This article was originally published in the fall 2012 Harker Quarterly.
For the last four years, Jaap Bongers, Harker’s upper school art department instructor and chair, has used the summer break as a unique opportunity to personally donate items to needy children in the Republic of Zambia, a landlocked country in Southern Africa.
In preparation for the annual sojourn, he uses the school year to collect toys, children’s clothes and children’s books (many of which have been donated by Harker students) for the Zambian children, often accompanied by friend Ben Spencer-Cooke, upper school English teacher.
Come summer, he fills a big plastic storage box with the donated items, which he takes with him to Zambia. There, he donates the toys, books and clothes to needy children.
“I do this while traveling to very remote villages where there are still wonderful ages-old original culture. Initiation rituals, traditional dances by masked actors and healing ceremonies by witch doctors can still be found, although it is getting harder and harder to locate them.”
After handing out the storage box of donated toys, Bongers then refills it with ancient traditional artifacts he discovers and buys on his travels. “I note down their use, meaning and age. I have found objects and heard about customs that were not yet known. Once I return to Harker, I use this information, the items and the pictures for my Study of Visual Arts class,” he said.
A particularly interesting find this year was an old food box from the Lozi tribe, which Zambian women use to present food to their husbands.
During the 1970s, Zambia began sliding into a poverty from which it has not yet recovered – which is why the donated goods Bongers collects during the school year and hands out in the summer are so appreciated.