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Zambia Medical Mission trip one father, daughter will never forget

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Aug. 26, 2010 at 3:26 a.m.
Updated Aug. 27, 2010 at 3:27 a.m.

Darren Tom and his daughter, Rebecka Tom, recently returned from a two-week mission trip to Zambia organized through the Central Church of Christ.

ZAMBIA FACTSZambia is located in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa and neighbors seven countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

The country gained independence from the British in 1964 and renamed itself Zambia after the Zambezi River.

The capital city is Lusaka.

The per capita income is $1,150, and 55 percent of the population lives on $2 per day or less.

The official language of Zambia is English, but there are estimated to be about 72 tribal languages with an additional 13 dialects, which are counted separately as independent languages.

For more information on Zambia Medical Mission, visit Zambiamission.org

When Victoria residents Rebecka Tom, and her father, Darren Tom, ventured to Zambia on a medical mission last month, they weren't prepared to return speechless.

"You just can't put (the trip) into words," said 18-year-old Rebecka. "It was definitely an eye opener."

After two weeks of roughing it in the Zambian bush, sleeping on the ground in large multi-person tents, bathing with wet towels, using thatch-covered holes in the dirt as restrooms and generally forgoing the conveniences of hot water, electricity, cell phones and Facebook, the father-daughter team returned to Victoria with a new appreciation for life and material possessions.

"I came home and hugged my bed for a while," Rebecka, a recent graduate of Memorial High School, said laughing. "(The trip) makes you realize what you have."

Partnering with the Abilene-based evangelical Christian organization Zambia Medical Mission, Rebecka and Darren, 49, joined a team of more than 100 American and Zambian doctors, nurses and volunteers and spent the next 14 days providing medical, dental and spiritual assistance to nearly 20,000 impoverished natives.

"It was her last year here (before college), and I thought it would be a good experience to have with her," Darren said. "I love to travel, and thought I may as well do something worthwhile."

Both Rebecka and Darren understood the medical needs of Zambia were dire and prepared themselves for long, work-filled days and relentless exhaustion.

Through their host organization, they learned Zambia's ripe population of about 12 million was plagued with disease and short-life expectancy.

The country's average life span is 38 years old, with half the population under age 15. About one million Zambian people are living with HIV and AIDS, and other common medical issues include malaria, body fungus, leprosy and tuberculosis.

And because foreigners traveling to the Zambia area are at risk of contracting a number of harmful illnesses, they are required to receive several pre-travel inoculations to prevent typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, tetanus and malaria, among others.

Since Rebecka and Darren were not medically trained, they spent their days providing logistical support for Zambia Medical Mission's large volunteer staff. They also spent a few days early in the trip assisting one of the nearby orphanages.

"The (Tonga) people looked thin, they didn't have shoes, or much clothing. That was kind of sad," Rebecka said.

Many of the children also had ring worm and dried mucus below their nostrils, she said.

The Tonga are known as the original inhabitants of Zambia and can be found near the villages of Kalomo where Rebecka and Darren concentrated their work.

"They seemed happy though," Darren said. "When we got there, hundreds of people paraded around us singing and dancing. There was a lot of singing."

Neither Darren nor Rebecka were strangers to service work abroad, having traveled previously to Mexico, Canada and Poland with various church organizations. But Africa was an entirely unique experience, both in culture and environment, they said.

With little exposure to life beyond the perimeter of their village, many of the Tonga children were noticeably frightened of Darren and Rebecka's skin color.

"Some of the kids would freak out and start crying when they saw us," Darren said. "They'd just never seen a white person before.

One of the pivotal moments for both Darren and Rebecka was watching village children chasing after their bus, attempting to catch empty water bottles thrown out of the windows.

"Our bus driver told us to throw the empty bottles to the kids, and they would dive toward these empty bottles like they were gold," Darren said.

In addition to assisting with medical needs, the father-daughter team cultivated a few softer memories of Africa.

"I just remember how clear the moon was and how close it was," Rebecka said. "There was no noise after dark, we were away from any lights, and sometimes, we would hear singing in the distance."

Even though the pair returned home earlier this month, both agree they want to go back.

"It's kind of hard to think about going back since we just got home, but I'd go again for sure. It's just a matter of getting the funds together."

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