I've been asked many times how Arise Africa started. And the story is a bit unconventional, which shouldn't surprise you if you know us!
In 2009 I was in Sudan and Uganda doing a photo shoot for the United Nations and after the shoot, I decided to go back to Zambia and see my old friends. I wanted to check in on kids and families that I had worked with the previous year on a photography project. I had asked an old friend, Bwalya, to take off work to help me locate the folks and work with me for the week. Bwalya and I hadn't talked much in the previous year and we can only say that God really brought us back together.
We hired Joe, the driver of this minibus to drive us and we spent the week visiting homes and playing with kids and talking to parents about their year. They were grateful to see me and know that I hadn't forgotten about them. They kept saying that to me, that they thought I would never come back or help again. And it really resonated with me. Bwalya was a natural with the kids and parents and his love for his country was really inspiring.
After each visit we would get in the minibus and Bwalya would begin to talk about how we could help those families get out of poverty for good, through his business ideas and educating the kids. And they were legit! He was throwing out business terms and numbers that I was impressed with. (not that I knew exactly what they meant, but I knew he did)
One evening we went to the US Embassy in Zambia to see my American friend, Jordan, who was working there at the time. We had spent the day in some pretty tough slums and had seen kids who weren't doing very well. As we pulled out from the embassy (Bwalya was frustrated he wasn't allowed inside the embassy gates since he isn't a U.S. citizen!) and we sat in the back of the minibus while we drove down a dusty dirt road it just happened. It was almost too perfect, the sun was setting and it was so pretty. And we started talking...(note: when you hear this you know something big is gonna happen in Arise)
We dreamed of being able to help the people long term whom we had been visiting. Bwalya threw out a few ideas of businesses he would like to open which the profits made could help fund the non profit. I talked about wanting to help with education in schools and work in the slums. We could feel God in that bus, and we were excited! We somewhat decided then and there to both go our ways and try to make something happen.
I returned to America in September of 2009 thinking about what I could do. I read alot of books about non profits and ministries and what worked and what didn't. I researched and took from my own experiences from working with various Non Profits. And I prayed, alot. And I kept feeling like God wanted us to do something.
In November I received a phone call from an old friend, John, who I had known in Zambia years earlier. He lived in Austin and said he had heard that I was still doing some work in Zambia and was interested. We talked about the trip I had just taken and Bwalya's ambitions and our dreams. By the end of our conversation John was encouraging me and helped me take the next steps to form a non profit.
We came up with the name Arise Africa from Isaiah 60:1-9 which reads, "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall wait for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from far away, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has glorified you."
We then started the process of filing for a 501C3 in America. Which by the way is extremely daunting! I kinda feel like if you can achieve 501C3 status than you are ready for anything! Luckily we had a great attorney help us, and a cousin of mine who helped fill out alot of the forms to save us money. We filed in late March and were told that it would take 6 to 9 months to hear back from the IRS.
On April 20th 2010 I received a phone call from our attorney informing me we had received 501C3 status! It was the fastest he or anyone had ever seen. And we were pumped!
It hasn't even been a year since we received that 501C3 status. And so much has happened!
Take a look at some of our highlights:
We have a child sponsorship program where 21 kids receive clothes, school fees paid for, discipleship, medical attention and even food.
We had our first mission trip where 15 Americans came and built an entire additional wing on a school. The school now has three more classrooms and an office, providing a better education for 160 kids.
We also held a kids Vacation bible School for 170 orphan and vulnerable children and taught them about God's unconditional love. We fed them three meals and played many soccer games!
We delivered over 2000 pounds of school supplies and computers.
We have started a growing program and provided funds for a school to grow corn to feed their 500 kids that attend.
We have one of our Zambian staff members in college.
We have purchased land and are working on multiple business investments.
The coolest part of Arise Africa is seeing everyone involved. It takes MANY people to support us through sponsoring a child, giving to the school supply fund, going on a trip, and even praying for us. Watching people become involved and support us has been the biggest blessing for me.
We have learned alot this first year and have seen God's hand in all of it. We are learning how to grow well. We are learning what it means to take care of one another. And we are learning about patience (this one kills me!).
As 2010 wraps up we can't help but thank God for everyone's support and encouragement throughout this year. Who knows where Arise Africa will be in a few years. But if it is anything like this one, it will surely be quite a trip with alot of blessings.
- Alissa, John, and Bwalya