An Introduction by Ben Kirby
Hello! My name is Ben Kirby. I have been an active volunteer with the Day by De Foundation for the past year. I serve as the Foundation’s webmaster, project manager, grant writer, and now, blog author.
You’ll get to know more about me and the Foundation as this blog continues but first, an introduction is in order. I was born in Daegu, South Korea, adopted, and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since graduating from Virginia Tech in 2012 with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, I worked as an engineer/paralegal at a small but prominent environmental law/engineering consulting firm in Washington, DC. Our firm represented mostly municipal wastewater treatment facilities in complex Clean Water Act compliance issues.
I first was introduced to Day by De by my friend and fellow Virginia Tech Hokie, Julie. Julie works with the De’s and has annually supported the Foundation by playing Christmas carols on her trumpet for donations to Day by De. I’ve always held Julie in high regard, and if she deems a nonprofit worthy of her time and money, it catches my attention. I donated a few dollars to the Foundation and joined their e-mailing list. In February 2018, a Day by De email sought one more volunteer for the 2018 Day by De trip to Zambia and I responded with interest the next day. Fortunately, I was selected and met the Day by De team for the first time in Lusaka that June. In the following two weeks, I was thoroughly impressed with the Foundation’s efficient and effective projects and the Zambians’ strong work ethic, welcoming hospitality, and selfless generosity in the face of extreme poverty. The Zambia trip was supremely fulfilling while also oxymoronically leaving me with a sense of emptiness, and perhaps even guilt, upon returning to my job and privileged first world American life. I felt that while my job helped save American taxpayer money and prevented the misallocation of municipal resources, directing my attention to Day by De projects would literally save lives and make positive generational impacts in Zambia. As a supporter of effective altruism, my decision to quit my job in March 2019 to focus on helping Day by De was clear, though undoubtedly scary and difficult.
I must admit, quitting my job was also influenced by my decision to tackle my bucket list now, and that includes an extended period of international travel. In a nutshell, my decision can be summed up in a passage that has stuck with me through the years from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden that begins:
No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time. This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it…
So here I am, 30 and jobless. But I am very much alive, I’ve earned my fare, and in the best part of my life, I am going to enjoy the liberty of extended, unstructured one-way ticket travel, until I grow tired or my funds run out. This all begins with a return to Zambia with Day by De in July and August.
This blog will follow my experience in Zambia where I will start off solo with four weeks in the isolated village of Shamiyoyo in the Western Province. (Don’t try searching for Shamiyoyo on Google Earth; it’s literally not on the map.) My primary objectives will include assisting with and documenting the construction of the preschool and the maintenance and operation of the pig farm. Moreover, I am tasked with identifying additional potential projects, inspecting the condition of the village’s bridge, and documenting the Shamiyoyo lifestyle. More personally, I am keeping a promise I made last year to return and see friends I made in the village, Lusaka, and Nabusanga. For two weeks after that, I will be joined by Andy Bonura, a professional photographer and Day by De creative director, to document Foundation projects in Nabusanga and seek out talented and struggling Zambian artists in Lusaka to explore a partnership with Day by De wherein we will sell their artwork through the Foundation’s online shop.
I hope you follow along and enjoy this blog. I hope this blog exposes you to the Zambian culture and the real issues associated with extreme poverty that Zambians face on a day to day basis. I hope it encourages you to consider contributing to Day by De, other nonprofits, or other people in need. And I hope it inspires you to tackle your bucket list now and not wait until it’s too late. Until you hear from me next from the village of Shamiyoyo, I’ll leave you with one last quote that, like Thoreau’s above, motivated me to do all of this:
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
-Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay