Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 3

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 3:

 On Saturday, we had the morning free to sleep in or to walk around the courtyard. Teresa wanted to go outside of the gate and walk down the street towards the other homes to get a feeling for the neighborhood. When she asked Davidson on Friday if it was okay for her and I to take a little walk, he told us that we could, but that we needed to wait until he, Peter, or Kyei Baffour could go with us. Unfortunately, everyone was pretty busy in the morning, preparing to attend Davidson and Bridget’s wedding reception later that evening. Kyei Baffour was ironing all of his clothes in the kitchen, while Teresa and I chatted with him and drank coffee and tea.

Around 10 am I took a short nap, as I was still struggling with a little jet lag. At Noon, as we were preparing for the car to come pick us up, I officially met Porsche for the first time and we talked about some of the ways that Botswana is different from Zambia and other parts of Africa. Davidson told us to pack up all of our clothing we would need, because we would not be returning to the house until after the reception, so we all gathered our clothing and loaded it into the car. We left for Manda Hill Mall, a sprawling and bustling shopping mall near the southern portion of the city’s center. We drove on one of the main roads into town, Freedom Way, which took us right past the presidential grounds. Freedom Way is a four lane road, two lanes in each direction) separated by a large median that is covered in lush grasses and trees. There’s a 4-foot wide dirt path running in the middle, and (I assume because it is Saturday morning) I see many people strolling, jogging, and biking on this path. Driving to Manda Hill Mall is the first time I get a sense of how Western Zambia is (becoming). I don’t have any frame of reference, being that this is my first time on the continent, but Teresa and Davidson have many conversations about how Western the country looks, which is a pretty stark change from how things were just 5 or 10 years ago.

So far, all of the new people I have seen and interacted with have been Zambian, or from other parts of Africa. When we get to Manda Hill, at least 30 percent of the people I see there do not look African. There are a lot of Asian (I’m assuming Chinese) families, I see 6 or 7 people from India, and as we find seating at the restaurant (Mugg & Bean), I glance around to find that about 75 percent of the folks eating there look like they are European or American. Mugg & Bean is basically like Corner Bakery in the US, with a wide variety of sandwiches, breakfast served all day, salads, and burgers. Davidson orders coffee for Teresa, a cappuccino for me, and some kind of espresso drink for Porsche. He and Kyei Baffour just drink water. We all order food, and although I was previously warned not to eat raw fruits and vegetables, I’m not too concerned because this is a major chain restaurant, and I see lots of other tourists and expats seeming eating anything off the menu.

I ordered a bbq burger, since it seemed like the most American item on a menu full of American type stuff. Although the hamburger is not uniquely American, I like to compare burgers across cultures, not only because the hamburger is so ubiquitous, but because no two country’s burgers ever taste the same. Not even the US and Canada. I take a few bites of the burger and decide that the meat is seasoned too heavily for me, and the taste seems peculiar. I like the flavor of meat, and between the seasoning and the strange tasting bbq sauce, the burger does not really taste like a burger. In fact, I’m thinking that it could totally be made out of mystery meat and I would not be able to tell the difference. I only eat about half of the food before pushing it away.

About 15 minutes into our meal Peter shows up. Apparently he had gotten up early to do some shopping, and had planned to meet up with us at the mall. We stay another 15 minutes, and then I’m faced with the dilemma of what to do about my food. I know I do not want to eat the leftovers, but I’m also realizing that it’s pretty bad form for me to just throw it away. Davidson tells me I’ve got to take it to go, and he’ll just give it to someone once we get to Bridget’s house. We leave Manda Hill, and have to take two separate cars back towards Bridget’s House.

When we arrive there are already about 20 people at the home, and more arriving. Bridget’s mom greets us very warmly, while Bridget, Mabel, and the other Bride’s Maids are completing their makeup and hair in the dining room. The house is pretty chaotic, and there’s someone coming or going from the front door every 2 or 3 minutes. As we sit in the large front room watching a Bollywood movie, we chat about how excited everyone is for the wedding. After about an hour waiting, Teresa and I are told we can go into the back bedroom and put on our dresses. I am fairly confident that my custom-made dress will fit me just fine, but Teresa is worried that her dress, which she brought with her in a suitcase, will not fit. Bridget’s mom comes in to help us tie our wrap skirts, and to affix Teresa’s head covering, and about 20 minutes later we are perfectly dressed. The only problem is that it is difficult to walk in our skirts, because they are tied too tightly around our legs. Apparently, we learned later, when the person is wrapping the skirt around, we were supposed to stand with our legs spread a little wider than shoulder distance, to ensure the skirt would not be too restrictive. I guess you live and learn!

By the time we leave the neighborhood and head towards the conference center, it is dark. Although we are mostly taking side streets, it feels like rush hour traffic because there are so many people and cars out on a Saturday night. After about 20 minutes of driving, we pull into the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, a large, modern, super-sleek building surrounded by lush landscapes of Bermuda grass, tropical trees, and colorful flowering plants. As we enter the gate and head down a long straight driveway towards the building, a sign tells drivers that all animals have the right of way. Just as I ask our driver what kind of animals is the sign referring to, he slows for an animal in the road. We all look towards the end of the headlights to get a glimpse of some wild animal, and I’m thinking we’re all imagining a different creature. As the driver slows to a crawl, the headlights fully illuminate a…house cat. An orange tabby cat, to be exact. We all laugh, and wait until the cat has sufficiently licked and scratched itself, and has sauntered out of the roadway.

The driver lets us out at the entrance, and we see gusts making their way in through the sliding glass doors. We only have to wait a few minutes for the car carrying Davidson, Peter, and Kyei Baffour to arrive. With lots of excitement we take arrival photos, and say hi to some of the people who are streaming in. With an hour before the festivities are set to begin, we sit on soft chairs and couches placed in the large entry hall, and wait for Beauty and her husband to arrive.

Davidson told me that I needed to give a quick speech, and I asked for further clarification on what the speech she be about. He explained me, Teresa, and Beauty would serve symbolic roles for him. Because Teresa is essentially his mom, she will serve as the maternal representative, and Beauty as the paternal representative. As the official Guest of Honor, I am supposed to give a speech about wedding advice. With only an hour before the wedding is to start, and having no idea of when the speeches are supposed to occur, I thought about a few versions of the speech in my head. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do a toast at the end, or if the speech should be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes long, so I thought of how I could cut or elaborate to make my ideas fit into whatever time slot I had.

As we hustled into the reception hall, Teresa, Beauty, and I were placed at a 3-person round table, located in the front of the room near the wedding party table. The reception began with Davidson and Bridget entering by dancing, separately, into the hall. There were traditional dancers with drums, and there was singing. Next, the members of the wedding party danced their way in. The Wedding Matron offered a brief speech, and then the Master of Ceremonies had each person in the wedding party introduce themselves to the 150 or so guests. Our table was last to do the introductions.

After more singing and dancing, Teresa and I each had about 5 minutes to complete our speeches, before dinner was served to our table. Teresa spoke about what a pleasure it was to be a part of Davidson and Bridget’s wedding, and how she was very proud of them and happy that they had begun their own family with baby Teresa. I gave my speech, which people said they enjoyed. I cannot really remember much of it because it went by so quickly.

I only ate about half of my dinner, before becoming distracted by the star of the evening: one of Zambia’s top musical artists, Macky2. I could tell by the gasps and stunned reaction of the guests that Macky2 was kind of a big deal. He sang 3 songs before there was more traditional dancing, and Bridget came out in the 3rd dress of the evening. There was the ceremonial splitting of the cake (one to Bridget’s family, one to Davidson’s family, and one to the bride and groom). After that, Bridget came to the parents table and layed down on the floor to represent supplication.

As the evening was wrapping up, Macky2 sang two additional songs, and left the building in a flourish of dancing and laughter. At the very end of the night the entire wedding party, including Teresa and I, lined up to greet all of the guests. I must’ve shaken hands with and hugged at least 100 people. It was a very long night, but highly entertaining!

We arrived home around midnight, and after texting my husband, I had intended to go to sleep. Instead, Teresa and I stayed up talking, just about until sunrise.

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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.

Jean Simmons and the Clothing Drive for Working Wardrobes

DentalXChange and its employees have an unparalleled passion for helping our community and the world at-large. The EHG Fund was created through this passion and is led by a committee of DentalXChange employees called, DXCares.

One of the first philanthropies the DXCares team wanted to work with was Working Wardrobes. Founded in 1990, Working Wardrobes has changed the lives of nearly 90,000 men, women, veterans, and young adults overcoming difficult challenges by providing numerous services relating to professional clothing, employment, career, financial education and life skills.

Jean Simmons
Jean Simmons

We talked to Jean Simmons, who organized and led the charge for the DXCares team in this project, and asked her what DentalXChange is doing to help Working Wardrobes and the impact it can have on our community.

 

 

How is Working Wardrobes helping our community?

Working Wardrobes partners with local organizations who have helped Orange County residents through alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, incarceration, homelessness, catastrophic illness, and traumatic financial loss. These organizations identify clients who have transitioned through their hardships and have reached a point where they are ready to re-enter the workforce or enter the workforce for the first time. This is where Working Wardrobes comes in and provides job training and certifications, resume assistance, and wardrobing assistance as a final piece to helping these clients come out of such a difficult season in their lives.

Working Wardrobes also has a comprehensive program specifically for veterans called VetNet in which they provide an expanded selection of services to our veterans. Clients may have been engineers in the military for example, but having worked in the military their entire lives have no idea how to enter the world of Corporate America. Obviously, they are also helping veterans who may have suffered from PTSD or who simply entered the military at a young age and never had a chance to experience Corporate America before deploying to Afghanistan and have now come home and need a little assistance. Working Wardrobes provides comprehensive services for all types of veterans who are in different places in their lives and help them to not only find employment, but to secure meaningful careers.

 

How did the DXCares get involved with Working Wardrobes?

The EHG Philanthropy Committee, DXCares, takes member suggestions each quarter for a cause or organization to work with. Members had previously called out for participation in a clothing drive, but with the fall, winter, and spring quarters that passed the places that seemed like they had a larger need were food pantries and homeless shelters so we previously focused our efforts there. Now that we had entered our summer quarter we thought post-spring cleaning would be a good time to do a clothing drive.

Of course, we could have done a generic drive and donated to Goodwill for example, but I had previously donated to Working Wardrobes personally and thought that such a small, local organization that was working on such a specific focus would be a place where we could truly make an impact. Unlike Goodwill, Working Wardrobes specifically looks for interview and corporate attire to distribute directly to clients at the end of their job training who have interviews lined up. If you donate a suit, you are 100% sure that this suit is going to help someone improve their quality of life. Doing a drive where you donate items, you don’t really get to see if you are impacting people and though it sounds selfish, some people have a hard time donating to a place like Goodwill because you have no way of knowing if people who need those items are getting them. With Working Wardrobes though, you know for sure that you are helping woman who were previously abused, youths who’s previous living situation caused them to run away, veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms; and it’s so much easier to motivate participation when people can feel that they are helping other people. You remove the idea of donating to a faceless needy through an impersonal organization and start to give to real people who would get the best use out of that tie you hadn’t worn in 15 years or that skirt you still have even though you haven’t been able to fit it for the past 3 years.

In addition to the opportunity to do a clothing drive, we also had the opportunity to send volunteers to Working Wardrobe’s donation center and help to quality control and organize items that had been donated.

What was your favorite part of this project?

Working Wardrobes has a very small staff. The donation center accepts anywhere from 3000 – 9000 items per week on average and there are only 2 women who are staffed at the donation center. Most of the work at the donation center gets done with the help of volunteers. I’d say one of the best parts of the project was seeing these ladies hug and thank the DentalXChange volunteers for the help; for volunteering their time and for donating items. I feel like we should be enthusiastically thanking these 2 ladies for all the work that they do. It’s a huge undertaking and they do it every day. Their genuine appreciation and joy was really something to see. They are the real heroes.

 

What more can people do to help?

Because the organization is called Working Wardrobes a lot of people associate them with wardrobe assistance. The thing is, providing clients with wardrobes is literally the last step in the process and just the icing on the cake. Aside from wardrobing they also offer job training and certifications. During our volunteer time at the organization we were told that aside from the fact that they offer nationally recognized certificate programs to their clients, they actually offer volunteers the chance to sign up to teach classes. Generally, the job training that Working Wardrobes provides focusses around soft skills as this is what most employers report as the top skills they are looking for. With the certifications they offer, these may include retail/customer service certification, fork lift training, warehouse related certifications, but not necessarily program related certifications like Word or Excel for example. Volunteers have the opportunity to come in and teach a class on literally anything. If your area of expertise is coding, you can teach a class on the basics of coding. If you are an Excel expert, you can teach a class on Excel. Donating clothes or volunteering in the donation center, you are indeed impacting the lives of Working Wardrobes clients, but indirectly. Offering to teach a class on something that you are an expert in, in this type of setting you have the opportunity to directly impact a client.

 

How did volunteering affect you personally?

I want to say that volunteering is not a reflection on one’s self. Truthfully speaking we’ve all had someone in our lives who probably just gave us a little boost. Maybe a previous boss or coworker, or a parent or friend or extended family member who just saw that we had a potential for something and in their own way encouraged us in that direction. It’s very counter cultural to say or think, this at-risk youth, their unimaginable circumstances encouraged them toward creating a better life for themselves. That’s just not how we think in our society. We would say something like, I volunteer because it makes me feel good, and of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But I would say that this at-risk youth who didn’t allow their circumstances to destroy them, who instead turned those circumstances into positive growth in their life, they really do deserve my attention and the attention of our society at large. They deserve the opportunity to have a good job, just like I’ve been afforded that opportunity through the encouragement of parents, friends, coworkers and previous bosses so why wouldn’t I offer it freely. I don’t necessarily feel affected personally by this experience but rather I would challenge everyone to fulfill their duty to become someone else’s boost, even in such a small way. In my head I’ve never really reflected on how volunteering would personally affect me, but rather see it as an opportunity to pay it forward.

 

We’d like to thank Jean for taking the time to talk to us about this important organization. If you would like to learn more about Working Wardrobes, please visit their website www.workingwardrobes.org. To learn more about how the EHG Fund, please visit www.ehgfund.org.