Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Old Are You Anyway?

Birthdays are not a big deal here in Zambia. Well, they are if you are a muzungu and happen upon someone whose birthday it is. They will make sure to point out that it is their birthday--hoping for a gift. But for the rest of the time--for those in rural Zambia birthdays are not really observed.

Most of the children that come to us do not have birth certificates and while many have clinic cards which show their birthday we don't know if those have the right date on them. Others come with no documentation at all--only the word of the relatives as to how old they are. Since I've seen the funny way they count I take what they say with a grain of salt but at the same time I have to write down a birthdate. Often the father of the child will only give us a month and year that the child was born. In that case I give the day as 15 as a reminder to myself that it is an approximation.

We hadn't really figured out how to do birthdays with the kids because we haven't really started from the beginning with them--celebrating 1st birthdays and all that come after. With so many kids close in age we didn't know how to tell them it was one child's birthday and not the other's. Did we start with the oldest child or what? 

Finally, this past weekend we decided to just jump in and throw a party. Queenie and Theresa have June 14 and July 6 birthdates respectively and so we planned to throw them a joint birthday party while we had some volunteers with us. We figured having both girls celebrate together would make it less awkward for them. 

To prepare we found a book in our library called, Arthur's Birthday. In that story two children share a birthdate and end up sharing their party as well. It was perfect. The kids had that story read to them during their school circle time. They had a few days to get used to the idea and then we threw a party. 

Now that we've done the first party we'll be able to keep on going with other kids' parties when it is their birthday. We don't want to do monthly parties because we want to avoid the institutional feel as much as possible. When we grow to where we have 100 kids it will get more interesting but we'll work it out as we go along. 
When I go to Lusaka next (tomorrow actually) I'll be buying a huge wall calendar so we can put the kids' pictures on their birthdate and they can learn to look forward to things and count days and months, etc.

I'll share pictures from the party tomorrow. It went really well and the kids behaved well and had a good time. Stay tuned!


  1. Cultural differences are fascinating to me. What a great post! I am completely blown away by your blog. Can't wait to read more!

  2. This is a wonderful post. I say-- jump right in and celebrate! Happy birthday one and all.



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