A group of women from La Jolla and Del Mar, including several mothers and daughters, recently returned from a weeklong trip to Zambia where they saw firsthand the humanitarian work being performed by Project Concern International.
"I thought before the trip started that we would merely be observers," Del Mar resident Linda Cipriani said. "Instead, we were active participants in dialogue and action."
Hosted by PCI, a San Diego-based nonprofit, the journey provided an opportunity for the women, ranging in age from 20 to 77, to interact with community school students, visit health centers and children's shelters, learn about community-based care organizations and sit down with Zambian women struggling to create a means of sustainable income to support their families.
"The goal of the trip is for them to become informal ambassadors for our work," said Uli Heine, PCI's director for institutional advancement, who accompanied the local travelers with co-worker Shawn Ruggeiro. "There's nothing like seeing things firsthand, in general, but what they're really learning is handouts … are not the solution to their problems."
While such trips can be inspiring, Heine said it can also be something of a reality check for the participants.
"This kind of work is really complicated," Heine said. "To help these people, you have to train and educate them and give them a way to earn an income. Our belief is that the poorest of the poor has the power to change from within."
Lisa Barkett of La Jolla traveled to Zambia with her daughter, Jacqueline, as a means of exploring the world beyond their own "ivory tower." She returned with a renewed appreciation for the importance of education.
"Education is the key component because without education to and for all, problems and crises will never fully be understood from the viewpoint of the educated and the uneducated," Barkett said. "The educated will never understand the problems unless they view them with their own eyes, and the uneducated will never understand the problems because they won't know any different."
The group - which also included La Jollan Anne Otterson, and Del Mar residents Stefanie Zable and daughters Bianca and Elise, Karen Hoehn and her two daughters and Karen Cox and daughter, as well as Fabienne Hanks of La Mesa - will assemble for a follow-up meeting in early August to discuss what they learned and what action they can take to make a difference.
"This trip affected my level of awareness and understanding of PCI's programs in Zambia, specifically how they are administered, organized and the degree of impact they have directly in the community," Bianca Zable said.
Next, according to Barkett, is an opportunity for everyone to build a case for leadership, intervention, innovation, fundraising and global partnerships.
"I know there is a part for me to play personally in this country," Cipriani said. "My personal challenge now is to discover that."