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 4

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 4:

Davidson’s Wedding

I was looking forward to a low-key wedding ceremony, after having only slept for 3 or 4 hours, and being pretty exhausted from the excitement of the reception the night before.

Davidson told us we needed to be ready to leave around Noon, to head over to the Zambia National Baha’i Centre in Lusaka. He left very early in the morning, around 9am, to go to the records building with Peter to obtain the marriage license. I was pretty amazed that government officials work on Sunday, and wondered whether Zambian law requires marriage licenses to expire within a day or two, necessitating last-minute trips to the government office on a Sunday morning.

We all eat breakfast together, minus Davidson and Peter, at the house, and when they return we quickly pile into the car.

The Baha’i center is in a very pretty part of Lusaka, close to the city center. The building has a tall angular roof, and is surrounded by tall mature trees in the front, and a large expanse of lush Bermuda grass in the back. In the main worship hall, black chairs are set up facing a dais, and the entire right side is made of windows. Bridget and Davidson enter, and sit in the middle of the room. There are a few songs, and then Teresa gives a short speech, followed by a much longer introduction to the Baha’i faith given by a representative of this congregation.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Bridget and Davidson gather their familial witnesses, of which Teresa and I are two of them, to sign three copies of their marriage license. After another song, the wedding is complete, and everyone heads outside to take pictures.

Following the pictures, a buffet-style dinner is served, a few more people speak about their hopes for Davidson and Bridget, as well as the Baha’i faith. By this point, I am feeling pretty exhausted, and am ready to head home for a nap.

As the sun begins to set and mild day turns chilly, we pile into various cars and head towards home. Although it is only 7pm, our room is very dark because our lights still don’t work. I pretty much climb into bed and sleep until the next morning.

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.

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.

Jean Simmons and the Clothing Drive for Working Wardrobes

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

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

Jean Simmons
Jean Simmons

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



How is Working Wardrobes helping our community?

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

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


How did the DXCares get involved with Working Wardrobes?

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

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

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

What was your favorite part of this project?

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


What more can people do to help?

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


How did volunteering affect you personally?

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


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