Michelle Walker In Zambia – Day 9

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 8:

Our Last Day

It’s the last day in Zambia for Teresa and I, and we are not quite sure what we’ll be doing this day. Beauty moved the 3rd day of teacher training to Monday, so that we might be able to visit another school that Teresa was interested in seeing, or even go to a zoo or wild animal park, since I wanted to see some of the animals Zambia is so famous for.

In the end, we decided not to go to the zoo because my voice was still MIA, and it was shaping up to be another cool, breezy day, which probably wouldn’t be good for my throat. Instead, we planned to visit Blessed Vale one last time, go to Beauty’s home for supper, shop for some trinkets and souvenirs, and then meet up with a friend of Teresa’s who took the FCL training, and ended up staying in Zambia (although no longer teaching).

Around 11:00am, all of us (except Peter) climb into our car, headed for Blessed Vale. There, all of the kids and teachers have a surprise for us. They sing us a good-bye song, and several groups of children recite poems they created as part of their service projects. Then, Beauty calls Teresa and I up onto the “stage” where she presents me with two beautiful rugs that the Blessed Vale teachers had spent months creating for DentalXChange. The rugs are not large, but they were clearly lovingly made. These were not really rugs, but works of art and the physical manifestations of gratitude. I promised to deliver the rugs safely! Teresa and I also received additional gifts made by Beauty, the kids, or the teachers. It was a very humbling moment. I waved goodbye to the children, knowing I would never see any of them again, and hoped their lives would be good, fulfilling, and full of joy. As we were getting into our car, I felt a sensation somewhat like homesickness, and wondered how I could simultaneously miss two very different places (one of which I had not yet left).

We only stayed at Blessed Vale for about 30 minutes, a very brief visit, before going to several shopping centers (the Levy Mall, Manda Hill, and then the shops on Cairo Road, where we once again ate at Hungry Lion). By mid-afternoon it was time to head towards Beauty’s house, for supper. Her home is only a mile and a half from our rental home, and I felt that we had spent the majority of the day driving all over Lusaka.

Beauty lives in an older suburban subdivision surrounded by much larger, newer, and wealthier homes (complete with grass out front, and gardeners watering and tending to the gardens). When we arrive at Beauty’s house, we see her daughters for the first time in a few days, as well as the girl we met on Monday at Blessed Vale, the one who just completed her first year at a Lusaka public high school.

As we enter the house, it has Beauty’s design stamp all over it, and I recognize the decorative curtains as being the same style we have in our rental home (I had a feeling Beauty was responsible for the furniture and decorations there)—bright colors, big flowing armfuls of fabric…We step inside a large square room, probably 25 by 25 feet, which serves as Beauty’s living and dining rooms. The walls are very tall, at least 10 feet, and there is a single light bulb hanging from the exposed wooden rafters above, and no ceiling, so I can see the holes in the corrugated roof above. The room contains two sofas and two arms chairs, and a 6-person dining table under the windows, near the front door. In the corner next to the dining table are three stacks of rainbow-colored child’s size plastic chairs, each stack is about 6 feet tall. Finally, there is a large TV in the corner, which is playing a DVD of a gospel concert—the music reminds me of a Disney musical, but with references to Jesus.

Beauty disappears through an arched doorway that leads to all of the other rooms in the house. I follow Beauty through the arch, and to the right, into the cramped and darkened kitchen, asking whether she has a tissue I can use (Teresa and I both got colds and plowed through all of the tissues we brought for the trip). In the kitchen are at least 8 people, all but two of who are kids, preparing the meal we are going to eat. Beauty hands me a wad of toilet paper, and I head back into the living room with it, and sit in the armchair adjacent to Teresa.

After about 5 minutes of chatting and watching TV, I see a little girl who looks to be about 3 years old, come through the archway into the living room. She is not shy at all and comes over to stand directly in front of Teresa, tapping her little hand with palm open, on Teresa’s left knee. She says very quietly, “Water.” Although not phrased as a question, it is clear that she is asking Teresa if she can have a sip of water from the bottle that sits on the floor between our two chairs. However, the bottle is not Teresa’s, but mine (Davidson had handed it to me about 10 minutes before, and it was still mostly full). I hand the little girl the bottle, and as she puts her entire mouth over the opening, I can see all of the teeth in her mouth. I tell her, “Be careful, don’t drink too much.” After taking two large open-mouth gulps, she tries to hand the bottle back to me. I tell her “No—it’s your water now; I gave it to you. Take it to the kitchen and see if any of the other children want to share it.” She stares at me for about 25 seconds, and then tries to hand the bottle back again. I repeat what I told her, and she turns and runs back through the archway, I assume into the kitchen.

After about 10 minutes, the little girls comes back into the room, sans water bottle, and again goes directly to Teresa. She does the same open palmed pat three times on Teresa’s left knee, and this time says, “Banana.” Teresa frowns and says, “I’m sorry, I do not have a banana.” The little girl the takes two shuffle steps over to me and gently lays her hand on my knee, stating “Banana.” I also tell her that I am sorry, I also do not have any food. She stares for about 10 seconds then turns around and runs through the archway. Across from me, Porsche lifts her eyebrows in question, and I just shrug my shoulders and smile.

A few minutes later, Beauty announces that dinner is going to be served, and each of us, including our driver, grab a seat at the small table. Mabel and Beauty bring out several dishes (including shima, a baked chicken, corn on the cob, vegetable stew, beef stew, potato salad, a cabbage salad, and another dish that I cannot identify) and pack the table so full there is almost no room for our plates. Mabel brings us a pitcher of water and bowl, so we can rinse our hands, even though all of us eat with utensils.

We eat for about an hour, with Beauty sitting next to the table, sharing stories about her neighborhood and how Lusaka has changed in the last 5 and 10 years. As we finish, the little girl who had asked for the water comes to stand next to Beauty. Teresa points to the plastic chairs stacked near the table, and asks Beauty if she teaches a class in her home. Beauty says that she does, and that the little girl, whose name is Esperanza, was her first student. Beauty tells us how she squeezes 80 small children in her living room every Saturday morning, and how Esperanza came to attend, and now spend most of her time at Beauty’s home. The story was very sad, and we were all amazed and inspired by Esperanza’s courage happy attitude, despite going through more hardship than any 3-year old should have to.

After telling the story, I took out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures of Esperanza, who was not at all shy when the camera was turned on her. I asked if she wanted to see herself, and she nodded. I handed her the phone, and showed her how to scroll between the photos. Within a few minutes she was looking through all 3,000 photos on my phone, scrolling past the pics like she hadn’t just been introduced to this technology 3 minutes ago. She kept returning to the pictures of herself, smiling up at me. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, seeing her joy at seeing herself in picture form for the first time.

After about 20 minutes, it was time for us to leave Beauty’s home, and head back to our rental house so that we could pack our bags in the car. In two hours we were going to meet up with Teresa’s old student, at a newly built shopping center near the airport, called the Garden City Mall, where the student had recently opened a coffee shop.

We made it back home, and took about an hour packing up the last of our belongings. My suitcase was already over-stuffed when I arrived in Lusaka, so in order to fit all of the items that Beauty and the Blessed Vale teachers made, I needed an additional suitcase. Luckily, Teresa had an empty suitcase which had previously been full of gifts that she brought for the teachers. Miraculously, all of the stuff managed to fit in the two suitcases and my backpack!

Our group (me, Teresa, Peter, Baffour, Porsche, Davidson, Bridget, Baby Teresa, Mabel, and Beauty) had grown so large that we needed to hire two cars, especially because of the four suitcases, and when the cars finally arrived, it really hit me that I was leaving. I found Lusaka to be a beautiful city filled with loving and kind people. The teachers, parents, and students I met personified sacrifice and dedication, in every way. I did not want to leave.

Bruno, our neighbor’s dog, ran around the cars, excitedly sniffing at all the people and luggage. I petted him for the last time, and climbed into the front passenger seat next to the driver who had been with us since 11am (it was now 6:00 pm). As the gate opened, Bruno ran out and down the street to the grass in front of a neighbor’s yard. We pulled out onto the street and Davidson closed the gate, from the other car, with a remote control. I lamented to Mabel that I hoped Bruno’s owners would open the door for him, before it got too dark. Then we started our journey towards the airport and the Garden City Mall, as I left some piece of my heart in that little house.

Garden City is built like a maze, and we wander around for 20 minutes, trying to find the coffee shop that Teresa’s student owned. After splitting up the group, some of us eventually walk down the last path we hadn’t yet covered, and there is her coffee shop, Brew Me Coffee, sandwiched between Bombay Restaurant, and Bushman Wings.

Although it is nearly 8:30pm, we decide to go to Bushman Wings, a very Western-style restaurant, for a late night dinner. I order the burger and fries meal off the kids menu, because I already know the portion sizes will be more than I am prepared to eat, and tell the driver that I will cut mine in half so he can take the leftovers home to his family. He orders the same meal I do, and we chat the entire time we are at the restaurant, which is about an hour and a half. I ask him about his life in Lusaka, Zambia, and Africa in general, and he asks me questions about the US. He used to work for Zambia’s department of education, and met his wife (a high school teacher) while doing some consulting work after he retired. Mostly his days are spent reading and watching world news, doing some consulting work, and hiring out his car as a driver. I tell him how much I appreciate the fact that he has committed himself to a 13 or 14-hour work day, on my last day in his country. He says he would like to visit several places in the world, but none more so than America; he finds this country incredibly contradictory, for which I agreed with him.

Because our flight leaves Lusaka at 1:05am, we want to be at the airport by 10:30pm. It has been a long day, and we’re all exhausted. We park in the airport short-term parking lot, and everyone helps us take our bags inside. When we enter the doors we see that the security gate (and the Ethiopian Airlines ticket counter behind it) are not yet open, and won’t open until around 11:00pm. We all stand around chatting in the main hall of the airport, for what seems like a few brief seconds, before the airport workers open the security line, and tell us that we should now begin the check-in process for our flight.

I think all of us want to say our goodbyes quickly, so that we will not feel too sad. I look at Beauty’s face, and she looks so forlorn, and it makes me even sadder. We promise to email one another, and then Teresa and I push our bags to the scanning machine, and then on to the check-in counter.

After over 20 hours of flying and a 15-hour layover, we arrive in Los Angeles. Teresa and I say our goodbyes, and prepare to meet up again in 5 weeks for teacher training, and I head back to my decidedly First World life behind the Orange Curtain, trying desperately to find a way to hold onto all of the lessons I learned during my week in Africa.

Thank you to Michelle Walker for her time and efforts for the EHG Fund and the Full-Circle Learning Center. To learn more about her trip and how it affected her, please read her interview here.

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Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 7

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 7:

Today is shaping up to be another long day. Davidson tells us to be ready to head out around 10:00am. We are going to the Cry Community School, which is a section of town that is even more run-down than Chibolya. After visiting this school, we’ll return to Blessed Vale in the afternoon for the first session of the Full Circle Learning teacher training.

Porsche stays behind on this day in order to visit the Zambian Consulate in order to extend her stay into the following week. In her place is Baffour, who seems less than enthused to take pictures, but is interested in the training.

The driver picks us up and we head to the ShopRite to pick up some items for the children. Teresa and Baffour pick out soccer balls, pens, pencils, and notebooks, while Davidson and I grab a snack at the hot food section of the store. We basically get the same thing: a donut-type pastry, and some savory fried rice.

As we head for Cry Community School, our driver repeatedly tells me (I am in the passenger seat) that he does not like going to this part of town. We are headed into Misisi Compound, which is one of the worst slums in all of Sub Saharan Africa, where HIV and AIDS make the life expectancy less than 35 years. The school we are visiting is made up of AIDS orphans, of whom there are hundreds, if not thousands, in this community.

When we arrive, one of the teachers pushes the gate open for us to pull the car into. Beauty has gathered several different schools together for the purpose, not of evaluation, but to show us a service project. The children have put together songs, poems, and even a dance for us. They are also presenting the elders in their community with shoes, as the final part of an earlier community project.

There were about a dozen elderly people, some of whom are the grandparents of children at the school, who received shoes. As a surprise, Teresa presented the students with the gift items we had purchased. After saying brief goodbyes, we got back into the car and headed for Chibolya and Blessed Vale, to prepare for the first day of training.

When we arrived, Teresa, Beauty, and Davidson, planned the structure of the training. Beauty decided to shorten the training so that there would be time for us to do some tourist things on our last day in Lusaka, Friday. Thus, the training was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday, and then all day on Monday. We had downtime of approximately 2 hours waiting for the teachers to arrive around 2:00pm.

Close to 2:30pm, Beauty began the Day One training session, with approximately 50 teachers in attendance. Due to the lack of electricity, the training needed to end by 4:00pm, as the sun set shortly thereafter. The session lasted until around 4:30pm, and we headed to Bridget’s house for a special post-wedding ceremony.

When we arrive at the house, Bridget’s mom greets us and explains that all of her family has been at the house for hours cooking a special meal. I see various people that I met at the wedding, as we wait in the living room to eat. It is taking longer than usual to make dinner because the power has been out for several hours now, and they are cooking on very small coal burners out behind the house. As the sun sets, Porsche and I turn on the flashlight apps on our cell phones to light the living room. Around 6:00pm Peter arrives, and the ceremony is performed in which Bridget is officially given to Davidson (and Teresa). It is announced that dinner is ready, and Teresa, Davidson, Porsche, Peter, Baffour, and I sit at the dining table to eat. Just as Mabel brings us some water to wash our hands, the power comes on, so we do not need to eat by cell phone light.

There are so many dishes (at least 13), that I do not get to try them all. Basically, if a dish is on the other side of the table, I am not eating it. Towards the end of the meal, I remark how no one is eating the two bowls that contain the cooked caterpillars. Porsche and Peter state that they have eaten them, and Porsche tells me I should try them—that they are delicious. I say that I will try the ones that do not have the heads on, because I do not want to see caterpillars eyeballs as I bite down. Porsche hands me a bowl of the “juicy” caterpillars, and I empty a few onto my plate. Without hesitation I pop one in my mouth, and am pleasantly surprised—it’s delicious. Teresa asks me what it tastes like, and I tell her they taste somewhat like pork rinds: lots of seasoning and salt. Unfortunately, she cannot eat salt, so she passes on the caterpillars, and I eat a handful more, for good measure.

Once we finish dinner, we do not linger at Bridget’s house because there is a long day of training planned for tomorrow. When we return home around 8:00pm, I head directly to bed, as usual.

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.

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. 

Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 1

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 1: 

Shortly after Noon, Teresa Langness of Full-Circle Learning and I land in Lusaka. The airport does not seem particularly large, but that’s probably because the Customs area is small, by most Western standards. Everyone must stand single-file in one line to present our Yellow Fever vaccination cards, which are quickly reviewed and our Passports stamped. Then, we need to go through Customs. There are two Customs officials for Zambian nationals, one for Consulate employees and embassy officials, and one for visitors. The line for visitors seems incredibly slow, and there is family of 6 ahead of us who apparently need to pay an additional amount in order to get through. I am assuming they have the appropriate visas (otherwise they would have been denied boarding before entering Zambia), so I’m not sure why the Customs officer is not simply stamping their passports and letting them through. Teresa and I are next up, and she allows me to go ahead of her. I present my passport and Yellow Fever vaccination certificate, which the Customs officer barely glances at before stamping my page and allowing me entry. Once I make it through, I wait near the baggage area for Teresa to come through. However, 5 minutes stretches into 10 and then nearly 15 before she clears the Customs booth. I did not ask her whether she needed to pay an additional amount to enter the country, but I was definitely worried that they would deny her entry. Luckily, we managed to locate all of our bags and luggage tags, and exit the airport within an hour of arrival.

As we come out of the airport and round a corner, we begin to hear children singing. The first person I see is Davidson with a huge grin on his face, recording the welcome song that the kids are singing to us. The song and flowers are such a kind gesture; I barely know what to say. Clearly Teresa is loved here. I meet Davidson officially for the first time, and Beauty gives me a big hug, and we both greet all of the children and thank them for coming to meet us. Beauty informs us that the kids need to board a bus back to school, but that she and Davidson will ride with us to our rental apartment.

After loading our bags into the car, our driver begins to leave the airport, but is flagged down and told to pull the side of the road. After about 5 minutes of waiting, the driver explains that we are pulled over because the presidential motorcade will be driving through. As about a dozen cars begin to stack up behind us, I anticipate what a presidential motorcade might look like. Another 3 minutes, and we see about a dozen policy trucks, motorcycles, and cars whip past on this two-lane road that runs adjacent to the airport. Then two large dark SUV’s zoom past going at least 50 mph. I assume one of those vehicles contains the president of Zambia. Finally, about two-dozen other private vehicles careen past, with people hanging out of the windows waiving the Zambian flag and blasting music. The driver informs us that these stragglers are not official state vehicles; rather, just zealous supporters of the president, who is currently two years into his term, part of which he served as interim president, and the last year of which he was actually elected to hold the position (apparently Zambia’s political future has been in some upheaval since the previous president died suddenly in 2014, after a brief illness). Either way, almost as quickly as our waylay began, it was over, and we continued our journey toward the center of Lusaka.

As we drive, Teresa and Davidson chat about the economic progress Zambia has made within the past 5 years, and how it has changed the way Lusaka looks and feels. He notes that the house in which we are staying did not exist 5 years ago, and that the economy is really booming (Teresa is amazed by the number of people in Lusaka who have cars). Although he does not live in Zambia, Davidson is very knowledgeable about the country and the culture.

I mostly look out the window at the scenery, and as we leave the wealthier portions of Lusaka (where many of the tourist hotels and western-style buildings are), the buildings become more sparse. The area looks like a typical US suburb, except that all along the roadside are entrepreneur stands where people are selling everything from homemade dog houses and chicken coops, to headstones and grave markers, fruits and vegetables. At intersections people stand in between lanes, selling cell phone minutes, especially since wireless devices have become more ubiquitous in the last decade. In the expanse of space between the two-lane highway and the backs of the suburban sprawl, are high-tension power lines, as well as drying stalks of corn and heaping piles of garbage. The driver says that people do actually grow and harvest the corn when in-season. However, I cannot imagine growing food on land that is also a large open-air garbage dump. Children and adults are squatting atop the miles and miles of garbage, picking out items of value, and then burning the rest. The acrid smell of burning plastics and additional unknown fumes are a constant, day and night.

We arrive at the rental home around 3:30pm, and set up our luggage. The house, like nearly all built in Lusaka, is modern looking, with tile floors, and a lot of marble accents. It’s located right off of a main road that leads out of Zambia (despite the increasing traffic, the newly paved road remains one lane in each direction), is made of cinder block with a tile roof, and a 7-foot tall cinder block wall and security gate.

Davidson lets us know that we have about an hour to relax before we head over to his fiancée’s home, where her family is making a special meal. I meet Peter, who is a friend of Davidson’s and a Full Circle Learning Zambia graduate. Peter works as a government health counselor, which involves him and a team of several others visiting 3-4 families a day, performing HIV testing, delivering test results, and connecting people with social services. Peter is very nice and friendly, and warmly welcomes us. He’s staying with us in the rental house, and is a Groomsman in Davidson’s upcoming wedding. During the week he goes to work, and in the evenings spends time talking to Teresa and I.

After resting for an hour we drive to Davidson’s fiancée, Bridget’s family home. When we pull into the driveway, I see Bridget first. She invites us into the house, where we meet her mom, and Davidson’s other Groomsman, Asante Kyei Baffour (pronounced “A-saun-tay Chay Ba-four), who is from Ghana. We watch a soccer game (Mexico versus Russia), and then Mabel (Bridget’s sister and the head administrator for FCL Zambia) brings us a pitcher of water and bowl to wash our hands. We eat a typical Zambian dinner, and Bridget has added a few extra dishes for the occasion. The center of all Zambian meals is a maize dish called shima. Shima has the consistency of congealed grits, and it is prepared by mixing corn powder in boiling water. Normally there is no seasoning to shima. Zambians prefer not to use utensils to eat, instead breaking off a piece of the porridge-like shima and using it to scoop up the other portions of the meal (e.g., beef stew, vegetable stew, sautéed pumpkin leaves, mashed beans and nuts, etc.). I heard the refrain over and over again that, in Zambia, you have not eaten unless your meal consists of shima. You can have a bowl of rice and an entire chicken, but if you have not eaten shima, you have not yet eaten.

Most of us eat that first meal with our hands. I notice that I am the only left-hander at the table. I also notice that most people do not wash both of their hands when Mabel offers the water, but just the right hand. I lean over to ask Peter if it’s considered rude to eat with my left hand, to which he gently smiles and asks, “Is your left hand the hand you write with?” I confirm that it is, and he laughs and says, “That is okay then.” Like many parts of the world, left-handed children born in Zambia are converted to right-handers, and so the rate of left-handedness there is far below the world average of 10 percent. One of the drivers noticed me using my left hand to write, and asked if left-handedness is common in the states. I explained that it is not any more common than the average in all countries, and he noted that it is very rare to see a left handed adult in his country.

Teresa and I say our goodbyes and return to the house to discover that, although we have lighting in our room and attached bathroom, we cannot actually get the lights to turn on. We look for signs of mosquitos (we closed all of the windows in the room and bathroom, since none have mosquito screens), and finding none, decide against trying to put up the mosquito nets that Teresa brought with her. I’m desperately trying to stay up until 9pm in order to avoid severe jet lag, and go to the kitchen looking for another bottle of water. While in the kitchen I notice what looks like a spider crawling on my arm, only to realize it is a mosquito. By the time I finish brushing my teeth using the bottled water, it is clear that I have been bitten. I resolved to take my anti-malaria pills religiously at the same time each day, in order to avoid potential malaria infection. After trying to get a wifi signal, and then trying to get a cell signal, I go to bed around 9:30pm.

Stay tuned in to read Day 2 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. 

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.