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 8

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:

I wake up this morning excited to see a full day of FCL teacher training at Blessed Vale, only to discover that I not only still feel tired and groggy, but I also cannot speak. Not at all. Its my guess that the 24 hour garbage fires burning near our home have finally taken a toll on my throat, or perhaps there was something very bad in the dust I inhaled while in Misisi. Either way, after checking Teresa and I into our flights, I decide that I should stay home and rest instead of going to Blessed Vale. Teresa, Davidson, Porsche, and Baffour depart around 9:45am. They head to a pharmacy to purchase some throat lozenges for me, which Baffour brings back. He stays with me the entire day. Along with him are Bridget, and Baby Teresa, I am not alone.

It is a very long day, and I spend most of it napping and reading.

Around 4:00pm Peter arrives, and he and Bridget begin preparing dinner using our one-burner electrical cooktop, and a traditional metal cook stove (which looks kind of like a metal Easter basket, and requires wood charcoal). I offer to help cook, but they both shoo me away. I ask Bridget how she cooks the shima, telling her it reminds me of a more solid version of grits, which a lot of people eat in the Southern US. She shows me how to make it (basically, you just put ground maize—from a bag—into a pot of boiling water, and stir every few minutes for about 15 minutes), and I can see why it is the staple food in Zambia: it is filling, healthy, cheap, quick to make, and doesn’t require any of the seasoning that can make meal preparation so expensive here!

A little after 6:00pm Teresa, Davidson, and Porsche arrive after attending the full day of teacher training. Bridget and Peter bring in the meal, consisting of 4 or 5 different dishes, and set everything up buffet style in the dining room that has no furniture. Today was one of the colder ones since we arrived, only reaching the mid-60s, and now that the sun has set it is cold outside, which means it is cold inside. Bridget brings in the metal cook stove and sets in the middle of a little circle we make in the living room, in order to provide heat. Some of us are sitting in the brightly-colored plastic chairs, which serve as our only furniture, and the rest are on the tile floor. There is me, Teresa, Baffour, Bridget, Baby Teresa, Prosche, Peter, and Davidson.

We mostly eat in silence (there is shima, vegetable stew, cooked pumpkin leaves, and a baked chicken). Teresa decides that we should tell a story, round-robin style, with each person contributing a little something.

She begins by telling the tale of Marlowe, a little boy somewhere in Africa, who goes to a watering hole outside of his village, to collect water for his mom. However, when Marlowe gets to the hole, he finds that it is has become filthy because some animals—attracted to the water—have made a mess nearby. Not wanting to take the time to clean up the mess himself, Marlowe decides to go back into the village to find his friends, to convince them to help him clean and get the water his mom requested.

As each person takes turns recounting what happens next, the story gets very dramatic, and at times dark (one of Marlowe’s friends is eaten by what we can only presume is a lion). When it comes time to finish the story, I offer to tell the last portion, even though my voice is so strained I can barely be heard. I conclude the story, but baffour doesn’t like my ending, so he tells the Epilogue to my ending, which goes something like, “And it was all a dream!” Then everyone really does start laughing so hard we can barely talk.

Teresa asks us what the lesson is of the story, because it’s got to have a lesson. For a few seconds everyone is quiet, and then Peter says that it cannot be a true African lesson unless there is a song. So we create a song to explain the lesson, which goes something like this:

When you go to the watering hole (When you go to the watering hole)

Just clean up the mess

Don’t wait for the rest

When you go to the watering hole

Because this is our last night together, we are slow to leave the living room and prepare for bed, but eventually we do around 10pm. I am still humming the watering hole song as I climb into bed and drift off to sleep.

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.

The EHG Madame Dorbor Scholarship Fund

The EHG Fund is proud to announce the formation of the EHG Madame Dorbor Scholarship Fund. The Scholarship fund will be awarded to three enrolling, 9th grade students to complete their high school education at an African school participating in the Full-Circle Learning curriculum.

To qualify as a scholarship recipient, an 8th grade student about to enter 9th grade must exhibit positive behavior, integrity, and effort toward academic learning. The recipient should be actively engaged in serving others and should be able to describe ways in which her or his learning contributes to others.

A teacher or administrator must describe specific strengths in terms of the student’s habits-of heart, integrity and moral character, academic work, possibly her or his artistic or musical talent, innovative thinking, and especially the student’s desire to apply strengths in service to others.

The school and/or family may submit an informal statement about the student’s level of financial need.

Madame Dorbor scholarships are offered through the EHG Fund, an in-house charitable arm of EDI Health Group (EHG), an American company that helps process dental insurance claims. EHG’s company founders have helped support a number of projects of Full-Circle Learning, spanning over a decade. Generations of children in multiple countries have benefited from the sacrifices of EHG’s employees and clients, who value equal access to purposeful, transformational education.

About Madam Dorbor

The late Madame Awena Dorbor contributed humbly to the good of the schools, the students and the future of Liberia. Her work as director of the Deborah K. Moore School carved a path for young children. Her voice rang out as she taught them to sing. Her creative ideas bore fruit as she taught them to apply their ingenuity to bring about peace, equity, health and comfort to their fellow beings. Her work touched the lives of those who benefited from the children’s efforts.

Madame Dorbor’s diligence, devotion and resolve as a transformational Full-Circle Learning educator also inspired peers she helped behind the scenes as well as the many teachers she continually trained in her spare time. She did not announce her acts of service but, rather, let them unfold as ripples in a river, quietly feeding each plant that grew along the shoreline with love, faith, humility and kindness.

Imagine what the world would be like with thousands of “Madame Dorbors” in each community. This scholarship seeks students who will, indeed, learn through purposeful acts of service that flow as ripples in a river.

Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 5

In June of 2017, Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in Lusaka, Zambia to represent the EHG Fund and see how the program’s influence has shaped the school system and to learn what more we can do to help the Zambian people. Michelle wrote a daily log of her trip to help us experience her adventures. Here is Day 5:

School evaluation of Blessed Vale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.