SALT LAKE CITY — Cottonwood Heights resident Aimee Christensen said she will never forget the moment she stepped off her travel bus into the remote village of Mwembeshi, Zambia.
“It was like out of a movie where you see the kids running through the dust, open arms ready to just hug you and love you,” Christensen said. “And that's exactly what they did. The moment we got off the bus … they just embraced us and hugged us.”
Christensen was one of 45 people who joined Utah natives, travelers, filmmakers and social media influencers Hailey and Brad Devine on a humanitarian trip to Zambia last month. Throughout the trip, the group worked with I Am Zambia, a charity with Utah ties that educates vulnerable girls and creates jobs to break the generational cycle of poverty.
The Zambia trip is the fourth annual “Somewhere Devine” expedition hosted by the filmmaking couple. Each summer, in a first-come, first-served process, they invite all 292,000 of their combined Instagram followers and 26,000 blog readers to apply for a coveted spot to travel and serve with the Devines.
“We initially started as a fun way to connect with our readers in a real-life basis, but then it quickly became something that we realized we wanted to do every year,” Hailey Devine told the Deseret News. “It became a lot bigger than just an opportunity to connect with our readers. It was to bring together all of these like-minded people to do good in the world.”
I Am Zambia
When the Devines learned about I Am Zambia, they immediately knew it was the charity they wanted to partner with this summer. Devine — a young entrepreneur and mother of two girls — said I Am Zambia’s mission to educate women for future careers strongly resonated with her.
“The way that they have their organization set up is for true self-sustainability, which I love,” Devine said. “Now these girls will be able to grow up and be able to work and provide money and teach the younger generation. It’s not just about the handouts anymore, it’s about education and them lifting themselves out, which is so empowering.”
According to Heidi Kiene, secretary and co-founder of I Am Zambia, education is key in Zambia; without it, young girls often turn to prostitution to provide for their families. To battle the problem, I Am Zambia created a technical school in the capital city of Lusaka for girls to learn business skills, and a local bakery to provide a venue to apply those skills.
“It felt like there was no hope, and now they feel like there is hope because they're not forgotten and they have opportunities,” Kiene said. “If there's just one word to emphasize and put in bold and italics, it’s about the hope.”
During their 10-day trip, the “Somewhere Devine” group met the girls who attend the technical school. The group also helped build the new Harper Anne Medical Clinic in the remote village of Mwembeshi, roughly 28 miles from Lusaka, where I Am Zambia runs a school for younger children.
Diane Terry, the president of I Am Zambia and a Cottonwood Heights resident, said building the clinic was the organization’s main goal for the summer. In her words, the group wanted to give their students optimal health so they could optimally learn.
“Where our village school is, there is no medical care, and there's no medical care for hours and hours of walking time,” Terry said. “We wanted to raise the level of health for our own students so they could come to school and they could see a chalkboard and they didn't have respiratory problems.”
To build the clinic, volunteers with the “Somewhere Devine” team carried 35-pound bricks, plastered and painted walls and rolled 100-pound drums of water, Terry said. The council chairperson of Zambia’s Chibombo District told Terry the clinic will serve 17 villages and over 30,000 people.
“They did it all, and that was a significant project,” Terry said about the “Somewhere Devine” group. “They got it almost to the finish line. We're just painting inside right now, and then hopefully within a month, it’ll be open, so that was a huge gift for us.”
“Somewhere Devine” hopes to be the gift that keeps on giving to I Am Zambia. Along with launching a donation campaign in June, the Devines are also selling a Zambia mobile photo preset with the hope to raise enough money to fund the Lusaka technical school for one year.
The Zambian girls pursuing an education to break the cycle of generational poverty proudly refer to themselves as cycle-breakers, a term inspired by a talk Terry gave at graduation.
On the last night of the “Somewhere Devine” expedition, as the group talked around a campfire, the term “cycle-breakers” resurfaced — one person pointed out that, by using social media for good and doing service with an online community, the group members act as cycle-breakers in their own right. For Devine, it's a message that hit home.
“We can all be the cycle-breakers of our own communities and of social media, to use it for good rather than bad. That was really cool, just to see that come full circle.”