The Story Behind The Garden of Burning Sand

IMG_0233About the time I finished A Walk Across the Sun, my wife and I heard from friends that they were planning to start an NGO in Zambia working with kids with intellectual disabilities. As parents, we were profoundly troubled to learn that most Zambian children with intellectual disabilities die before the age of 5. Often, their families don’t feed them. They are considered a curse.

Not long after that, I came across the story of a young Zambian girl with Down syndrome who was raped on the streets of Lusaka and whose abuser was only prosecuted because a courageous group of non-profit lawyers and social workers stepped in to help. I thought that combining the two issues–child sexual assault and the plight of kids with intellectual disabilities in Zambia–would make for a compelling book.

IMG_0363As with A Walk Across the Sun, I did extensive research, both in the United States and in Africa. I spent a month in Zambia with a number of NGOs, including the International Justice Mission and Special Hope Network (my friends’ organization). I traveled to Victoria Falls, spent time in Johannesburg with Oasis, South Africa, and immersed myself in Cape Town and the Western Cape. By the end of my trip, I had fallen in love with Southern Africa.

With The Garden of Burning Sand, it was my hope to write a story that would capture the African continent in all its astonishing beauty and heart-wrenching brokenness, and that would compel people to think about ways that they can combat the pandemic of violence again women and children around the world.