Olivia (left) and the women cook the collected cornmeal into porridge, sharing it with hungry elderly and children. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chipata, Eastern, Zambia | 2023/03/31

Inspired by the spirit of the Bamboo Bank Era to save a little each day to help others in need, poor people in Myanmar began to save a handful of rice a day. Now, in Zambia, communities are following their example – they are coming together to donate a handful of cornmeal a day. This initiative is being carried out across the country to alleviate hunger.

Setting up a Food Station in a Day

In July 2019, Zambia experienced a food crisis due to years of drought, resulting in poor harvests and a scarcity of food. Tzu Chi volunteers traveled to Mongu in western Zambia, to assess the situation and provide assistance. They worked with local volunteers, emphasizing mutual assistance and compassion. In Zambia, with a population of around 20 million, Tzu Chi Foundation has established care points and food stations in Central Province, Eastern Province, Lusaka Province, Southern Province, and Western Province. They relieve the hunger of the elderly and children in communities.

Zambian children held plates, waiting to receive cornmeal porridge. According to the World Food Programme. 48 per cent of Zambia’s population cannot meet their minimum calorie needs. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Zambia

The overwhelming response to donating cornmeal began in March 2023, when Olivia, a volunteer from Lusaka Province, encountered an elderly grandmother living alone in a remote village called Chipata. After learning that the grandmother was ill and had no one to care for her, Olivia vowed to mobilize villagers to provide food for the elderly and children in the community. She shared Tzu Chi's experience in operating food stations and quickly gained the villagers' support.

On hearing of the demand for cornmeal at the food station, Zambian women decided to raise donations for cornmeal themselves. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chipata, Eastern, Zambia | 2023/03/31

Villagers decided to start donations of cornmeal themselves. Women went door-to-door with red plastic buckets, persuading households to donate cornmeal while sharing stories of Tzu Chi's charitable work. The collected cornmeal was then cooked into porridge by the women, who also brought plastic plates from their homes. They invited the elderly and children from the community to come and eat together. Through this simple act of kindness and unwavering determination, a food station was set up within a day.

Impact of Saving a Handful of Rice Daily

When others saw the effectiveness of mutual assistance, they set up food stations across Zambia from July onwards. In September, local Tzu Chi volunteers organized two training camps in Lusaka Province and Western Province, with over 1,300 participants. Zambian women learnt of the successful case of U San Thein in Myanmar, where villagers were encouraged to donate rice to help impoverished families through the "Saving a Handful of Rice a Day" initiative. They became even more convinced of the power of mutual assistance.

LEFT: On March 31, 2023, volunteers launched the first food distribution in Chipata, providing hot meals to orphans and the elderly who live alone. After Olivia shared the spirit of bamboo banks, villagers immediately went to the bamboo grove to cut bamboo, gathering over ten bamboo banks. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chipata, Eastern, Zambia | 2023/03/31 RIGHT: The community members showed their compassion by eagerly donating. Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Kamanga, Lusaka, Zambia | 2023/04/30

So far a total of 69 food stations have been established across Zambia. Even more heartwarming, after the cornmeal donation drive, local residents began crafting bamboo banks and encouraged everyone to contribute. One woman emptied her bamboo bank with a total of 30 Zambian Kwacha (approx. 1.21 USD) and joyfully said: "Now we can buy some oil and ingredients."

The next goal for the food stations is not only to ensure that the elderly and children are well-fed but also to offer nutritious and delicious meals. This is a story of the effect of kindness rippling across thousands of miles.