When Greg Wray,
general manager at Sunshine Suites, first became involved in outreach to a
small village in Zambia, he had no idea the impact this would have on his life.
He became aware of
the outreach effort through a friend in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s from,
who had heard about it from someone in Oklahoma who was involved.
“There is this
weaving and cross section of humans who are involved in this for a place on the
other side of the world,” said Wray.
Although he had been
involved in mission work in the past, he found the Zambia mission to be very
“Africa was different
in that there was so much need,” he said.
Wray went to
Mufutuli, a farm and village in Zambia, and was overcome by the daily struggle
for survival the inhabitants faced. Affected by rampant rates of HIV infection,
malaria, and issues with the local wildlife, poverty and hunger, the villagers
often lacked the most basic necessities. Wray admits to being almost paralysed
by the enormity of the need in Mufutuli, which means Saviour in Tonga, the main
language of the region.
“The need is so great
that it can just become overwhelming. If you’re not careful you can just sit
down and say ‘There’s too much, I can only do so much.’ So we stayed focussed
on what we could do and not what we can’t do,” he said.
The realisation soon
dawned that because of all that needed to be done, whatever was done for these
people, regardless of how small, could make an appreciable difference.
On the farm, Pastor
Charles Simoonga has started to build up the community with the support of
government, but also outside help from people like Wray.
According to Wray,
Pastor Charles managed a 20,000-acre commercial farm in the area before being
called into the ministry. Much of his work in building the community is
therefore focussed around helping the people provide for themselves and grow
enough to sell, bringing much-needed revenue into the community.
“They have a lot of
crops – they grow bananas, tomatoes, corn. Corn is their staple over there,”
Yet unemployment is
between 80 per cent and 90 per cent, and the men often leave the village to
find work in neighbouring countries, sometimes never to return, as the reception
the workers receive in countries like Zimbabwe and further afield in South
Africa is often far from friendly.
Even the most basic
facilities are not available in the village — for example, the villagers must
walk to the river to get water, not an easy chore as venomous snakes and
crocodiles lurk in the area.
“Two weeks before we
arrived, a mother with a newborn on her back went down to get water, which they
all do. She took the baby off her back, laid the baby on the bank, went down to
get water and the crocodile got her. They found the baby later, unharmed,” said
In just three months,
three children and one adult have been eaten by crocodiles, in one village
However, as with many
problems, this one is solvable as well. Wray hopes to help Pastor Charles keep
people away from the river by either getting a well dug in the village or
setting up a pump to draw river water to the village.
During Wray’s visit
to the village this year, the team took along as much as they could, including
clothing, toys and
medicine. “You go
with as much luggage as you can take and you come back with what’s on your
back. We took stuffed animals, we took medicine; Chrissie Tomlinson Hospital
got involved, they donated medicines,” said Wray.
Although Wray and his
fellow volunteers had taken a couple of toys along for the children, they did
not have enough for everyone.
Wray found it
especially touching that children would patiently wait their turn, even though
some ended up going home empty-handed. The image of one young boy stuck in his
“He stood there as
the stuffed animals were all given out – he just stood and watched. He didn’t
push, he didn’t shove. It went all the way through, and he did not get
anything,” recalled Wray.
This inspired Nadia
Hardie at Sunshine Suites to help Wray collect more stuffed toys so that on
their next trip no child would have to go without.
“The pictures of the
kids who got the stuffed animals were fantastic, but there were the photos of
those that didn’t and she was touched by that. She put together this campaign
that she would like to raise stuffed animals for the next trip, with the goal
of raising 1,000 stuffed animals,” said Wray.
response has been staggering. The result is a room at Sunshine Suites, packed
floor to ceiling with stuffed toys for the children of Mufutuli.
“The outpouring of
the people on this Island has been amazing. Most came with their children, and
the children had gone through their own toys and hand-picked those toys they
wanted to give. And so we printed out some pictures where they could see who
this was going to, because some of them were doing this rather reluctantly,”
Wray recalled with a smile.
The support from the
staff at Sunshine Suites has been a very heart-warming experience for Wray.
“The staff just kind
of said ‘We can do this, we can take this village and help’,” he said.
Due to the difficult
terrain and shortage of transport, one of the biggest needs in the community is
for bicycles to help people get around with less risk of encountering some of
the venomous snakes that are all too common in the area.
“I saw two bicycles,
and these are not for recreation. With a thousand people in that area, if we
raised a hundred bicycles it would be fantastic,” said Wray.
The response to the
appeals has been so overwhelming that the next shipment of help to Mufutuli
will not travel in the backpacks and suitcases of volunteers, but in a 40-foot
“We hope to begin
loading the 40-foot container shortly after the next drive for bicycles and
blankets,” said Wray.
And it is not only
the contents of the container that will make a difference to the community. The
container itself will be modified with an air conditioning unit in order to
serve as a makeshift cold storage room for the produce grown on the community
farm. This should help keep the produce until the community can get it to the
market, and hopefully bring in some much-needed income.
Pastor Charles has
also started work on an orphanage in the village to help the ever-growing
number of orphans in the community.
In order to establish
the orphanage, Pastor Charles dreams about everything they need, from basics
like blankets, pillows and mattresses, to lifesavers like mosquito nets to keep
the disease-bearing mosquitoes at bay.
“We’ve talked to some
nonprofit organisations that have orphanages over there, and in their budget
the single biggest item is food,” said Wray.
Charles barely factors the cost of food into his model, as the community will
help support the orphanage from the farm, while the orphans will also help out.
It is a back-to-basics approach that could help Mufutuli rise well above many
For an initiative
that has grown from a couple of toys in a backpack to a 40-foot container of
aid, what does Wray envision for the future?
“I don’t really know
where this goes from here – I’m amazed it’s gone this far, that now we’re
talking about a 40-foot container that we’re going to ship!” he said.
Even though the help
to Mufutuli started small, the outpouring of community support has made it
great. Wray believes that if more people just do what little they can to help,
this might not be a one-of-a-kind occurrence.
“It’s not as
difficult as it sounds,” he said.
If you want to help
the Zambia project you can get in touch with Sunshine Suites 949-3000 attn:
Nadia Hardie (ext 5019) or Greg Wray (ext 5085)