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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Education: Against all Odds

Imagine if you got ALL of your nourishment, for your mind, body, and soul from one place.  This place is not in your home or kitchen, your computer, or in the palm of your hand.  It is not on your TV, radio, or other electronic device.  In fact, it is not near-by; you will have to walk miles to get there.  It is your school.
Looking out the school window

I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia this summer to see firsthand how education can drastically change lives. I have seen it many times in the US, we give kids opportunities and choice and expose them to all kinds of resources in the hope that they will solve the problems of the world.  In Zambia, education is their one hope to bring a large portion of their country out of poverty.
We visited and worked in some of the poorest schools in the country.  These cement-block schools (many were churches) were in the middle of a compound, surrounded by high walls, locked behind gates – no electricity, no lights, no resources…and yet, the benches were full of eager learners.  Why not?  This is Zambian TV, as good as it gets, literally food for their mind, body, and soul. 
I have made a living teaching kids how to think critically, how to solve problems, and how to see things from different perspectives.  “Seeing things from a different perspective” has a whole new meaning for me.  Cultural differences are real, concrete, and amazing to experience.  Even more amazing is the human factors that we all have in common. 

Child with imaginary truck

Kids are kids
The kids that we visited lived in a city, they have seen TV, video games, computers – they do not own them.  They play like our kids play- they use their imagination – a shoe is filled with rocks and becomes a truck, a plastic bag on a string becomes a kite, or two fingers are used as a loom to make a bracelet.  They laugh, sing, recite, respond, and participate just like our kids do.  We tried out some lessons before the trip with some kids from the Mt. Olive Middle School – we made balloon rockets and trading cards.  The kids in Zambia loved the activities (as did their counterparts).  They loved reading the American’s kids trading cards (and true to Middle school kids, the boys all wanted a girls card!) and took great care making the cards that we were bringing back with us.
Holding the trading cards sent to them by kids in the US

On the edge of their seats doing math factors

Well-used blackboards!

Teachers are teachers
Despite having just an old chalkboard, the teachers in Zambia all had objectives on the board (btw almost all schools had a mission statement painted on the outside of their walls), the lessons were rigorous and relevant.  Although English is the official language of Zambia, children are taught their tribe’s language – one of 72 different languages in the country, so essentially they all start out as ESL students.  Posters around the rooms are handmade.  Electricity is optional.  Despite the almost total lack of resources, these teachers take their jobs seriously (after all, the children have a National Exam to take!).  They are proud of their students, their accomplishments and what they can give to them. 

Just like the teachers in Zambia, we take our jobs seriously, and work with what we have (sometimes an embarrassment of riches) everyday to maximize the opportunities to nourish the mind, body and soul of the kids that we serve!  We recognize that for some of our kids, we are the soul source of stability and nurturing in their lives.

For more details on our trip to Zambia go to:
PS  I was approached by a teacher with three computers - little to no internet...looking for educational games to use with his kids...must be downloadable....ideas?