Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 6

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:

I wake up around 5am, and think, “Today is my husband’s birthday!” But I cannot send him a happy birthday text because his clock is 9 hours behind mine, and it is not yet his birthday in Orange County. I set an alarm on my phone for 5pm later tonight, so I can text him happy birthday, and send him a picture of me in front of a (birthday) cake.

Today we will visit Mildred Academy, and Davidson said that we actually get to meet Mildred for the first time. We are supposed to be ready at 9:00am, and at 9:30am we head into the courtyard in time to see the car drive in. Me, Teresa, Davidson, and Porsche climb in and head through Chibolya, to the other side of Lusaka, where we will meet Mabel and Beauty at Mildred Academy. On our way through town we pass an industrial section of Lusaka, full of seed factories (including Monsanto), soda bottlers, copper and mining companies, and large construction firms. We turn off the main road and onto the rocky dirt mess that takes us (slowly) through the neighborhood. When we reach the school, several boys push the gate open and we drive through the courtyard. I think Mildred’s courtyard is beautiful: it’s large and although dusty, several low palm trees sway in the breeze. There are few people in the courtyard because nearly all of the kids are in class. Mildred comes down the stairs from her administrative offices, and greets us warmly.

We all shuffle up the open steps to Mildred’s one-room office upstairs. It is clearly an addition, and the stairs are made of metal slats, each about six inches wide. I am used to the standard rise and run of stairs in the US, so trying to climb these steps is daunting, and not just because the space between each step is large and wide open to the ground below. No one wants to fall, so we all hold onto the railing tightly.

Like at Blessed Vale, Teresa conducts a group interview because we do not have the time nor the space to do this separately. Teresa moves through the set of interview questions for administrators and teachers, while Mabel and I record some additional notes. Porsche takes pictures, and Beauty and Davidson help to explain to Teresa some of the projects the school has undertaken. The evaluation interview lasts approximately 45 minutes, and then we take a break. Porsche and I walk out onto the open landing and scan the neighborhood. Because of the wind, it is a clear day, and we snap lots of pictures of roof tops and far-away people.

Next, we head downstairs to a classroom directly below the administrative offices, to view a presentation that some of the students put together. A group of girls stands in the room, and sings several songs, including the Zambia National Anthem, and a song they created themselves.

After this, we tour each of the classrooms, and Beauty introduces us (we can only spend about 5 minutes maximum in each class, because there are so many). Teresa asks the kids what they are learning, and tries to get them to state how they’ve applied their lessons and the Habits of Heart. Porsche takes photos of each class, with the teacher, before we move on to the next room. There are so many students and classrooms, it seems like a monumental task to get through each one. I really like being at Midlred Academy because the campus itself is nice, but the students are also polite and really curious about us.

Once we’ve toured each classroom, we gather in the courtyward, next to Midlred’s SUV, and prepare to depart. Many of the children are on a classroom break, and gather in various spots in and around the courtyard, waiting to see what happens next. Wherever Porsche and I point our cameras, the children smile, wave, and jump in front of one another to get their pictures taken. A boy, about 11, asks me to take a picture of me and his friend, but when I turn the camera on him he seems incredibly shy and hesitant to look directly in the camera’s lense. An older boy, probably about 13, taps me on the shoulder and says his friend wants me to take his picture. When I lift my camera, the boy strikes a pose, grinning, He asks to see the what his photo looks like, and I show him, as his friends let out a cheer. I like to wave to the kids, and they almost always wave back. Some of them look so forlorn, and when I wave they don’t wave back, as if they are not sure I’m waving at them. So I make a point to look each child in the eye, and when they see that I see them, then I wave. Some are still shy, but they always wave back.

After approximately 10 minutes in the courtyard, we all climb into Mildred’s SUV, and head out of the gate. We drive back the way we came towards downtown Lusaka, and turn into a strip-mall with a pizza parlor, frozen yogurt shop, and a mini-mart. We say our goodbyes to Mildred, and Davidson negotiates with two drivers to take us back to the John Howard neighborhood to re-visit the John Howard Community School.

When we arrive at John Howard, it is mid-afternoon, around 2pm. Frida once again greets us out in front of the water tower, where a little girl with wild hair and no shoes is swinging back and forth on the supporting bars of the tower.

Unlike when we visited on Friday, there is a full afternoon session of classes, but the Women’s Group is not meeting, so the courtyard in front of the school is empty except for the ever-present roosters. We head into the school, and Frida ushers us into her office. As with the other schools and classrooms, the room is fairly dark because there is no electricity, although the windows that let in light are fairly large. The wind blows through the glass-less windows, making and already dungeon-like room feel even colder.

In the room along with Frida are four teachers and two parents. As usual, Beauty explains to Teresa what projects the school has worked on, as well as provides translation. Porsche takes a few pictures, and I take notes while Teresa asks interview questions. Teresa wants to know more about how the Women’s Group operates, and what kinds of projects they work on. Frida, Beauty, and the teachers describe the Women’s Group agricultural project, as well as how they’ve worked hard to promote education and school attendance among girls who marry early. Teresa asks about how the teachers (none of whom have been through the Full Circle Learning training) integrate the Habits of Heart with the Zambian curriculum. Frida explains how this is very difficult for them, not just because most have not received the FCL training, but because the school is too poor to have the Zambian curriculum book, or text books that the Zambian education ministry requires them to use. Instead, Frida has to use her connections at a local public school to borrow the curriculum book and the text books, which she can copy only one section at a time. Seeing them struggle with the basics, and yet have such a great impact on the children and families in the John Howard neighborhood is pretty awe-inspiring.

The group interview lasts for approximately an hour and a half, and Frida takes us to the three rooms where there are classes. We see some of the same children from our Friday visit. There are approximately 60 children in the large classroom, sitting at picnic-table desk. The teacher explains what the class is learning. Two of the children sit on a table to the side, where they watch a video related to today’s lesson on a laptop. We move through the second room, and then into the third, where we see a student who is clearly older then the 10 to 12 year olds surrounding her. Frida introduces this non-traditional student, explaining that she is the mother of another student in that very class. The girl, who is about 10 years old, gets up from a desk at the back of the room, and comes to stand at the front next to her mom. The mom explains that her daughter is the her youngest child, and that after seeing her children thrive at the John Howard school, she decided that she too needed an education. So, she became the oldest 5th grader in the school.

We make our way out to the front of the school, standing near the water toward. It is 5pm, and many of the students are let out for the afternoon. About 20 students are playing a version of dodge-ball in the courtyard, and Porsche recognizes the game as one she used to love as a kid. She hands me her camera and asks the girls if she can play. They excitedly tell her to jump in. The game involves two people, standing opposite one another about 20 feet apart, throwing a make-shift plastic ball. Their aim is to hit the third person person standing in the middle (the player) with the ball. If the ball touches the player, then the player is declared “out.” But if the player catches the ball and throws it back, the player earns a point. At the end of the round, when all the players have had a chance, the one with the highest score (most number of catches) is declared the winner. After hopping and jumping and throwing the ball for about 5 minutes, Porsche is declared out. She comes over, laughing and gasping for air, explaining that she thought the kids took it easy on her in the beginning, probably because she was old.

As the sun begins to set, the wind picks up, and the temperature, which had been in the low 70s all day, plummeted. By the time our car arrived, it was downright cold. As we piled in, ready to head home, we crossed a set of train tracks. There are several sets of active tracks running through John Howard, and while we were doing the interview a train zoomed past, horn blaring. As we crossed over the tracks, I look northward up the rail line and could see the faint glint of a train light heading our way. But before the train, there were probably 60 or 75 people using the tracks as a path to get to wherever they were going. Here, there are no lights or arms at train crossings, so everyone really needs to be mindful of the trains. I ask the driver if people get hit sometimes, and he says that happens very rarely because people are aware of the trains at all times. I explain that, in the US, people are hit and killed every day by trains, despite the fact that trespassing on tracks is illegal. He seems confused by this, wondering how people cannot see or hear a train. I don’t have any insights for him.

When we arrive home, we discover that the electrician has repaired the lights in our room and bathroom, so Teresa and I no longer have to find our way in the dark. Bridget and Peter also made various items for dinner. We all sit around the living room, sans furniture, and eat. I send my husband a birthday text at 10:00am his time and head to bed around 8:30pm, sleeping until the next morning.


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