Namvula sings for Zambian children

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Singer/songwriter and photographer Namvula Rennie said she was in Zambia for a photography project a few years ago when she met an elderly woman in Lusaka. Living in one of the capital city's poorest neighborhoods, the woman was caring for nine grandchildren, all of whom had been orphaned.

"They sometimes had enough money to buy food for a meal, sometimes not, and then the children would go hungry," said Namvula, whose first name also is her stage name.

On the same project, she spent time with street children whose parents had died from complications related to AIDS. The children had "no choice but to find shelter under awnings, sleeping on cardboard boxes, open to the elements and to the ugly daily brutalities of the street."

Namvula is the daughter of Shimwaayi Muntemba, a parishioner of St. John the Beloved Church in McLean and one of the founders of Zambia Orphans Aid-United States, a 15-year-old nonprofit that raises money for children's education in a country with one of the worst AIDS epidemics in the world. Namvula will be performing at the Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center Nov. 5 to benefit the nonprofit.

ZOA partners with its sister organizations abroad, Lusaka ZOA Zambia and ZOA UK, to continue spreading awareness. In collaborating with ZOA Zambia, ZOA US can assess needs abroad and monitor how its funds are being used at local schools and community organizations.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Zambia, located in southern Africa, has experienced one of the world's fastest growing economies in the past decade in large part due to its booming copper mining industry. Despite this achievement, limited educational opportunities, extreme rural poverty, high unemployment and the AIDS epidemic continue to hinder the country's social development.

"I believe that, by virtue of birth, some of us are thrust into luckier environments than others," said Namvula, who was born to a Zambian mother and a Scottish father, and now lives in London. "I am one of the lucky ones. I also believe in community - not just the immediate community of the neighbor who you see walking their dog in the mornings, but that beautiful, encompassing, compassionate concept of global community that extends its reach across mountains and seas."

Namvula and her four-to-six piece band perform music that fuses the sounds of London's urban jazz with Latin and African beats. Her debut album, "Shiwezwa," was chosen as one of the top 100 albums of 2014 by The Sunday Times, one of the UK's largest and most respected newspapers. She also has shared the stage with African legends like trumpeter Hugh Masekela and singer Maureen Lilanda.

"Music is my voice," she said. "It is through song that I can speak about the things that matter to me, how I see life, what I would like to see change in our societies and communities."

That includes seeing change in the landlocked country where she was born.

"Other stories - better, happier stories - can be told about my beautiful country," she said. "But the story of the thousands of children orphaned by AIDS-related deaths that Zambia has battled with since the 1980s must be told."

According to U.N. AIDS, a United Nations project dedicated to AIDS research and outreach, an estimated 1.2 million Zambians have HIV, including 100,000 children age 14 and younger. In 2014, 19,000 Zambians died AIDS-related deaths. There are 380,000 Zambian children age 17 and under who are orphans because of AIDS.

"A child is a precious being, deserving of our protection, and of our best collective efforts to help it fulfill its potential, regardless of where we, or this child, happens to have been born," she said.

Find out more

For tickets to the benefit concert, go to orphansaidbenefitconcert2015.eventbrite.com.

To learn more about Zambia Orphans Aid and make a donation, go to zambiaorphans.org. To learn more about Namvula, go to namvula.com.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015