Michael Banda and Melissa Kreiser
Michael and Melissa live in Zambia and, starting in 2022 are the ones responsible for oversight and administration of the projects we support in Zambia. They have worked closely with Cosmas (see below) in transitioning into this role.
"My name is Michael Mukosi Banda, I am the third born child from a family of five. I was born in the Copperbelt in 1992 and when I was two years old, my parents moved to Lusaka which is where I grew up and completed my education. In 2012, I moved back to the Copperbelt in Kitwe. There I worked in a bakery and later worked for Beautiful Gate International Zambia, an NGO. I was also involved in other youth programs. My passion for working with children and youth started in my 9th grade when I was a Sunday school teacher in Ngombe Community at the Bible Gospel Church in Africa. Ever since that time I have been involved in various Children’s ministries and youth programs. While I was in Livingstone, I volunteered as a Youth chairperson at YMCA Livingstone and also completed my counselling internship with YWCA."
"My name is Melissa Kreiser, I was born in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. I am the youngest of three children. My passion for working with children started while I was still a child myself. I began teaching Sunday school when I was 11 years old and loved volunteering every year with my church doing vacation Bible school. I grew up in the Mennonite church and went to a Mennonite school which has really shaped me as an individual. I began working on a chicken farm when I was 13 until I finished school. Directly after finishing school I became a cook at a retirement home for 2 years before joining YWAM. Between doing YWAM schools, I would travel home and do volunteer work in several church youth programs with an organization called Bible2School."
Michael joined YWAM in 2015 where he did his discipleship training school (DTS) and family counseling ministries in Livingstone, Zambia and has since staffed several DTSs. Melissa joined YWAM in 2017 completed her DTS in Amsterdam and then did the children at risk school in South Africa. Michael and Melissa met in 2019 when he came to Cape Town to do the children at risk school and Melissa was staffing his school.
Cosmas and Marijke Zimba
Cosmas and Marijke have been intimately involved with GHI for years before moving from Zambia to the Netherlands in January of 2022. Cosmas was the focal point for all of the projects which GHI supports in Zambia. He organized and administered all of the financial support provided by GHI and has been intimately involved with the community and its organizations. He also led the youth group which meets every Sunday evening. Marijke has also been very involved with the community and the youth group. They are both deeply committed to improving the lives of those around them. Without their hard work and compassion, the financial support we provide would not have been useful. Cosmas continues to be heavily involved with oversight of projects in Zambia from their home in Europe.
Walter has decades of experience serving the poor and disadvantaged around the world as a part of non-profit organizations. He is our point of contact in helping to expand the work started by a local church in Johannesburg, South Africa. The program began on June 1, 2016 and includes sewing classes, health education, and garden plots with the goal of helping the participants, who are refugees from neighboring countries in southern Africa, become self-sufficient and integrated into South Africa. The project will also reach out to unemployed, local, South African women. He is pictured here with the sewing teacher.
Leland is GHI's president and has been involved with international relief and development work in one way or another for most of his adult life. He says "Much of my work was carried out under the umbrella of large and complex organizations involving a mix of government and private funding. While much good and needed work occurs within these structures they are encumbered by large bureaucracies and the politics of foreign assistance. Over the years, while thus engaged, I would often stumble upon small, grassroots efforts in communities around the world, struggling at great odds, to meet the needs of their own people. For various reasons these efforts would fall beneath the radar of the foreign aid machinery. This always struck me as unfortunate as often these courageous, local individuals where much more efficient and better targeted in their efforts than the high visibility aid organizations staffed by expensive, expatriate staff.
An example of this was an initiative I stumbled upon in Zambia in 2007 in a squatter's village called Grippis Farm located outside of Lusaka, Zambia. This village had no school, no health post, no source of potable water and certainly no modern amenities such as electricity and phone service. Its residents were destitute with little hope of improvement. Despite this, several individuals in a nearby neighborhood had the vision to start teaching children in the village how to read and write. With no means of support, they started assembling a rag-tag group of children outdoors under a mango tree and began instruction. I and my wife were touched by the courage and vision of these under-resourced, but determined Zambian heroes. We decided to do what we could to help. Out of this desire Grassroots Heroes International was formed. It was initially a small group of volunteers from the United States who banded together to raise support for what has become the Mango Grove Community School. Three years later over 250 children attend a rustic but vibrant community school. Its success far outstripped the initial vision of those humble Zambian neighbors who wanted to make a small contribution to their own people-- it is truly a monument to the faithfulness and persistence of home grown heroes.
But there are many challenges facing the children and their families in the Grippis Farm community in addition to education. There are serious health problems, there is a lack of economic opportunity-- not to mention the scourge of the HIV/AIDs pandemic. These challenges are worth taking on and GHI is committed to doing so with its growing band of grassroots volunteers from countries like the United States supporting the grassroots heroes on the ground in Zambia."
Tanya has experience all around the world including in Central America and Africa. She has this to say about her involvement with GHI: "As I've traveled and lived around the world, I'm always the most inspired by persons of humble means reaching out to help others. When I visited Grippis Farm, Zambia for the first time in March of 2007, there were a group of teachers who were volunteering their time to walk long distances in scorching heat and soaking rain to teach desperately poor children to read and write. Their passion for giving these outcast children a future caught my heart on fire to help them accomplish what they felt called to do.
An educator and journalist, I began to simply use words and photos as a bridge to connect these amazing grassroots heroes to other heroes who also want to lift these orphans, with no shoes, one set of clothing, hungry bodies and thirsty souls out of the pit in which their circumstances had trapped them. Since then, these children are experiencing the warmth of God's love expressed through their teachers, provided with nutritious meals, given hopes and dreams to follow, and skills to enable them to reach those dreams.
In addition, I have seen their parents experience what they called "Chisisimuso" - an awakening. "We were dead to hope, but now our eyes are opened, and we realize that we can do so much to help ourselves and change our destinies." Some are expressing artistic talent by making beautiful purses and exquisite jewelry others are selling delicious bread rolls. Twenty men and women are completing a sewing course which will give them a life skill so they can provide for their families. To see vulnerable, hopeless men and women wake up to new possibilities is extremely rewarding. But most of all, to see God reach into hopeless situations and bring hope is miraculous.
Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God captures my experience of walking beside the people of Grippis Farm as God reveals himself to them. "Watch to see where God is at work and join him!" I saw God moving the hearts of others to help the poorest of the poor, the oppressed and down trodden, and His Spirit urged me to join them. I trust that God will continue to prompt hearts to join His work of caring for the widows and orphans in Zambia. Together we are God's hands and feet, bringing good news to the poor in body, mind and spirit."
Kurtis is a pediatrician in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. He and his wife, Cindy, a school teacher, became involved with GHI through their friendship with the Brennemans. Kurtis says "I have never been one to wander too far from home and the world's problems always seemed too big for me to personally have any impact. But when Tanya came back from Zambia with pictures and stories of all of these children in an upstart school in a village just outside of Lusaka, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get involved."
"I love that we can use the the resources we have available to partner with folks in Zambia and South Africa working in their own communities. They are the ones who know best the needs of their communities and it is a privilege to participate in the efforts of these grassroots heroes."
Chris also became involved with GHI through his association with the Brennemans. He says "God is surely at work in Grippis Farm. He continues to do miraculous things there. There is a tremendous feeling of hope within the community as they see what their Savior is doing for them.
I visited Zambia for the first time in August of 2010. To witness God's presence in a place of such poverty is something I cannot describe. The people there are so gracious, humble and joyous, it made me feel as though it is us that are lacking. The people of Grippis Farm are the poorest of the poor, yet they have the most wonderful spirit. Hearing their stories will make you cry, but spending time with them will make you smile. I wondered how I would be affected by the sight of people living in such poverty, but they taught me that we can be happy and praise God regardless of our circumstances.
During that visit, God gave me so much more than what I gave the people of Zambia. I am very grateful for that experience, and also for the opportunity I have been given to serve them through GHI."
Chris is a former PGA professional and has a degree in Political Science from West Virginia University.