I never had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Czaicki. However, I have had the pleasure of getting to know the incredible woman she was over the past several weeks. As a volunteer with UP Zambia, I often help with finance and communications needs, allowing the main administrative team more time to tackle the countless legal cases facing juveniles in Zambia’s prison system.
As a team, we had been working on a number of grant options to help fund our programs in 2016. We were reeling a bit after receiving another grant application rejection, leaving only a small amount of funds to begin tackling the new year. It seemed that 2017 would be starting with exponentially growing programs and narrowing financial support.
“While this is not what we had hoped, still we carry on.” Wrote our organization’s founder, Sara Larios, in her typical perseverant manner.
Soon after the disappointing grant announcements, Sara was hit by another more personal blow. Her dear friend, Nancy, passed away suddenly while visiting the US during the holiday season.
“We received a very bittersweet and unexpected source of finances.” Sara explained, “Nancy's family chose UP Zambia as the charity to receive memorial contributions.”
As a result, donations began pouring in. Social Good Fund automatically sent Sara emails alerting her to each new donation, in honor of a well and truly loved friend. Each email was touching but at the same time traumatic.
“We can't seem to get the money we want and then we get the money I would never hope to receive.” She confided. It seemed we were on the receiving end of a very strange kind of blessing. One whose obvious and much needed benefit was complicated by grief.
As an outsider to the situation, I hoped to lend a hand in the difficult memorializing process. Sara sent me a link to a wonderful and in-depth article written by a news agency in Nancy’s home town of St. Louis (a heartily recommended read you can find HERE). It was there that I was formally introduced to a stunning individual, Dr. Nancy L. Czaicki. I also began to notice similarities between Nancy and myself. We were both at about the same age in life, 30. We both did our graduate work in the field of public health and had both worked here in Zambia on public health issues. Of course, much of the comparison stops there as Nancy was in a league all her own- a national merit scholar, receiving her doctorate in epidemiology after receiving her master’s and serving as an Americorps volunteer, teaching in some of United States’ most impoverished areas and reaching children most at risk of the hardships that accompany economic disadvantage. Throughout her young life, she frequently traveled overseas reaching out to communities in need in any way she could, including Zambia. She had only recently returned to Zambia as member of the CIDRZ team working to end the deadly progress of HIV/AIDS.
I began monitoring the donations page, and I found myself mourning a person I had never met. Almost every donation was accompanied by an accolade alluding to her intelligence, compassion and civic-mindedness. Frequently attributing words like “world-changing” to the work she did.
The more I began to read, the more I began to feel like Tom Sawyer, unnaturally eavesdropping on a memorial to (a better version of) myself. The concept has been sitting in my mind and heart for days now. The gift of life that I often squander. I caught myself saying, “I could never hope to receive this much support for my memorial fund.” “Do I even know this many people?” It struck me how far her kindness reached, not just in her work but in her personal life. On paper her life read like an idealized resume with scholarly accolades and community service too great to be real. But, the outpouring of love could not be denied as hundreds of people continue to flock to remember and pay homage to Nancy on our donation page (showing only a fraction of her true impact). How could a person touch the lives of so many different communities?
Her unending potential laid out before me like a tragic call to arms- at once mournful and inspiring. This singular person could do so much in such a short time, it calls us all to use the years we are given to try, in as much as we can, to do the same. She is an inspiration and an example to follow and her story will continue to be a reminder in my life of how to be the best version of myself and use the time I am given to make a more gracious and thoughtful world.
The UP Zambia community has lost a valued friend and colleague but most certainly the world suffers for her absence. It is only right for us to also thank all the wonderful people donating in her name. Due to the outpouring of love and support for Nancy and her family, UP Zambia has received over $10,000 and the number continues to grow. Her kindness and compassion for others left an indelible mark on all of us here at UP Zambia and her generosity of spirit will be felt in UP Zambia programs for years to come.
We had the privilege of hosting Nancy’s mother, Cindy, and Nancy’s co-workers at CIDRZ early February of this year for a small memorial service in Nancy’s honor. At the event, UP Zambia presented Cindy with a portrait of Nancy doing the work she loved here in Zambia. The portrait was drawn by a talented young man, Keith Francis Mweseka, from Old McDonald’s Farm which partners with UP Zambia to provide aftercare and support services to juveniles we help release from prison. Also at the service, CIDRZ presented UP Zambia with a sizable donation to Nancy’s memorial fund. It was such an honor to share UP Zambia’s work with the talented people at CIDRZ as well as with the Cindy, the woman responsible for shaping the incredible and influential person Nancy turned out to be.
From all of us here at UP Zambia, thank you.
Post by Carrie Russpatrick