Leland is GHI's president and has been involved with international relief and development work in one way or another for most of his adult life. He says "Much of my work was carried out under the umbrella of large and complex organizations involving a mix of government and private funding. While much good and needed work occurs within these structures they are encumbered by large bureaucracies and the politics of foreign assistance. Over the years, while thus engaged, I would often stumble upon small, grassroots efforts in communities around the world, struggling at great odds, to meet the needs of their own people. For various reasons these efforts would fall beneath the radar of the foreign aid machinery. This always struck me as unfortunate as often these courageous, local individuals where much more efficient and better targeted in their efforts than the high visibility aid organizations staffed by expensive, expatriate staff.
An example of this was an initiative I stumbled upon in Zambia in 2007 in a squatter's village called Grippis Farm located outside of Lusaka, Zambia. This village had no school, no health post, no source of potable water and certainly no modern amenities such as electricity and phone service. Its residents were destitute with little hope of improvement. Despite this, several individuals in a nearby neighborhood had the vision to start teaching children in the village how to read and write. With no means of support, they started assembling a rag-tag group of children outdoors under a mango tree and began instruction. I and my wife were touched by the courage and vision of these under-resourced, but determined Zambian heroes. We decided to do what we could to help. Out of this desire Grassroots Heroes International was formed. It was initially a small group of volunteers from the United States who banded together to raise support for what has become the Mango Grove Community School. Three years later over 250 children attend a rustic but vibrant community school. Its success far outstripped the initial vision of those humble Zambian neighbors who wanted to make a small contribution to their own people-- it is truly a monument to the faithfulness and persistence of home grown heroes.
But there are many challenges facing the children and their families in the Grippis Farm community in addition to education. There are serious health problems, there is a lack of economic opportunity-- not to mention the scourge of the HIV/AIDs pandemic. These challenges are worth taking on and GHI is committed to doing so with its growing band of grassroots volunteers from countries like the United States supporting the grassroots heroes on the ground in Zambia."
Tanya has experience all around the world including in Central America and Africa and she serves as GHI's vice president. She has this to say about her involvement with GHI: "As I've traveled and lived around the world, I'm always the most inspired by persons of humble means reaching out to help others. When I visited Grippis Farm, Zambia for the first time in March of 2007, there were a group of teachers who were volunteering their time to walk long distances in scorching heat and soaking rain to teach desperately poor children to read and write. Their passion for giving these outcast children a future caught my heart on fire to help them accomplish what they felt called to do.
An educator and journalist, I began to simply use words and photos as a bridge to connect these amazing grassroots heroes to other heroes who also want to lift these orphans, with no shoes, one set of clothing, hungry bodies and thirsty souls out of the pit in which their circumstances had trapped them. Since then, these children are experiencing the warmth of God's love expressed through their teachers, provided with nutritious meals, given hopes and dreams to follow, and skills to enable them to reach those dreams.
In addition, I have seen their parents experience what they called "Chisisimuso" - an awakening. "We were dead to hope, but now our eyes are opened, and we realize that we can do so much to help ourselves and change our destinies." Some are expressing artistic talent by making beautiful purses and exquisite jewelry others are selling delicious bread rolls. Twenty men and women are completing a sewing course which will give them a life skill so they can provide for their families. To see vulnerable, hopeless men and women wake up to new possibilities is extremely rewarding. But most of all, to see God reach into hopeless situations and bring hope is miraculous.
Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God captures my experience of walking beside the people of Grippis Farm as God reveals himself to them. "Watch to see where God is at work and join him!" I saw God moving the hearts of others to help the poorest of the poor, the oppressed and down trodden, and His Spirit urged me to join them. I trust that God will continue to prompt hearts to join His work of caring for the widows and orphans in Zambia. Together we are God's hands and feet, bringing good news to the poor in body, mind and spirit."
Kurtis is a pediatrician in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. He serves as GHI's secretary. He and his wife, Cindy, a school teacher, became involved with GHI through their friendship with the Brennemans. Kurtis says "I have never been one to wander too far from home and the world's problems always seemed too big for me to personally have any impact. But when Tanya came back from Zambia with pictures and stories of all of these children in an upstart school in a squatter village just outside of Lusaka, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to help. As a pediatrician, the health of children is what I am all about. So Cindy and I decided to go meet these children ourselves in the fall of 2007.
And when we got there and I talked to the people, saw the village, ate the food, witnessed the muddy drinking water, smelled the smells, examined the malnourished, worm-infested children, and felt the warm breeze in the shade of a mango tree, I knew I wanted to do what I could to help. Their stories are familiar, similar to what we always hear about third world countries - poverty, disease, lack of food, clean water, shelter, and sanitation. But seeing it myself and getting to know the people affected put it in an entirely new light for me. None of us can save the world, but we can help provide hope for a group of children whose lives have contained very little, with the goal of them being able to provide that same hope independently to future generations."
Chris also became involved with GHI through his association with the Brenneman's and serves as GHI's treasurer. He says "God is surely at work in Grippis Farm. He continues to do miraculous things there. There is a tremendous feeling of hope within the community as they see what their Savior is doing for them.
I visited Zambia for the first time in August of 2010. To witness God's presence in a place of such poverty is something I cannot describe. The people there are so gracious, humble and joyous, it made me feel as though it is us that are lacking. The people of Grippis Farm are the poorest of the poor, yet they have the most wonderful spirit. Hearing their stories will make you cry, but spending time with them will make you smile. I wondered how I would be affected by the sight of people living in such poverty, but they taught me that we can be happy and praise God regardless of our circumstances.
During that visit, God gave me so much more than what I gave the people of Zambia. I am very grateful for that experience, and also for the opportunity I have been given to serve them through GHI."
Chris is a former PGA professional and has a degree in Political Science from West Virginia University.
Cosmas and Marijke Zimba
Cosmas is the focal point for all of the projects which GHI supports in Zambia. He organizes and administers all of the financial support provided by GHI and is intimately involved with the community and its organizations. He also leads the youth group which meets every Sunday evening. Marijke is also very involved with the community and the youth group. They are both deeply committed to improving the lives of those around them. Without their hard work and compassion, the financial support we provide would not be useful.
Walter has decades of experience serving the poor and disadvantaged around the world as a part of non-profit organizations. He is our point of contact in helping to expand the work started by a local church in Johannesburg, South Africa. The program began on June 1, 2016 and includes sewing classes, health education, and garden plots with the goal of helping the participants, who are refugees from neighboring countries in southern Africa, become self-sufficient and integrated into South Africa. The project will also reach out to unemployed, local, South African women. He is pictured here with the sewing teacher.