Argyle student Hope Pearmain and her mom Debbie are returning to Zambia at the end of June. It’s a story of fate, coincidence or a divine plan depending on your point of view.
Today, the Lynn Valley family is supporting the education of 24 orphans in Africa, after a Texa’s businessman went to Zambia was compelled to make a difference 2006. His young son, Brenden Vowell, now leads Project Samuel and later met – and went on to marry – a North Vancouver girl, Kim Close. It was Pearmain’s relationship with Close that brought the family to Zambia last summer.
The Pearmains spent a few weeks in the Chibombo District, three hours north from the capital of Lusaka, at Project Samuel.
“It’s super rural,” said Debbie. “It’s like living in the 19th Century. They don’t have electricity. They cook over open fires. They wash their clothes by hand in tubs. The people live in a basic hut structure.”
The small organization started by the Vowell family sits on 257 acres of land with four homes with hopes of making a difference in the lives of some of the 1.4 million Zambian orphans (that’s 10 percent of its 14 million population).
“We are used to seeing homeless people here that are usually adults or maybe teenagers and that is upsetting but over there, there are five – six – seven-year-old kids running around the streets homeless,” she said. “It’s tragic.”
Project Samuel is a youth revitalization project aiming to raise leaders who will stay and rebuild their nation, said Debbie. With such a big challenge Brenden, then in his early 20’s took custody of 24 children – choosing to take full responsibility and invest totally in improving the lives of those children and their communities. The Pearmains arrived last year to help the Vowells as they welcomed their first birth child and learn more about the project. It was a life changing experience.
Starting with education
The Pearmains were naturally drawn to schools in the area in part because their children, then 12 and 15, could relate strongly but also, dad, Mark, is the superintendent of the North Vancouver School District. Schools are little more than walls and roof with a painted blackboard – and expensive, said Debbie.
“Here every child has the right to an education,” explained Debbie. “In Zambia that’s not how it works. It costs $80 USD a term [including uniforms, supplies, tuition and supplies] and the average family lives on one US dollar a day.”
With a background in HR corporate training and coaching Debbie joined Mark at a number of professional days for Zambian teachers.
“Education is expensive and the dropout rates are high,” she said. “Then in Grade 7 the government begins to mandate exams but the students don’t have the literacy levels to be successful.”
They spent one teacher enrichment day just teaching how to teach an exam that students had never been able to pass.
“Everyone showed up – all the teachers, even the vice principal,” she said. “They are working so hard but without the resources and training they need.”
Even Hope stepped into to teach.
“Hope had a Grade 10 education and was actually in one of the schools teaching because we went into one of the classrooms and they were working on a math problem that no one could solve,” said Debbie. “As a mom I had tears streaming down my face because I was so proud.”
The vision is long
Last summer’s trip had a deep impact on the Pearmains.
“When we came home we sat down with our kids and said ‘We have had this experience, so now what? What do you want to do?’” she said. “We decided as a family our mission will be to keep these kids in school. We can’t help everyone we saw – but we can help these 24 kids at Project Samuel.”
It’s a plan that was quickly supported by people in Lynn Valley and across the North Shore.
“We did some small fundraisers with family and friends and we have raised enough money for two years for all the kids to go school,” said Debbie. “There are crazy stories of people helping us – reaching out on social media. Random people who I haven’t talked to in 20 years sent us cheques.”
Pearmain highlights the donations of Park and Tilford Cobs Breads for their support of bake sales and the ongoing support of Dave Smith of SmithWerks Carpet and Upholstery Care and the North Shore Alliance Church. Even Grade 5 and 6 students at Vancouver Christian School raised $5000 at their entrepreneur fair. Plus local Lynn Valley families who have donated soccer gear and necessities, including the North Shore Girls Soccer, North Van Football Club as well as the Argyle PAC. These donations are important part of a soccer outreach program in the rural villages, said Debbie.
With Hope asking to go back, the Pearmains wanted to do even more.
“The system isn’t perfect but we have so much here in North Vancouver. We are blessed to have the North Vancouver Literacy Centre. We’ve got this unbelievable resource that we were connected to because our son struggled with reading,” Debbie said. “I started meeting with Susan McLean – she has put resources together and has been teaching me how to teach reading.”
The year has been spent creating curriculum for students as well as professional development for teachers. It’s not all business though. There were be plenty of soccer games, movie nights, community days and picnics. The long term goal for Project Samuel is to help more children, be self-sufficient and earn income with its farm and ultimately help create a stronger Zambia.
“My personal mission is to do anything here in North Vancouver I can to get the word out. There are 24 kids who will need to go to college. There are two graduating this year. I want to send each child to college – $1500-2000USD commitment per year per child. They have 24 kids to help. If people want to partner with us on this they can receive tax donations and email me for more information,” said Debbie.
“My vision is long. Not only do I want to see them read and finish high school but I want them to be able to give back to their communities and help break the cycle of poverty for their families in the future. It’s unbelievable – the kids have such dreams but they don’t even know all their options – they don’t know what they could be dreaming about.”
To donate go to: icmsgo.com. Then click: DONATE, select: Canada, agency: project Samuel Foundation, supporting: children and project giving.