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One Boy's Remarkable Story

Every so often something or someone special comes into your life  and this is the story of a boy who, in early 2011, touched our hearts with his determination against all the odds.

I wasn't surprised when there was a knock at the office door and yet another request for sponsorship; we'd had over 500 hundred applications this year but officially our closing date had long passed.  
I heard my husband Dave him telling the boy that he was too late and that we'd never be able to find a sponsor to cover his fees for 2011.  
"I'm sorry Richard,"  he was saying, "but you've had a wasted journey".

Something, perhaps my nosiness, made me go to the door.  There was a look of dejection on the boy's face and I asked to see his exam results fully expecting the usual average marks. They were not average however, they were good, in fact very good.

Resolving to help somehow we took him into the office and gave him a form to complete. I was even more surprised when he handed it back. He came from the remote and distant Msoro district, a long way from Mfuwe.

"How did you get here?" I asked.
"I borrowed a bike", came the simple answer.
Richard had cycled nearly 90 km down muddy tracks in the rainy season - and it had taken him two days. God knows where he slept.  I admired his determination.
Richard explained that his parents had died some years ago and that he had done whatever piecework he could find to pay his school fees through Grades 8 and 9. Two years earlier he had been offered a place at a boarding school but, unable to pay the fees, had opted to attend the much cheaper local day school instead. Now he had reached Grade 10 there was no choice other than a boarding school . . . and he had earned himself a place at one of the best in the Province. We gave him a meal, said we would see what we could do and started him on his long journey home.
I added him to the "Kids Who Need Sponsorship" page on our website but after two days and no sponsor the matter was becoming urgent. He had just 3 days to report to school or he would lose his place. I decided to take a chance - the boy deserved it  - and sent a message that he should come and collect his sponsorship items and a cheque for school fees.
Richard arrived two days later looking tired. He had been unable to borrow a bike but had managed to get a lift part of the way and walked the last 60 km. As I sat filling in his details on our sponsorship spreadsheet I heard the familiar "ping" of an incoming email. I couldn't believe it  - an offer of sponsorship as he was sitting beside me.
The next bus to Chipata and his new school was not until 1 am the next morning so Richard spent the day with us. Mary, a lady who works with me, took him under her wing, gave him lunch and took him home with her to wait for the bus. They sat talking long into the night.  The following day she told me his full story.

Richard's father had died when he was very young. He had been on his way to visit his family and look for work in the Northern Province when he was killed in a road accident. Later his mother remarried and gave Richard a brother. Unfortunately this second husband also passed away. 
Richard's mother died on his 13th birthday and he and his younger brother went to live with a relative but this only lasted a few months before he was asked to leave.  So, at just 13 years old and very shortly after his mother died, he was out on his own.

A villager came to the rescue and offered him a bed for the night. However this man was seriously ill and shortly afterwards had to go into hospital. He told Richard that if he looked after the house whilst he was away he could stay for free.  However this man was gone for almost three years and, from the age of 13, Richard fended for himself.  

He grew his own food, found piece-work to pay for his school needs and yet still managed to achieve a consistent Grade 1 in all subjects year after year.  He faced further problems when he went into Grade 8 as school fees were now payable and so he had to find extra work.  In Grade 9 he found a "job" giving extra lessons to a teacher's son, also in Grade 9. This boy managed a good mark in his Certificate of Primary Education Examination - good enough to earn him a place at the best Government school in the district and the same one that Richard now has a place.

On returning home after his first visit to our office he discovered that the man in whose house he was living had died and he was asked by the relatives leave.   So a couple of days later and homeless once again Richard packed up his few things and got a lift as far as he could in the direction of our office.
If Richard's story sounds too far-fetched to be plausible bear in mind that we have checked all these details with the teachers from his previous school.  We see many, many children and all have a sad story but there is something special about this boy.  Mary sees many of them too and, as a local lady, is used to the terrible problems facing many kids in the area.  As a mother of five herself she doesn't have a lot to spare but nevertheless she offered Richard a home.  But he couldn't stay there forever and later stayed with other kind ladies. 
Richard is articulate, well mannered and a pleasure to talk to and he deeply affected us all at Project Luangwa by the way he continued in the face of adversity.   He dreamt of going to university and dreamt of being able to study medicine. Kind and generous sponsors helped him realise his dream and today Richard has graduated from Evelyn Hone college in Lusaka with a diploma in Biomedical Science. 
We would like to thank Elisabeth Winsborough-George and Ian Horsfield from Australia for their kind and generous donations which have supported Richard through secondary school and college and helped a wonderful young man realise his dream. 
We have Richard's permission to publish this story and he is aware of what we have written.  Richard's story is remarkable but there are many more children in this area that face similar difficulties and hardship on a daily basis.  All crave an education as they see that this is the only way that they will one day be able to make a sustainable living for themselves and their future families.

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