaneous song and people who were happy to see you. On one trip out of town farther out into the hot and dusty bush, she spent two hours in a pickup truck bouncing over a rutted road to celebrate the installation of a new bore hole to pump water. She took along a duffle bag of class materials to bring to the school there, including the first map of the world they had ever seen. While there, the team spent an hour blowing up balloons, amazing the villagers, who had never seen a balloon before. They also took delight in showing the villagers how to do the hokey pokey, which sent the 60-80 kids into bursts of laughter, especially when it came to the part about shaking your backside. At those times, language barriers drop away, she notes.

“I have always felt that I wanted to connect individually with people in other countries …. It brings a lot of grace and satisfaction to your life. It puts everything in perspective, especially problems we think are big. Plus it’s wonderful to have friends in other cultures,”
says Murray-Beliveau, who has also volunteered in Haiti and South Africa, not to mention all her community service work in Maine.“We’ve had kids from other cultures stay with our family. And I just like having this perspective on the world,” she says.

Since being back, she’s been raising money for a bore hole to access water for three different Kaoma neighborhoods. “If you see the projects yourself, then you can come home and raise money,” she says.

• www.WISEZambia.org