This past January, we once again took Harvard students and others to work in the township of Mamelodi in Pretoria, S. Africa. This year’s focus was on revising the curriculum, and the S. African and American college students worked together well to complete the task in two weeks. While there, we received the good news that more of our learners were admitted into college. Many are still coming back to the township to volunteer after they begin their studies.
One of the highlights of the January trip was Pat sharing Zach’s story with the group. I asked Pat if he would share some of his thoughts:
In January I stood before a group of 80 South African student volunteers in the impoverished and vastly under-resourced township of Mamelodi. These enthusiastic students now run the program we helped create 10 years ago—the Mamelodi Initiative (MI). MI volunteers now serve over 1000 youth in the township every year by providing supplemental educational opportunities that enable children to complete high school, gain admission to college, and improve their lives.
As I stood before that group of energetic volunteers to explain the gift that I was about to give them, an unexpected wave of emotion rushed over me.
I had been telling them the story of one of the first volunteers we brought with us to South Africa in 2007. He was only a high school student at the time. He fell in love with the people of Mamelodi. In fact, he loved them so much that he confided in Tammy that he was ready to drop out of high school, move to Mamelodi, marry a South African woman, and adopt 10 orphans.
That volunteer about whom I was speaking was our son Zach. Two weeks after that confession, Zach suffered a traumatic brain injury playing football. For five weeks he fought for his life in a Boston hospital. When he was finally well enough to move to a rehabilitation hospital, he could not talk.
My own voice began to crack when I told them about the first sentence Zach communicated. On his second day in the rehab hospital, Zach’s speech therapist gave him a keyboard to use to type whatever he wanted to say. Zach was trying to say something so Tammy pulled out the keyboard. He slowly and methodically typed the words, “Don’t go back to Africa without me!”
I ended my talk by saying that in 2010 we were able to bring Zach back to South Africa and that we hope to bring him back again in the near future. But because of his disability it has been difficult to even think about bringing him again.
I told the group that every year Zach’s school holds a basketball tournament to honor him and raise money to assist in his recovery. Everyone who plays in that tournament receives a t-shirt and this year we had enough t-shirts to give one to each of them.
Until Zach can come back to Mamelodi, we thought it would be cool if a bunch of people were walking around the streets of Mamelodi wearing shirts with Zach’s name and jersey number on them.
The crazy irony of this story is that just as we are trying to help our learners in South Africa improve their futures through education, we are now seeing Zach go through a similar process. Since Zach’s medical bills have tapered off, the money that Zach’s tournament raises is now going toward programs and strategies designed to enable Zach to go back to school and improve his life.
Zach continues his studies at Boston University in a research program for twenty-somethings with brain injuries. Within the year, his teachers hope to see him transition to a community college to take one class at a time with accommodations. Please pray for wisdom about how and when Zach’s transition in schooling should take place, and please pray for Pat and me as we finish the manuscript for our book on ambiguous loss. The due date is May 1st.
With gratitude for your interest in our lives,