Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 5

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 5:

School evaluation of Blessed Vale

I wake up early, around 5am, and am excited that today is the first day of school evaluations. The room is cold and dark, and I can hear Teresa getting ready in the bathroom, so I use my cell phone’s flashlight to search for the day’s tentative itinerary (which Davidson emailed to me a week before I left). The schedule says that we’re supposed to visit Mildred Academy all day today, but I overheard Davidson say on Friday that we were going to Beauty’s school (Blessed Vale) today, because we did not have the opportunity to visit last week. The schedules says that whatever school we visit, we’ll be there from 9:30am until 4:30pm, basically all day.

I decide to try to remember to bring a piece of fruit with me, so that I can have a snack between breakfast and dinner. I’m starting to realize that middle class Zambians usually eat two meals a day, and that many of the teachers, parents, and children that we encounter may only eat one meal per day. It’s a hard reminder for me that I take food for granted. I’ve only been here for three and a half days, and I’m already thinking about the politics of food: Did I take too much food, or not enough? Will I be hungry later? How do I eat food in front of children and adults who are also hungry? How can I avoid wasting food? Can I be more generous with the food I have? There are a lot more logistics involved than what I am accustomed to dealing with. I decide to take a banana with me, because it’s easy to store and I won’t have to clean it.

Teresa placed the interview questions in a folder for me, so that we can split up and conduct simultaneous interviews. I am not sure how well the teachers understand the evaluation process, that FCL’s support is not influenced by the findings in any punitive way. Teresa stressed that this is a way for FCL to determine strengths and challenges, and to identify needs, where they exist.

We are ready to depart by 9:30am, and Teresa, me, Davidson, Porsche, and Kyei Baffour climb into the car once it arrives. We head towards Beauty’s school Blessed Vale, the first FCL school in Zambia. Blessed Vale is near the city center, in a rough neighborhood, considered a slum, called Chibolya. It was only three years ago that the police and military had to entirely take over Chibolya in order to root out the drug dealers and other nefarious characters who were essentially running that part of town.

Our driver rolls up all of the windows, locks the doors, and tells me not to draw too much attention to myself by taking pictures with my cell phone, because there are lots of thieves and opportunists in this part of town, some of whom have been known to try to break into moving cars. When we reach Blessed Vale one of the older students is waiting for us at the gate, and begins pushing it open so we can pull into the small courtyard. As soon as well drive inside, the gate is pushed closed behind us.

The courtyard is made of dirt, and is wide enough for a car to turn around in, probably the size of two two-car garages. As we exit the car we can see the faces of some of the smaller children peering out of the glass-less port holes. Beauty greets us and ushers us into a small administrative office that is probably 10 by 10 feet. The room has a red concrete floor, plastered walls, and a wooden door. There are two small window opening, and a corrugated roof, which I can see some sky through. There is no lighting. Again, I find myself wondering how cold, wet, and dim this room must get during the rainy season, and I am inspired by the dedication of Beauty and her teachers, as well as the children, just for showing up in such uncomfortable conditions.

Beauty takes us on a tour of the school, which has 6 classrooms currently in use, and one classroom that is bare. The students range in age from 4 to 14. Beauty introduces Teresa and I to each of the classrooms. While the students do not seem surprised to learn that Teresa has come to visit them from America, they seem downright gleeful to learn that I, too, am American. Later I learn that, for most of these students, teachers, and parents, I am the first Black American they have ever met in person. Everyone knows who Will Smith is, or has heard a Beyonce song, but most people in Zambia have never met a Black person from America. Plenty of white people, but no black people. I reflect on this realization for a long time, and while Beauty has a meeting with Davidson, Teresa, and Mabel, I talk to Kyei Baffour about the African experience.

Baffour was an Archeology major in college in Ghana, and shared stories with me about doing archeological digs along the coast of Ghana, where major slave ports existed. We talked about how slaves who (according to my genetic profile) were likely my ancestors were shipped to the Americas from those ports. Baffour has never been to the US, but he noted that I am lucky to be American, that Africans, if they are really honest with themselves, wish they could be born as Americans in a next lifetime. I think about the struggles of African-Americans in the US, and how it’s ironic that many of us identify with a continent we know nothing about. The fact is that, for most of us, we are far more American than we could ever be African. The mere fact that black Americans are so rare to see in Africa is a testament to the cultural and psychological divide, as much as it is to any physical distance.

Davidson, Beauty, and Mabel come into the room, along with a gentleman and woman who both appear to be in their 50s or early 60s. The man, John, is essentially the head of the parents administrative organization, and is a liason between the school, parents, and the community. The woman, Anastasia, is the head of the PTA. They’re here because Beauty asked them to represent the parents, for evaluation purposes. There are three sets of interview questions: one for teachers, one for administrators, and one for parents and alumni. Teresa moves through the set of interview questions for John and Anastasia, and at times Beauty translates. I take additional notes.

Once this first interview is complete, I head out into the courtyard. Teresa mentioned that she does not have a good shot of Blessed Vale’s sign out front, and that she thought that would make a good picture. I notice that the door in the gate is open and that several people have stepped outside onto the driveway, including Baffour. I head for the door, clutching my DSLR, and step through. Chibolya looks different as a pedestrian, as opposed to a passenger in a car. In the car I could not experience the sounds, smells, and even the taste of the air the way I could standing on that sidewalk. It is a busy street with vendors located on either side, and across from, Blessed Vale. I take long glances up and down the sidewalk to check for safety, and carefully step over the uneven cobbled stone driveway. To get a good picture of the sign for the school, I need to straddle the ditch that runs down the middle of the sidewalk, which I do as I take a few pics. I surreptitiously snap several phots of the road, vendors, and even Baffour—trying not to make myself noticible. Just as I’m ready to take a couple of last photos I see Mabel step through the door out on the driveway and come towards me. In almost a stage whisper she says, “It’s not safe here—you need to go inside!” She said it too quietly for most of the people on the sidewalk to hear, but certainly loud enough for me. She waves Baffour back and tells him he needs to go inside as well. I am glad that I got my pictures of the Blessed Vale sign, and of Chibolya.

Back in the administrative office, Teresa interviews Beauty, and I interview Mabel. Once this is complete, we take a 15 minute break, and stretch. It is later afternoon now, and I am very hungry. I consider reaching in my bag for my banana, but confide in Porsche that I feel the need to hide while eating, so the kids can’t see me. She says she’s also hungry, so we huddle in a corner of the room cattycorner to the door so the kids will be unable to see us as we eat.

10 minutes later I resume the evaluation process, and start interviewing the longest standing teacher (besides Beauty) at Blessed Vale, a very quiet woman named Wilness. At the same time, Teresa begins to interview another teacher about her involvement in Girls United, an organization that is somewhat similar to the Girl Scouts.

After about an hour, the sun is beginning to set, and we wrap up the interviews. It would have been nice to interview all of the teachers (there are 6 or 7), but there simply isn’t time for that. As we await a car, Beauty introduces us to one of Blessed Vale’s graduates, a girl who successfully went on to complete her first year at public high school. I chatted with her and Teresa, and she told us she wanted to be a doctor, which is a reasonable goal because Lusaka has several well-regarded medical schools. It is interesting that so many of the children we meet want to be doctors (as opposed to engineers, builders, mathematicians, lawyers, accountants, etc.).

As we leave, Beauty lets us know that, when we return on Friday, the Blessed Vale students have a special presentation planned for us. The car drives through the gate and picks us up. On the way home we once again stop at Hungry Lion for dinner. This time I order a lot less food, but still manage to have a full container of coleslaw leftovers. Total fail.

 

 

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