Goffstown graduate makes an international effort of volunteering
GOFFSTOWN — While most of her fellow recent Goffstown High School grads are preparing for their first semester of college, Lizzy Girard has another item to check off her list before hitting the books: volunteering for three months in Africa, her second time doing so in less than a year.
“I realized that I was happier in those two months (than I ever was),” Girard said of her experience. “It showed me what hard work does, and it’s so easy to make someone smile.”
Girard, 18, spent nine weeks this spring volunteering at City of Joy, a home for girls in Mazabuka, Zambia. She found out about City of Joy from a friend of one of her sisters, who had also volunteered there. Her experience was intriguing to Girard.
While Girard had volunteered at the Salvation Army Kids’ Café in Manchester and Be the Change Club at Goffstown High, she had never volunteered internationally. However, it’s something she’d wanted to do for a long time.
“I always knew I wanted to go to another country, and I always knew I wanted to do it for more than a week,” she said. “I wanted to be able to actually experience the culture and take it all in, and actually have an impact.”
Girard finished her senior year a semester early so that she could go to City of Joy for two months in the spring.
“I flew there by myself, which scared my parents a lot,” she said. “My mom especially was so supportive, even though it scared her to send her 18-year-old alone to Africa. She made sure I didn’t forget to pack anything, including comfort food like mac and cheese.”
Despite the unknowns, from the moment she arrived at City of Joy, Girard was welcomed with open arms.
“When I got there, I sat in the middle of a room, and all these girls sang and danced around me, [saying] ‘Welcome to the family, we’re so glad that you have come…We know you came because you love us, and we love you, too,’” she said.
Girard spent her days at City of Joy working on their farm, tending to chickens and vegetable crops, and helping the girls with their schoolwork. The girls called her “Eliza.”
While most Zambians she met spoke Tonga, Nyanja and Bemba, children are educated in English. Three of the girls who were new at City of Joy when Girard started spoke no English.
“We had to teach those girls English, and that was a big challenge, but it was super rewarding,” she said.
On the night before she left, one of the girls she taught English had a major breakthrough.
“She goes, ‘Eliza, thank you for caring every day,’” she said. “That was the most English I ever heard her say, because when we got there, they literally could not say a word of English. So the night before I left, after two months, for her to say a full English sentence — it was amazing.”
Many of the girls at City of Joy are victims of abuse, and have lost family due to diseases like AIDS, malaria, and charcoal poisoning (a common cause of death in Zambia), and from starvation. Despite the hardships these girls face, Girard was amazed and inspired by their positivity, and their gratefulness for City of Joy and its volunteers.
“They don’t need everything that we think we need,” she said. “No matter what they’ve been through, they are so happy.”
Girard’s nine weeks in Mazabuka were so life-changing that, even though she had already been accepted to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, she opted to defer her first semester and return to City of Joy this upcoming September.
“I was talking to one of the volunteers…and I was like ‘It just doesn’t feel right to say goodbye to these people for the rest of my life,’” she said.
Girard, who has decided to study psychology after interacting with girls with post-traumatic stress disorder at City of Joy, communicated with her professors at Benedictine about her situation. They assured her that not only should she return, but that her volunteering could be counted as credit toward her degree if she keeps a journal of the experience.
Girard returned home in time for the senior prom and graduation. Armed with the support of her college, her family (including an older sister, Clare, who spent a month volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in India), her friends, her home church of Ste. Marie Parish in Manchester, her alma mater, and many more, she’s eager to get back to Zambia — after she spends the summer working at Panera Bread and as a nanny, fundraising for City of Joy, and having some fun along the way.
“I want to let people know that they can help [the girls at City of Joy],” Girard said, adding that annual tuition per girl is $50. “You literally are changing lives. I know there’s so many options for fundraising, but I just know this one’s worth it.”
To contribute to Girard’s fundraiser for City of Joy visit fundly.com/project-mazabuka.