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About Lisa Zahra ...

Lisa Zahra in MonzeAs long as I can remember, I’ve been tuned in to the need for justice.

As a child, I marched for Civil Rights. At the age of 13, I went with my brother to Washington D.C. and was fortunate enough to be in attendance when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.  Like millions of others, he inspired me to live a life of justice.

While other kids hung rock ‘n roll posters in their bedrooms, I hung photos of Reverend King, whose vision of the beloved community has inspired my journey to this day.

As a child, I was often told that I was very observant, and I took note of the negative behaviors of others which were often very offensive to me. I have always found discrimination, injustice, racism and hatred to be unacceptable for what was supposed to be our “enlightened” society.

So I went through my teenage years working and marching for justice any way I could. I sought out community clubs which dealt with racism, led small groups, talked about racism, and kept these habits into adulthood.

Before going back to school to become an Interpreter for the Deaf, I worked as a hairdresser.  It was during these years that I made my first connection to the Deaf community. I noticed that deaf clients would come into the shop I worked at and almost always leave disappointed with their haircuts, and seemingly frustrated at the communication gap that made their problem so hard to remedy.  I thought to myself, “Why not go to a basic sign language class so I can communicate with these deaf clients? Then I will have happy customers!”

I signed up for a class in Basic Sign Language, and the class instructor convinced me to go back to school to become a Sign Language interpreter.

For the next three years I attended Catonsville College in Maryland three nights a week while working full time in the salon, also seeing haircutting clients in my home once the local Deaf community found out there was a hairdresser who understood Sign Language. I eventually ended up teaching Basic Sign Language in three different public schools part time, and all of this while raising my beautiful son.

After graduating from Catonsville, I completed an internship at the National Technical Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, and was hired with BOCES as an Interpreter for the Deaf, working with deaf students in the mainstream high school setting.  I also spent many years interpreting for various freelance agencies in the community.

After ten years of career-building, one night I woke up at 3 in the morning with an idea in my head that refused to be silenced. Unable to go back to sleep, I decided to do some research about Deaf Children in Africa. I have always dreamed of going to Africa, loved watching films about Africa, and was fascinated by thoughts of living in Africa, but never really thought of it as something I could actually do—just a distant wish in my heart of hearts.

My research convinced me otherwise.

Lisa Zahra in Monze with Mrs. MwilaMy siblings thought I had lost my mind when I informed them I was thinking about leaving for Africa. “You are going to Africa? You, who always screams when she sees a spider, or any bug for that matter?”

“ Sure, Lisa—yeah, right.”

I continued researching, discovering that when a person is born deaf in Africa, they are labeled “mentally challenged”.  That term may conjure up images of special programs and services if you live in America, but in Africa, it’s seen as a terrible stigma.  Many African deaf children live a life of isolation, with no hopes of ever achieving such dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, or teachers, to say nothing of receiving any kind of formal education.

I learned that there are an especially high number of deaf children per capita in Africa due to untreated disease and poor medical care, which in turn leads to an increased number of infant ear infections. With little hope of ever getting to a doctor where a child could be tested to see if hearing aids are needed, how could these deaf children possibly have any hope of a bright future?

As I continued my research, a seed was planted, a Vision was born… and it seemed as if everything in my life had been conceived in preparation for this next step….

During the next few weeks, there were signs everywhere… I encountered images of Africa posted in windows and painted on walls.  I found myself regularly meeting people from Africa whereas I had known few Africans before. It soon became apparent that the universe wanted me to work with deaf children in Africa!

To date, it has been a journey full of blessings, heartache, and progress. I have had the pleasure of getting to know and trust businessmen in Zambia who informed me that the task of building a school with dormitories would not be an easy one. They have offered their help, and the parents of the deaf children I work with have also offered to help in any way they can.

The deaf students in MonzeAfter three years of volunteering—working with these children and their parents, I have become utterly convinced of just where it is I belong in this big universe of ours.

After a huge fund raiser with friends in Philadelphia (which was successful beyond anything I had imagined), we have finally been able to purchase land. Last summer, we bought 20 acres to put our school on, which for me is a true miracle.

There is a new sense of hope now with the deaf community in Africa—for the first time, it seems that building our school will actually be possible, and I am committed to making this a reality.

It’s hard to explain to my friends and family how I can be happy living in a simple tin roof dwelling in a foreign land with sometimes no water and no electricity.  All I can say is I feel that I belong there, and there is no place I would rather be.

Some may think I am crazy, and others are fearful of the unknown, but as my son has always helped me to realize—if you live by your fears, you will never know what could have been.

Please visit our website, view the photos, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me by e-mail at lisainzambia@yahoo.com.

I will keep you all updated and will be taking new photos for you to view. Please stay in touch, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you.