Christine has hair the color of a sunset — a striking orange hue that complements her dark eyes and light skin. She’s bespectacled, wearing a pale-blue set of glasses that only a 7-year-old would pick, and her buck teeth are a perfect match for her easy smile. She’s adorable in every objective sense of the word.
Two years ago, at age 5, Christine was abandoned and left for days to fend for herself. Like many other African children, she was poor, homeless and parentless. But Christine’s problem was unusual and more severe than most. She was born an albino, and being an albino in Africa is difficult. There is a great stigma attached to an individual with this disorder. Albinos are considered a lower class and are not treated well. However, the real threat is witch doctors. Many of these witch doctors believe that an albino’s body parts are sacred for sacrifice. Some even claim that having sexual relations with an albino will prevent or cure HIV/AIDS, thus making albinos targets. Christine’s father died years ago, and her mother did not want her because of her albinism. She went to live with a grandmother who also abandoned her after a short time. But soon, Christine was discovered, and this is where the sad story takes a turn.
Today, Christine is thriving in care provided by an organization nearly 10,000 miles away. Arise Africa (Arise), which as of 2015 calls Fort Worth home, is a nonprofit group that sponsors children in Zambia, Africa, to ensure children receive basic needs and education.
The organization has its roots in neighboring Dallas, where executive director Alissa Rosebrough, along with a friend, John Rosacker, and several other entrepreneurs, founded it in 2010. Rosebrough grew up in San Antonio and began her professional journey as a photographer, shooting for both the NBA and a large industrial construction company. During the NBA’s offseason, she took the opportunity to break away from capturing the hard-working but often glamorous lives of professional basketball players when she began photographing for various aid organizations in Africa. But photographing the difficult lives of her subjects became something more when the lack of coordination and timeliness in the delivery of basic human needs became apparent. Many tasks were done well, but so many others were accomplished poorly or not at all.
Over the next few years, Rosebrough worked on and off in Africa, taking in the sights and sounds, the good and the bad, while learning all she could about the country. It was during this period that she met Rosacker, and together, they decided to combine their efforts. While their initial goal was to raise money for children’s schoolbooks, over the past eight years, their work has expanded to providing teachers, housing and even food.
One area in particular Arise is refining is its education program. The children people sign up to sponsor live with their families in the slums of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city. They attend schools run by Arise and are fed a hot meal — this meal oftentimes being their only food of the day. School would not be in their horizon if not for Arise because schools cost money in Zambia. Some school fees are only a dollar a month, but many parents cannot afford even this amount. Currently there are approximately 500 children in the child-sponsorship program, who learn and eat a meal each day through Arise’s efforts. They also receive medical care as needed. A number of the children have HIV and need to be monitored closely. Due to a shortage of doctors, medical care is hard to find. This sponsor money typically comes from Americans — about $40 monthly.
According to a United Nations report from late 2018, Zambia, located in mid-southern Africa, is a nation of just under 18 million people — although an exact number is hard to obtain due to lack of record keeping and birth certificates. In this former British colony, illiteracy is widespread, corruption rampant, few earn much while many earn nothing, and half the population is 18 years old or younger, resulting in a high birth rate.
Initially, two Zambians were on the Arise staff, and today those two are now joined by 38 other Zambians, three full-time Americans and several TCU volunteers. Each fall, Arise receives applications for its internships, and five college students are selected to work in Zambia for part of the year. The Americans visit Zambia as often as possible, and, vice versa, the Zambians visit America. When the Arise staff visits a Zambian village, they see people living in tiny cinder block homes with one room and groups of 10 or more children sleeping on the floor. There is no running water; bathrooms are pit latrines with open sewage; the smell of burnt trash and charcoal is in the air; music blares; children are everywhere; and disease is always on the precipice of an epidemic.
“We are always excited when we touch down in Africa and see our fellow African team members,” Rosebrough says. “We cherish our time with them and admire their work ethic and ability to get things done. We love the fact that they help us find toilets that are at least somewhat acceptable. We love it, too, that they enjoy our Purell soap. We love it when they make us try food that our stomachs aren’t sure about. And, of course, when they say ‘y’all,’ we are rather proud.”
Someone once asked Rosebrough if the children become excited when all the “white” people arrive. “Let me be honest. The children are over the ‘white’ people. They love their Zambian family more.”
While, admittedly, some of the Americans’ ideas can be Western, this is where their African partners come into play — both the American and African teams must approve any proposed idea or project. Arise’s goal is to honor Zambia’s culture, not replace it.
“The Zambians are the most amazing people you will ever meet. You can’t help but get on board once you meet them,” Rosebrough says. “They are the true boots on the ground in the slums every day, helping children who have nothing. And the Zambians know what is best for their country. Our job is to help them have the tools and supplies they need to do their jobs, not tell them how.”
The children go on a government-mandated month-long break from school that Arise is required to follow, and most children return to school malnourished because they ate little during that time. One girl came back from break last September with a rash on her face. A visit to the doctor revealed she was infected from eating cooked rats her family had caught for dinner. Rosebrough is aware that most citizens here in the U.S. find it hard to understand what Arise is up against.
“Sometimes we are asked, ‘Why only Zambia?’ Our focus is on one country because Arise’s aim is to help well and go deep,” Rosebrough says. “We realize there are children in America who need assistance. The Arise system does not always work for children who are orphaned or living in poverty in America. However imperfect it is, we at least do have a system. But in Zambia, if Arise Africa was not there, there would be nothing. There are no shelters, no foster care, no child protective services and few police who care. Adding to the problem, the HIV/AIDS epidemic wiped out almost an entire generation of adults, leaving many children without parents. Many Zambians care, but they do not have the resources to help. Our work is far from done. Expanding to other countries does not seem the smart thing to do at this time.”
After starting the child sponsorship program, Arise realized that many of the children needed homes, not just school and meals. Some were not being cared for by anyone. One girl in particular came to mind. Her name is Dorothy, and she slept in the school hallway at night. Arise was all she had. Another child, a boy named Armon, lived in the city dump under plastic tarps and walked miles to the school. It was the only time he was fed, and the staff took him to their homes to let him shower. Due to these situations, Arise decided to build homes for these children. With financial help from the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and his wife, Ellen, two homes were built for the more-needy children. Today, these two homes house 19 children in full-time care, including Dorothy and Armon. Both have now blossomed into teenagers and are already talking about college.
Rosebrough continues to serve as Arise’s director and visits Zambia several times a year, assisting in organizing, fundraising and forming a relationship with as many of the children as possible.
Not long ago, Rosebrough, along with a number of American counselors, decided to tour one of the facilities sponsored by Arise. The children, as usual, flocked to the Americans upon arrival, but there was one little girl named Maggie who held back, shy, hiding both her hands. Maggie had fallen into a fire when she was a toddler. Because open fires are used to cook and keep warm, it is not an uncommon occurrence for children to get burned. After a bit, Rosebrough enticed Maggie to sit in her lap, and upon closer inspection, she felt fingers under the skin. With the skill of an American mission doctor, Maggie underwent an operation to uncover the fingers. After several months of recovery, she is able to hold a pencil for the first time.
The American staff realizes they provide much to the Africans, but they reap what they sow. It all comes full circle quickly.