Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 2

In June of 2017, Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in Lusaka, Zambia to represent the EHG Fund and see how the program’s influence has shaped the school system and to learn what more we can do to help the Zambian people. Michelle wrote a daily log of her trip to help us experience her adventures. Here is Day 2: 

“The importance of what FCL is doing in Zambia is impossible to ignore.” 

After having a breakfast of a banana and some water, Teresa, Davidson and I take a car to the John Howard neighborhood, about 20 minutes north of our rental house. The streets through John Howard are paved, attesting to the importance of this long-standing neighborhood, which began growing in the 1920s, and continues to have an active railway running through the middle. The John Howard area was originally farmland owned by various British and South African families. As parcels were sold off through the decades, the John Howard construction firm purchased a large portion. John Howard later sold their land, in segments, to local Zambians. This area was desirable for the local folks because it was already established as a black neighborhood during a time when many portions of Lusaka were highly segregated. In other words, this land was actually available for purchase, when few other options existed.

The John Howard Community School is the first school we visit on Friday. John Howard was formed in 2014 or 2015. A middle-aged woman who goes by Frida runs the 3-room school, which has no lighting and no glass in the windows. There are about 300 children (and a few adults) who attend this K-8 school. When we drive up to the school, which is basically a squat cinder-block building with a corrugated steel roof, large water tower out front, a canteen to the left, and a dusty patch of dirt to the right, we see the Women’s Group sitting in white plastic patio chairs, meeting around tables out front. Roosters roam in between the people and chairs, as children run over to the canteen to purchase a banana or an apple for lunch. Some of the young children loitering out front do not attend the school, but they enjoy hanging around outside of it, swinging from the bottom of the water tower or playing with a makeshift plastic ball in the adjacent dirt field.

The Women’s Group appears to be made up of mostly older looking women—grandmothers—who plan initiatives and other community activities. One of their main projects involves teaching the fundamentals of agriculture and food storage to the kids, so they learn how to properly grow and harvest food, which may be shared with the rest of the community. The second main project relates to helping girls at risk of child marriage. Child marriage, or “early marriage” as it is often referred to colloquially, is the practice of marrying off girl children, often to older men. Frida spoke about how girls in poorer families are especially susceptible to early marriage because their families simply cannot afford to feed, clothe, and house them. Although Zambian law prohibits sex with girls under the age of 16, it is common for girls involved in early marriage to become pregnant before 16. The high rate of early marriage in Zambia is devastating to communities, as many of the pregnant girls eventually drop out of school. In response to these high dropout rates, the Zambian government initiated a campaign, now several years old, encouraging all girls to graduate from high school. The rates of girls finishing 12th grade have risen, especially among girls involved in early marriage. The Woman’s Group identifies girls at risk of early marriage, or who have already married, and tries to convince them to return to school. Sometimes this includes talking to the parents of the girl, or her husband, but often the decision is the girl’s to make. Frida reported that the Woman’s Group has been successful at encouraging at least 5 or 6 girls to return to the school.

At John Howard we see about 200 eager students, ranging in age from about 5 to 13 or 14, spread between the three rooms. I am struck by the fact that there are no lights, and several of the rooms are very dim. In addition, the roof has holes and the windows lack glass, so I wonder how the children stay dry during the rainy season. This is the first of two planned visits, and we do not stay longer than about an hour. During that time, several children recite a poem to demonstrate a FCL project they’re working on, and about 40 kids perform a dance for us. Teresa goes outside to see if she can speak to some of the women gathered for the Women’s Group. Although the national language in Zambia is English, due to the country being a former British colony, many Zambians speak a native language as well, the most common of which is Bemba. I am not sure whether these women mostly spoke English, Bemba, or some other language.

Upon leaving the John Howard Community School, Beauty climbs into the car with us and tells the driver how to get to another community school called the Love School. The Love school is a few miles from John Howard, and is a small shelter with no solid walls. The school has four rooms, each about 10 feet by 10 feet, and rice sacks are sewn together to create room separators. The Love School is only a few years old, and most of the children appear to be between the ages of 5 and 10. The various classes are working on different FCL Habits of Heart, and Teresa asks the children about how the curriculum relates to the Habit of Heart they are learning. We go into the class for 1st and 2nd graders, and this is the first time I see a child with albinism. I am curious to see whether he is included, or whether the other kids treat him differently because of his genetic condition, as there are still a lot of negative connotations associated with albinism. It appears that the children do not treat him any differently than the other classmates, as all of the other kids are seated just as close to him as they are to others. We only spend about 20 minutes at the Love school, and although Teresa would like to learn more about how many teachers have had the FCL training, there isn’t time to do even brief interviews. This brief visit is the only time we will see these teachers and students.

We all pile into the car and drive across the city, through downtown Lusaka, past industrial Lusaka, to the Mildred Academy School. The Mildred School is located in an older suburb, and is the wealthiest of all the FCL community schools we will visit in Zambia. A more in-depth evaluation is planned for the following Tuesday, so we plan to stay only for an hour or so. It is mid-afternoon and none of us have eaten any food since the fruit and coffee or tea we consumed in the morning. The kids who open the gate greet us with curiosity. There are only a few kids scattered about, as most are in the middle of class. The large dirt courtyard in the middle of the school is mostly deserted. Although Mildred herself is not at the school, we meet the head administrator, who takes us to briefly visit each classroom. I saw approximately 250 students in 10 classrooms, ranging in age from 5 to 13 or 14 years old. Compared to John Howard and the Love School, Mildred Academy seems palatial in terms of scale and style. The head administrator explains that most of the children pay a small tuition to attend. No child is turned away, even if their family cannot pay anything for tuition. All of the teachers at the schools we previously visited were clearly volunteers, and I am not sure whether the teachers are Mildred are paid or not. My suspicion is that they are not. The level of dedication it takes to educate entire generations of Zambian children, without getting paid for it, is astonishing to me. The importance of what FCL is doing in Zambia is impossible to ignore.

After departing Mildred Academy we head to the city center on Cairo road, and have dinner at Hungry Lion. Hungry Lion is a Zambian fast-food chain with a limited menu of friend chicken items, much like a KFC. In fact, KFC is the only American restaurant I have seen in Zambia, with one a mere 50 yards from the Hungry Lion we are eating in. There is also a second Hungry Lion directly across from that KFC, in the same shopping center. Why there needs to be three fried chicken fast food restaurants in a 50-yard radius, I am not sure….The KFC is virtually empty, and yet both Hungry Lion restaurants have customers streaming out their doors, lining up to sit with strangers at any available seat. I ask Davidson about why people seem to love this food so much. I haven’t yet received my order, but I am pretty sure it won’t be any better than any other type of fast food (plus, I’m not a fan of fried chicken). Davidson explains that people enjoy Hungry Lion so much because it feels very big and over-the-top Western (specifically, American). When I ask why they just don’t go to KFC if they want American fried chicken, he laughs and says that KFC is too expensive for many Zambians. From a previous conversation with Teresa and Beauty, I have learned that many of the students we met today come from households that spend less than a dollar a day on food. The average Hungry Lion meal is about 46 kwacha, or $5. Many middle class Zambians can afford to spend this one meal, although not daily, and it’s considered a sign of status to be spending money frivolously on fast food that is 10 times more expensive than what you could make at home. As I look around the restaurant I notice that people do seem pretty eager to eat mediocre food. When my double fried chicken sandwich arrives, I barely eat half. Davidson insists I take the rest to go. I am learning that, in a country with so much hunger, it is incredibly offensive to throw uneaten food in the trash. It is eye opening for me.

We arrive home and the sun has set, so everyone congregates in the areas that have lighting (the living room, dining room, and kitchen), even though there is no real furniture in these rooms. Teresa talks briefly to Davidson about what they might need for preparations for the wedding, while I go into the kitchen and try to determine what to do with my Hungry Lion leftovers. I’m not a leftovers person, and quickly lose my appetite thinking about the soggy mess this meal is already turning into, and because there is no refrigerator, I am certain it will not keep well. I feel bad for both taking the leftovers, and for allowing them to now end up in the garbage.

I go back to my dark room, and go to sleep. It is 7:30pm.

Stay tuned in to read Day 3 of Michelle’s adventures. Check out Michelle’s interview on why she felt the need to help and find out more on what people can do to help. 

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