Twenty-two years ago some children from Zambia on a singing tour were staying with members of local churches. Two stayed in the home of Judi and Bob Bertels. It was there they shared some eye-opening information about life in their country.
“Just seeing the injustices of small children in Zambia,” Judi said. “They’re vulnerable and have no access to health care, education, food and water. They’re used as property. They’re living in the streets. They’re just fending for themselves.”
She wanted to do something about it. So in August 2000, she and Bob founded African Vision of Hope, a Maryville-based charity that has been changing the world for nearly 20 years.
Its impact began immediately. A school was started in a rented room in a Zambian tavern. By 2003, it had 23 students in one classroom and served 5,000 meals – a major source of food for the children – per year.
Last year there were five schools with 3,105 students in attendance and more than 800,000 meals served. As of this year, the schools have produced 650 high school graduates, 42 students currently in college, 37 college graduates and 56 graduates from Zambia seminaries.
It now has a computer tech training center, an empowerment center for women where they can learn carpentry and vocational training skills to make a living, a conservation farm that works with the environment – not against it – and a recently built Girls House of Hope boarding home that protect 37 girls from a life on the street.
“Right now we’re in the middle of ten classrooms under construction,” Judi, the organization’s president, said. “Our goal is to get every child inside a classroom and behind a desk. Were hoping to build a high school in 2021 that’s focused on science and engineering and math. We’re working on teaching robotics.”
Also on the drawing board are a computer lab and a long-term food security plan. All are funded by African Vision of Hope. And all feel the impact of donors and volunteers from the Metro East and everywhere.
“Most of our sponsorship comes from individuals and companies,” Judi said. “They can call our local offices. There are opportunities to volunteer.
“We need people to do office work,” she said. “We need people for computer work. Somebody with office skills. We need people to help pack containers. We’re working on a book bag drive to get school supplies.”
In addition to the organization’s Facebook page, there is even a Facebook group called African Vision of Hope Volunteers.
To be a volunteer visit the website at africanvisionofhope.org or call the office at 288-7695. It is located in Maryville at 8 Professional Park Drive near Subway and Walgreens.
A second office is in Zambia, staffed by Zambians as are the five schools.
These are currently feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most of the children don’t understand what it is but it’s driving them deeper into poverty because they survive daily,” Judi said. “The children eat at our school every day. That was the main meal they had. Our school closed down. I’ve got a picture of them in the woods trying to find fruit.
“Their parents do daily work like selling fruits and vegetables or maybe they’re a maid for somebody and they’re not able to do that,” she continued. “So prices have doubled, tripled for the staple things. The charcoal with which they cook has doubled.”
Being a landlocked country, Zambia depends on imports, she said, which affects prices. The children are also working in order to get by. African Vision of Hope is working with the country’s Ministry of Health to get those schools back open. But it has to meet several requirements in order to do so.
“We’ve had to build more clean water wells, put in more water tanks, provide hand washing stations,” Judi said. “You have to have all these things to reopen them in a country where it’s very difficult to access thermometers. We’re shipping some of those – the thermometers and the masks.”
She said to her knowledge there hasn’t been a high death rate but its a country where there’s not much health care and it’s 88 percent rural which makes it difficult to track this.
Not only does the organization bring economic empowerment and provide food, clean water and sanitation, medicine and education to one of the poorest places on earth, African Mission of Hope also aims to feed their spirits. Its mission statement reads, “African Vision of Hope is a Christian Organization committed to bringing immediate and long-term solutions to children and families living in extreme poverty. We tackle the root causes of poverty by providing opportunities to be educated, grow up healthy, develop leadership and economic skills and learn about God’s love.”
The program has produced pastors.
It also sends guest speakers to speak to local schools and churches. For a guest speaker email [email protected] hope.org.
From all this Judi has learned that one can make a difference if they’re willing to “step out and do something.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “I learned that it’s about sacrifices in giving. I learned to really be part of helping children have a voice in this world when they have nobody. It’s all about the gospel – compassion for children.
“It’s about doing something,” she concluded. “It’s about focusing not on yourself but what God is calling on you to do and stepping out.”