At 57 years-old, Queen Ngalashi is a new small business owner. She was all smiles as she retrieved a debit card – her first – from a small pouch under the fold of her kitenge skirt. Queen lives in Chibuluma, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Kitwe, Zambia’s dusty copper-mining capital. Meeting her was one of the highlights of my recent trip to the country and her infectious joy continues to inspire me.
“That you even met me is a miracle,” Queen said as we chatted outside her house.
Queen is HIV-positive and nearly died last year. Without food, she could not adhere to her lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. A respiratory infection and weight loss took her to the brink of death. With 1.1 million residents infected, Zambia ranks 10th in the world for the number of people living with HIV; 27,000 people die annually from AIDS-related deaths, largely due to lack of food and access to safe, clean drinking water.
A friend told Queen about Kitwe Micro Enterprise, a Cross-supported project run by the Anglican Diocese of Northern Zambia. The project would cover the cost of food supplements and, when she recovered, provide startup capital for a small business to ensure she’d always have money to buy food. Queen enrolled and once she was healthy, she received $100 to start a home-based grocery stall. She bought $50 worth of vegetables and fish immediately opened an account with the rest.
At the stall in front of her house, she sells tomatoes, charcoal, fish, scones, beans, and popcorn. She greets passersby with a smile and encouraging words: “God is good, God is great!” And she makes $8 to $10 per day – more than enough to buy food to adhere to her once-per-day ARV regimen.
“I have to stick to God,” she says, as she pulls out her dog-eared bible and turns Psalm 71:1. “That verse motivates me. It’s one of my everyday prayers. I was in a coma. I prayed to my God for him to heal me and raise me up so I could use the money to help others. I want to help friends who are sick like me. I want them to cry out to God like I did, and I tell them, just call to God! He hears you!”