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"It is God-given. It is in me."
John Kabengele is a friendly-faced man with deep dimples and a ready smile. He meets us at the entrance to Mackenzie, an unplanned settlement in the centre of the city of Ndola. The area is cramped and crowded without the space to spread out like the townships at the edge of the city. Families live almost on top of one another, the poorest of the poor huddled together beneath the screams of planes flying low overhead.
John greets us warmly when we arrive, but his news is not good: his son was shot and killed by the police just days before. I am amazed he has agreed to meet us so soon after his devastating loss.
What makes people like John Kabengele give of themselves so freely?
"It is God-given. It is in me," he says, walking us through run-down mud-brick huts and reeking sewage ditches. He's volunteered for the Mackenzie Regional District Council for ten years. "I love to help people," he says, calling it his special gift.
"From when I was a child, grade five or six, I was in an organization that helped people. We helped widows, orphans and vulnerable people in the community. I was brought up with that kind of attitude: to look out for those in need. I grew up with this attitude, so now it's difficult to stop."
Life in the townships is not pretty - it is smelly, unsanitary and chaotic. Poverty can bring out the worst in some, and problems with alcoholism, crime and prostitution are rampant. John is a reminder that help for the poor comes not only from foreign donors and Western aid organizations, but it also begins with the charity of concerned locals— people invested in the health of their own communities and willing to work to make a difference.
"Sometimes I use my own money to take people to the hospital. Not relatives, people in the community. I'm able to help destitutes - people who come here, wandering, who have no relatives. One such person died and I took the responsibility to have him buried. I went to the government and mobilized some funds to bury the man." John, an experienced carpenter, also helps many by giving them free coffins.
Despite the sometimes dark circumstances, John is proud of himself and his contributions. "I have organizing skills," he says, squinting in the noon sun and pointing up the road. "The new roof on the school? I made it. I finished it last week. I give of myself to help the community."