Growing up, Princess Zindaba Nyirenda lived a sheltered life.
Raised in a royal family in Zambia, she attended the best schools and hung out with the most important people.
"I grew up very affluent, and I never saw poverty," says Nyirenda, who now lives in Palatine. "I was sheltered. When I went to the University of Zambia, I started seeing another side of Africa."
Despite her privileged upbringing, Nyirenda's family members didn't escape the struggles facing so many Africans -- including disease. It was this exposure that ultimately put Nyirenda on the path to dedicating her life toward raising awareness about poverty in her home country.
Her new book, "Ta-Lakata: The Tears of Africa," is a tribute to her homeland. By sharing her family's story with these struggles - including poverty, disease and lack of access to clean water and food, Nyirenda hopes to make suburbanites more aware of these issues. The book is available at www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TaLakataTheTearsofAfrica and at the Christian Shop Ltd. in Palatine.
In 1985, Nyirenda arrived in the United States. Her three children are now teens, and at age 46, she is working toward her master's degree from Roosevelt University in training and development, which will put her in a better position to begin working to eradicate poverty, she said.
The book is a big step. In college, Nyirenda began by chronicling her family history. She was inspired to write about Zambia, as not much is written about the country by natives, she said. However, a professor's initial discouragement - that no one would care enough to read about her family's history - initially set her back.
"For a moment there, my dream was crushed," she said.
But she realized she had something important to say. "I was the one blocking that expression, and for as long as I blocked it, the world would never know," she said.
The book project was a difficult one, for numerous reasons. Her computer repeatedly crashed, purging her data five times.
At one point, she had saved her manuscript on 10 different disks to ensure its safety. But this process was beneficial, as it forced her to keep rewriting. The end product was less about her - "that first draft was so conceited; I was bragging on and on," she says - and more about the specific problems and possible solutions.
"What emerged was from the purest place, really talking about the issues," she said. "I am challenging the government and those in power to do something."
The book was difficult on a personal level, as well. After she moved to America, Nyirenda watched as life in her home country deteriorated with the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. Writing about disease and death was emotionally draining, as was reliving the painful losses of her father - "my life coach and mentor" - and a sister to HIV/AIDS.
Her dad died in 1993. A wealthy man who owned a soccer team, he regularly had his players donate blood at a village hospital as part of their team service. Nyirenda believes this is what caused her father and the players to eventually contract HIV/AIDS.
Her mother passed away in 2002 after taking bone cancer medicine with contaminated water.
These struggles have inspired Nyirenda to dedicate her life to improving these conditions. She is the president and founder of Light on the Hill for Africa, a nonprofit that works to empower local leaders in remote African villages.
One initiative is to partner schools in America and Africa to help increase American awareness about student affairs in Africa and examine education from a global perspective. These partnerships will encourage social responsibility in children, she says. Several local schools, including one in Barrington, are considering such proposals.
Meanwhile, her own vision is clear. Nyirenda hopes to next earn a Ph.D., which she says will give her the skills to address HIV/AIDS on a global level.
"The African heartbeat needs resuscitating," she says.