Joanne Bollinger, 74 Leading Vital Humanitarian to Empower Women Globally


Joanne has touched so many lives and her story continues to inspire us here at Perennial. Joanne is 74 and is leading the charge on making a difference in Zambia through WISE (Women’s Initiatives that Strengthen and Empower).



  • Home Base: Auburn, Maine

Recent Accomplishments:

  • Promoted "Reading is Fun" pilot program at a rural school in Zambia
  • Traveled to a community radio station in Lukulu, (60 mile/4.5 hour trip each way!)  in preparation for establishing WISE-Zambia’s own station
  • Interacted with many of our scholarship students, including giving them guidance in letter-writing

What else should our readers know?

I absolutely love traveling the US to share the WISE-Zambia story. The more I share, the happier I am! People seem genuinely interested in learning what can be accomplished by collaborating across cultures.

My words to live by: Be open to new experiences, expect the unexpected, and be grateful for the learning that awaits around every bend in the road of life - at any age!

Q&A with Joanne:

What do you eat?

I eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, fish, yogurt and eggs. My diet over the years has moved increasingly towards more vegetables (and plant-based foods like Perennial)...and smaller portions of protein-rich foods. I confess to a sweet treat now and then, but do not keep any in the house -- my self-control isn’t that good!

How do you stay mentally fit?

 I love my tai chi practice, have recently begun yoga, enjoy daily walks while keeping myself mentally fit by trying to limit hours on a computer, actively reading, and most importantly, staying connected with others.

 What first sparked your interest in becoming personally involved in WISE-Zambia (Women's Initiatives that Strengthen and Empower)?

“Involvement wasn’t a question, it was imperative! I found the project matched my concept of how non-profits should work plus I fell in love with the people.” Joanne Bollinger says about her first trip with WISE-Zambia to the small town of Kaoma in the East African country of Zambia.

How many times have you been to Zambia for WISE-Zambia?

April 2019 saw me headed to Zambia for my 8th visit working with local leaders and students for WISE-Zambia. I can't emphasize how exciting and gratifying it is seeing our programs grow under local leadership.

What sort of programs do you introduce?

Programs like the "Reading is Fun" pilot program at a rural school -- developed by Zambia Director Maggie and Nasilele, one of WISE-Zambia's secondary grads, now at University of Zambia. There couldn't be greater evidence of the value in WISE-Zambia's emphasis on "giving back" than such stories.

On this trip, Maggie and I also worked on logistical preparation for the visit of 3 professors from Notre Dame of Maryland University in July and plans for a year-long volunteer stint by a teacher from England. In collaboration with WISE-Zambia's Educational Chair, the professors created and successfully completed an initial series of Professional Development Workshops with teachers from Kaoma District. Building on the success of their model, we have this wonderfully engaging young teacher from England working with WISE and the District Education Board in Kaoma for the entire year. We’re wildly excited about the promise that all of these efforts hold for improving educational outcomes in the District! 

 The most heartwarming moments had to be when I sat one-on-one with a number of our students and learned about their lives, struggles, and dreams. Or in precious times with Maggie and her family. No words!

Tell us about the drip irrigation system and how you felt during installation?

As I documented the construction of our security fence and preparation for the installation of a drip irrigation system so that US funders would see that local leaders are completely accountable, I felt humbled by my involvement in what portend to be great steps in community development in Zambia's Western Province.

As a returning visitor, do you have local friends?

Yes, so many. Visiting in friends’ homes, sharing meals and being a part of family life is so enriching. On the “adventurous” trip to Lukulu to learn about establishing a community radio station, I quickly became "Auntie Jo-Jo" to the founder and general manager of the station. There’s no way to describe the mutual joy when old friends and new first greet  -- with hugs and traditional Lozi (local tribal group) handshakes! Such a gift!


What future programs do you envision?

Not only do I envision the Learning Center coming to fruition in the next year, followed by the Community Radio Station, I hope to see WISE-Zambia's mission, focused on education and community development for the most vulnerable in the Western Province, extending across provincial boundaries in Zambia and eventually reaching other countries as well. If I'm still around for the establishment of WISE-Zambia's own college, that would be the ultimate fulfillment of my dream for WISE's future!

Watching programs develop and being a part of extending WISE-Zambia's reach further into remote areas is so inspiring, especially when one has created deep relationships with individuals, learned about their difficult lives and developed a true understanding of how they "forge on" despite all the trials they face.

You have had a lot of success in, what we like to call, your second act of life; being a Board President of WISE-Zambia, traveling to Kaoma in Zambia, Africa every year. Has anything pleasantly surprised you as you have aged vs. how you imagined yourself over 60?

After taking care of my elderly parents and husband with Alzheimer’s Disease, I never imagined that I would travel to Africa so many times, nor that I would keep so busy enlisting the help of others on behalf of a community that has touched me deeply. But “engagement” is the word I feel best defined by. With age, exploring deeper engagement with friends near and far is what I most enjoy.

How has humanitarian work enriched your life?

Having experienced Kaoman culture in which reaching older age is a rarity, I believe we should better integrate generations to shift our outlook on life after 50. In Africa in general, elders (“Perennials”!) are highly valued, intimately involved in family life, and accorded great respect. I see those in advanced age as having so much to give. I am among the lucky who were born with a joyful spirit and feel blessed that I can share it.

How does the overall experience make you feel? WISE-Zambia's mission is all about empowerment and for me, as a Perennial, I feel empowered by my participation in such an effort. Why else would a 74-year-old be compelled to return to Zambia at every opportunity - usually with 3 or 4 large duffels in tow?!

Why else would I continue to travel to document and tell our story other than the constant rewards and joys of unanticipated adventures and connections?

If I had been content to sit and watch the world go by rather than being active in it, I would have missed the most incredible growth experiences of my later years.

Where can people learn or find more information on WISE-Zambia?

WISE empowers and creates economic independence for vulnerable women and children in Zambia through education, vocation and agriculture.




Call (480) 246-0074


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