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This article was published 22/6/2015 (2566 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Talk about an unusual retirement job.
Since finishing her career as an information technology administrator, Debbie Norman has become head woman of a tribe in Africa.
The longtime volunteer in Zambia was named head woman by the chief of the Tonga tribe in the southern town of Pemba last month. It’s a rare honour for a woman in a society ruled by men.
"It also really validates that the work we’re doing, with the help of our donors, is appreciated by the people," said Norman, 55.
She has been volunteering with the Glassco Foundation in Zambia for more than 15 years.
"When we go back, it’s like going home," said Norman, who retired recently from the University of Manitoba. She’s gotten to know the people of the Gwembe Valley and neighbouring Pemba through her volunteer work with the Alberta-based charity that’s drilling water wells and building clinics and schools in Zambia.
The charity was started in 1996 by retired Calgary businessman Colin Glassco. Norman was a friend of Glassco’s brother, who lived in Winnipeg. She had travelled around the world volunteering with different philanthropic enterprises in the past. After meeting Glassco and hearing about the development work his registered charity was doing in rural Zambia, she decided to volunteer there.
Now she feels connected to the place.
"The communities are really welcoming," said Norman, who has seen the difference their work has made.
"We can really see the impact," said Norman. "The first year I was here, there were a lot of humble structures and a lot of people with sight issues," she said.
Trachoma, a bacterial eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in the developing world, was common. By providing medical clinics and running water, they’re helping to save people’s sight, said Norman.
"What we’ve seen is a lot of improved eye health.
"We’ve drilled over 500 water wells in valley," said Norman. "Theoretically, we’ve given clean water to 100 per cent of the community there."
This year, the foundation will build 20 more wells in Zambia, she said.
"Last year, we were shown the Pemba Clinic and it felt like the worst place to be sick. The whole place was in extremely bad shape," she said. "We’ve renovated every square foot of it and built a maternity wing."
The charity recently sent a shipping container full of medical equipment and hospital beds from the Hope International warehouse in Winnipeg to the Pemba Clinic in Zambia.
When she and Glassco were there in May, Chief Hamaundu in Pemba invited about 300 people to a ceremony honouring Norman as head woman. He presented her with a certificate and a wooden staff - an acknowledgement of the Winnipeg woman earning a place of esteem in the community.
"This is certainly a first," Norman said. "...It’s very humbling but also I feel very connected to the community."
For more information, go to www.glasscofoundation.org.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.