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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Michelle Walker on the Full-Circle Learning Center in Zambia

The EHG Fund has always admired the Full-Circle Learning’s initiative to bring developing countries higher levels of education. We are committed to furthering the education of the world’s youth for a better tomorrow. Last year we were in Liberia to attend Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges Full-Circle has had to deal with to help that community deal with their educational issues.

This year Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in 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 was kind enough to write a daily log of her trip that we will be featuring over the coming weeks. First, we sat down with Michelle to talk to her about her trip and why she felt the need to help.

 

What inspired you to get involved with the EHG Fund?

My background is in learning (I have a Master of Science degree in Instructional Design and Technology, and I studied pedagogy while teaching courses at UC Irvine during my doctoral program), and when I found out that the EHG Fund helps to support the Full-Circle Learning (FCL) nonprofit organization, I could not help but dive in.

Besides helping to support international projects, I also enjoy participating in expanding EHG Fund’s efforts to help our local community, via philanthropic initiatives and networks DentalXChange has established throughout Orange County.

What is the EHG Fund doing to help Full-Circle Learning in Zambia?

The EHG Fund supports Full-Circle Learning efforts in Zambia by helping the organization offer teacher trainings (all training is free), purchase school supplies, and provide financial support for limited student scholarships.

 

What were some of the activities you participate in? 

Working with the EHG Fund to expand efforts in Zambia is one of my greatest joys. In addition to visiting schools in Lusaka, conducting interviews with school leaders and parents, I am currently a contributing member on several large-scale projects that I hope will assist Full-Circle Learning in achieving its goal of “Education as Community Transformation” in Zambia, now and for generations to come.

What was your favorite part of your trip?

 My favorite part of the trip was meeting so many new people and becoming immersed in a culture that was entirely new to me. I also really enjoyed interacting with the kids and teachers. I thanked them all for their dedication to education (both the teachers and the students), and I let them to know that their efforts are seen and acknowledged.

You attended a wedding while on your trip, was it different than an American wedding?

The wedding I attended was both different and similar to an American wedding.

Like an American wedding, the reception was held in a large hall (it was actually a very beautiful place called the Mulungushi International Conference Centre), and there were about 200 guests. There were speeches, dinner, cake-cutting, and dancing. We even got a live performance from one of Zambia’s biggest musical stars, Macky2.

This particular wedding differed from a traditional American wedding in that the actual wedding ceremony occurred on Sunday, the day after the reception. As well, the reception started at 7pm Saturday night in order to accommodate all of the guests who work during the day on Saturday, which is common in Lusaka. Additionally, there were some culturally significant ceremonies that were performed at the reception, for example, the presentation of the cake to the bride and groom’s families, and when the bride laid down at the feet of her parents and the groom’s parents.

How did this trip affect you personally?

The people of Lusaka made a huge impact on me. I gained a greater appreciation for the material and non-material things that are afforded to me as a US resident and citizen. Freedom of education and the opportunity to pursue so many intellectual endeavors, to name a few. For example, my gender does not limit my life trajectory in the same way that it does so many young girls and women in Zambia.

Having said that, Zambia is a country of contrasts, of Range Rover dealerships and 24-hour garbage fires along the roadside. To see very young children sitting atop heaps of garbage, picking through the refuse for anything of value… it is obviously going to be a life-changing experience, with long-lasting impacts. I saw so much poverty and struggle, but also so much valor and wisdom and strength, every day that I was there. I saw kids in school uniforms walking miles to receive an education. I saw parents volunteering, making sure all of the community’s children were cared for. I saw people doing their best, and being so humble about the ways they were improving the lives of generations of Zambians.

What more can people do to help?

The key to helping EHG Fund efforts to support Full-Circle Learning initiatives in places like Zambia (and around the world), is to know that a need exists, and to do something. Now that we know the need exists.

 

We thank Michelle for her efforts with the EHG Fund and for taking the time to talk to us. Michelle’s daily log of her adventures in Zambia will be posted starting next week.

Lindsey Schurman In Liberia – Day 4

Lindsey Int PhotoIn May 2016, Lindsey Schurman, Manager of Client Services atDentalXChange and a representative of the EHG Fund, went to Monrovia, Liberia to attend Full Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges the Full Circle Learning has had to deal with to help that community. She was king enough to write a daily log so we can read about her adventures. 

Day 4 

20160527_104823We were lucky to start day 4 without rain. This allowed us to visit two schools outside of Monrovia, Korto and New Hope. The schools were about an hour’s drive away. This was not because it was a long distance away but required a large distance of driving over unpaved roads to get to the school. These roads were difficult to drive along and required much care. This is the case for most roads that lead to villages in Liberia. Davidson explained that the road to Korto had been slated for paving multiple times but when it came time to pave the road they were told by the government there was no money.

The school in Korto had planned to do a service project in town this Friday but was unable to due to the weather of the week. This is an area that has faced a great amount of gender based violence and one of the classes had planned a project to go out in to the community to ask about what ways they could do something in the community to prevent it. Instead we were able to visit the classrooms of each grade to meet the students. The school was no bigger than the 2 floors of our office building but there are currently just over 500 students enrolled. Additionally, the principal shared that over 100 students had left over the course of the year due to the inability to afford tuition.

Each class welcomed us and we had the opportunity to see some of the lessons. We entered the preschool class as they practiced their ABC’s, the first grade class as they practiced reading and the twelfth grade class as they spoke about the age of imperialism. We got to speak with teachers from all grade levels during a quick recess and watch the children play.

kids-school-yardWe then went to New Hope, a school that has remained tuition free to allow students the ability to attend school when they would otherwise be unable to. The director of this school was sick with typhoid at the time and was not able to make it to the school to meet us. Unfortunately when we arrived, school was done for the day but several children remained for the afternoon. Two girls were preparing for a performance on Saturday and we got to see them dance in traditional African outfits. I received a tour of the school from one of the teachers. Each of the classrooms I saw was small with only a few desks; in some cases, 2 or 3 grade levels were taught in the same room. After the tour I was told about what the school had done to assist with learning during the Ebola crisis. At the time, schools, business, government programs, etc. were closed and people were very afraid to go outside and interact due to the easy spread of the disease. It was described as a ghost town. In order to continue educating students that wished to continue learning, this particular school held classes underneath the mango trees just outside the grounds. The classes were so popular students had to be turned away when class size got to big to maintain.

After visiting schools, we drove to central Monrovia where we went to a library run by a program called We Care Liberia. This program and library were started to encourage pleasure reading, which would assist with the literacy problem in Liberia. The program also publishes books by Liberian authors to promote writing from the community. Several students were using the space to study and a volunteer with the library was giving a talk on Early Childhood Development and the necessity of literature in this process.

20160527_172453It was a very enlightening day that ended with pizza in central Monrovia followed by reviewing the newspaper articles that published a review of our conference from the day before with glowing remarks!

Lindsey Schurman In Liberia – Day 3


Lindsey Int PhotoIn May 2016, Lindsey Schurman, Manager of Client Services atDentalXChange and a representative of the EHG Fund, went to Monrovia, Liberia to attend Full Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges the Full Circle Learning has had to deal with to help that community. She was king enough to write a daily log so we can read about her adventures. 

Day 3 – Education as Community Transformation

Today was such an inspirational and information packed day that I don’t know where to begin…

20160526_095438After arriving at a wonderfully decorated hall done by the volunteers of the FCL we started off by setting up the presentation then attempting to assist with registration as people began to flood in right before 10am. Once again, we had been hit with very bad rains overnight that made the attendance of so many that much more special. By the time we began, most of the seating was full and we were still waiting for 2 schools to arrive.

The conference started with a bang featuring speeches regarding the current state of education in Liberia and how change begins with programs like Full Circle Learning, as well as a speech focusing on the integrity of the community and instilling this in the children beyond the classroom.

20160526_105134Next, children from all 5 schools in attendance sang a song together. Davidson then walked through the program, thanked all those in attendance and spoke of the goals of the day. We were then able to see a presentation by two schools, one a quiz setup by elementary school children about modes of transportation and a role play portraying the importance of personal character.

Teresa then gave a speech about the Full Circle Learning organization. We were taught so much about the history of the curriculum, the locations and projects made out of Full Circle Learning, as well as the ideals that impact students, teachers, and parents alike in building a better community. It was inspiring to hear about the growth in Liberia alone! Since 2010, Full Circle Learning has been brought to 81 schools in Liberia with more wanting to be involved! The programs impacted by the EHG Fund stretch 5 counties in Liberia and impacts so many lives. Besides Liberia, this program has reached so many other countries as well. The impact of the program was felt in the room as so many people came together to hear and learn more.Teachers Lib

After Teresa was finished we heard from a student and two teachers about the service projects completed in schools. Beauty shared a story about the death of her mother and the initiative and compassion shown by her students in her time of mourning. The children collected food and helped raise funds and brought it to the funeral home and mourned with Beauty during her time of need. The story brought many people to tears, me included.

The day continued on with an open discussion about changes that can be made by the teachers, organizations looking to enhance education and the students themselves. More powerful speeches were given relating to changing the community that included ideas from different sectors. The entire day flew by as we played clapping games instead of applause and heard jokes from the emcee.

The conference was such a success across the board! You could see the excitement for participation from each group of attendees. It was such an honor to be a part of today. And the next one is already in planning!

IBe A Candle finished my day by quizzing Teresa about her life experiences and the journey Full Circle Learning has taken over the last 24 years. Tomorrow, we visit schools and hope for no rain so we can complete a service project with the kids.

Lindsey Schurman and Her Time in Liberia

“I can only hope I go through my everyday life caring about others in the ways I saw Liberians do” – Lindsey SchurmanLindsey Int Photo

The EHG Funds’ commitment to helping the community and the world abroad is a direct reflection of the employees of DentalXChange. Their unparalleled passion for wanting a better future for the children of our world has lead us to find like-minded organizations to help support; organizations like the Full Circle Learning Center.

Full Circle Learning was launched following the civil unrest of 1992 in Los Angeles, to help children caught in the maelstrom of the times. Its early volunteers from various community organizations served the Baldwin Hills neighborhood, working in space donated by the Baha’i community. They found the need for long-term, organic change and designed a curriculum that would help students develop a deeper sense of purpose for their learning and in their lives. The research-based, time-tested educational approach that was developed quickly attracted the interest of the broader learning community and is now taught all over the world.

In May 2016, Lindsey Schurman, Manager of Client Services at DentalXChange and a representative of the EHG Fund, went to Monrovia, Liberia to attend Full Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges the Full Circle Learning has had to deal with to help that community.

We sat down with Lindsey and asked her to give some details about her trip.

How did you get involved with the EHG Fund?

I had been aware of the EHG Fund throughout working at DentalXChange and encouraged providers to donate based on their claim submission throughout my history with DXC but my involvement has been more recent, when I took the time to find out what Full Circle Learning is doing for the global community. In Liberia, I was aware of the difference they were making with girls in a community that is deeply impacted by gender violence.

What is the EHG Fund doing to help Full Circle Learning?

Teachers LibThe EHG Fund has helped to facilitate Full Circle Learning’s exponential growth over the last 10+ years. Specifically in Liberia, the program has only been in the country for 6 years and has grown to 81 schools with many more on the horizon. In August, they expect to hold a training seminar for 3000 teachers and school administrators, which will bring the school count to over 100 in Liberia.

What is the age range of the kids in school?

I met children of all grade levels K-12.

What is the curriculum that they are teaching these children?

Kids School yardThe curriculum is what is required by the state but when teachers are trained in the Full Circle Learning program they are able to shape it to include ideas that promote community building, leadership and humanitarianism.

Did you participate in any activities while at the conference or with the schools? 

I did participate in some activities at the conference. I sat with the Non-Governmental Officials at the conference and had an open guided discussion about how we can help kids incorporate the theme of the conference into their lives outside of the classroom. We also discussed facilitating the growth of the Full Circle Learning ideas in the classroom by getting involved with the teachers and administrators. We had 2 projects planned for our trip, 1 agricultural project and 1 marketplace project, but both were unfortunately canceled due to rain..

What was your favorite part of your trip?

It is hard to pick a favorite part. I think if I had to narrow it down, I would choose watching people (the ministry, teachers, school principals, and FCL) speak so passionately about what they want to change in Liberia’s current education system and what needs to change. It was inspiring!

What more can people do to help?

Be A CandleDonations are key for Full Circle Learning. Currently in Liberia, they are planning to host a training seminar for 3000 teachers and require funds to set this up and provide each school with Full Circle curriculum. Funds from the program go toward training teachers, providing them with the curriculum books and other resources needed to continue the program, transportation and food for the trainings, and a small stipend for staff of the program.

How did this trip affect you personally?

Lindsey withComing out of the trip, I have a much better understanding of life in Liberia and Full Circle Learning. On a personal level, there were multiple times during the trip I had to step outside my comfort zone in order to move forward with my day. One example, there was no running water is most of the buildings I visited, which meant putting water in your own toilet. I was able to see firsthand how communal their society is and how they work together for the betterment of their children. I can only hope I go through my everyday life caring about others in the ways I saw Liberians do.

 

We thank Lindsey for her efforts with the EHG Fund and for taking the time to talk to us. Lindsey has written a daily log for her adventures in Liberia and we will be featuring them each week on this Blog, starting next week.

If you would like to donate to the EHG Fund or learn more about whom we support, click here.

 

 

Helping The World With A Little Help From Our Friends

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For the EHG Fund, changing the world begins with helping underprivileged individuals in underserved communities across all corners of the globe.

Established by DentalXChange in 2007, the EHG Fund focuses its attention on helping raise a new generation of peacemakers, humanitarians, ambassadors, altruists and vision seekers, qualified to inherit the world. A world where those who once lived in disadvantaged neighborhoods will become co-collaborators for change and where all will honor each other’s strengths to lead.

The EHG Fund is committed to using its resources to aid people around the world in achieving their maximum potential through the delivery of education, healthcare and human services.

We partner with organizations that share our vision for a better world. Helping bring change would not be possible without the help of our partners: