Editor’s note: Joan Palmquist submitted this on behalf of ChildFund International.
It took 22 years, but Regina Mpsala of Zambia finally met the woman who changed her life.
It all started in June of 2001 when an Eden Prairie couple, Randy Hildreth and Joan Palmquist, traveled to Zambia with a group from the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, led by astronomer Ron Schmit. Their objective: experience the total solar eclipse near Lusaka, Zambia. Randy and Joan had chased other eclipses — and knew their delight. You might recognize Ron’s name, as he frequently conducted astronomy programs at the Eden Prairie Outdoor Center.
In preparing for the trip, Joan realized that the child they sponsored through ChildFund International (formerly Christian Children’s Fund) lived near Lusaka — and they had a free afternoon. Working with the Zambian office, she arranged for a driver to take them to the village so she could meet 6-year-old Regina. Seeing another eclipse was exciting; meeting Regina would be thrilling on an entirely different level.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
The bus from Victoria Falls to Lusaka had trouble, and instead of arriving at noon, they got in at 8 p.m. This was before cell phones, so there was no way to alert anyone of the delay. Randy and Joan were forlorn — but the real heartbreak came two months later when the photos arrived. They showed the entire village staying home for the day, in their Sunday best clothing, waiting in the sun and holding a big sign that read “Welcome Randy and Joan.” The villagers planted an orange tree in Joan and Randy’s honor — as before this, no sponsor had ever visited. Heartbreaking.
For the next 20 years, Randy and Joan continued to support Regina, also putting her through nursing school.
So, how did they finally meet?
This spring, Joan had lunch with one of the other people on the trip — 97-year-old Sally Friedlander of Hudson, Wisconsin. Sally asked if Joan had returned to Zambia to meet Regina. When Joan sadly said no, Sally asked, “Why not?”
Joan realized there was no good reason. To celebrate her 70th birthday, she decided it was time. Joan emailed Regina to inquire if it was possible, and Regina responded immediately, saying, “yes, yes, yes!”
Randy passed away in 2022, so two of his nieces, LeAnn Ford and Diana Regenscheid, joined Joan on this adventure. On Aug. 6, they flew into Lusaka. The following day, a driver took them to Regina’s mother’s home in Rufunsa, where they spent the afternoon sharing a meal. They even killed a village chicken for the celebration. Regina, now 28, returned to Lusaka with the women, and they spent a day as tourists before Regina caught a bus home.
Joan, LeAnn, and Diana went on to Victoria Falls, a photographic safari near Kruger, and Cape Town — truly the trip of a lifetime.
“Meeting Regina, and her family, and seeing how they live in their village was an emotional and edifying experience,” Joan said. “Living in Eden Prairie, we forget how truly blessed we are, and to have been able to change this one young woman’s life and give her a career is so rewarding.”
According to the BTI Transformation Index, Zambia is one of the least developed African countries, with 54% of the population living on less than $1.90 a day. The average life expectancy is 63.5 years.
As a next step, Joan is raising money to put running water into the local clinic. There is a borehole about 300 yards away, but they must hand carry water, bucket by bucket, to the facility. Working with ChildFund, they hope to complete the work early in 2024.
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