Celebrating International Women's Day in the Air!

This week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. To commemorate, I wanted to share with you a handful of stories from a group of inspiring women – Bessie Coleman, Esther Mbabazi, Sunita Narula, Kshamta Bajpai, Indira Singh, Gunjan Aggarwal, Sharifah Czarena Surainy Syed Hashim, Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Sariana Nordin.

Each of these women is a trailblazer in the air – they are all pilots.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American and first Native-American pilot. Coleman was born in Texas, where she worked in cotton fields at a young age. But she also was able to study in a small school and developed an incredible interest in aviation. No schools in the US would permit her to attend (both because of her heritage and her gender), so she saved up enough funds to go to France and obtained her license. She returned to the US with dreams of opening a school for African American aviators.  She died in 1926 in flight.

Esther Mbabazi is Rwanda’s first female pilot. Like Coleman, she knew from a young age that she wanted to fly, despite her father passing away in a plane crash.  She packed her things and moved to Uganda to attend school and get her pilot’s license. Today, she works for RwandAir, aiming to break barriers and inspire young Rwandan girls.

Gunjan Aggarwal, Sharifah Czarena Surainy Syed Hashim, Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Sariana Nordin made headlines last year as part of the first all-female pilot crew for Royal Brunei Airlines. The flight landed in Saudi Arabia – notable since the ladies were not permitted to drive there, but landed a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the Saudi airport on February 23rd, 2016.  In particular Syed Hashim was also the first female captain for the airline.

And last week, Air India made history with an all-female crew flying from San Francisco to New Delhi. The entire crew – cockpit, cabin, check-in, doctor, ground crew – even the flight dispatcher, all women. And while it’s easy to dismiss this one as some sort of publicity stunt, it’s also worth considering that each of those crew members has faced a significant struggle to become successful in their chosen field.

Only 3% of pilots worldwide are women. It’s perhaps the most stark contrast in any profession across the globe – even in the military, women make up close to 15% of the total number serving. And in researching each of these women’s stories, I saw two things in common among them all – first, the knowledge early in their lives that they wanted to be in the air; and second, a unique opportunity that made this dream a reality. It made me remember that among our 2,300 students – at least one of them wants to be a pilot. At least one of them dreams of spending their life in the air. And it’s our obligation, our responsibility to provide them with a strong foundation of knowledge – how to read, how to add/subtract/multiply, how to communicate, and prepare them for secondary school and beyond. Let’s get to it.

- Reshma

Japanese Ambassador, H.E. Hidenobu Sobashima, Visits our Schools!

Today we have a piece on the Handover Ceremony from our intern on the ground, Kristen!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 was a big day at Joel Community School! We were joined by the Japanese Ambassador to Zambia H.E. Hidenobu Sobashima, his Royal Highness Chief M’ban’gombe, the Permanent Secretary of Eastern Province, and many other distinguished guests as they came to attend a handover ceremony for 3 schools funded by the Japanese Embassy in Lusaka.

Preparations for the day began early – ten cooks began preparing the meal at 7:00. The cooks were preparing enough nshima for a couple hundred people and while taking pictures, they suggested I try stirring the pot. I could barely even move the spoon through the nshima!

Guests began arriving at 8:00 as we were completing the last of the finishing touches. The turnout was large with around 500 people in attendance. There were headsmen and respected elders of the village, parents of Impact students, students themselves, and all of Impact School’s teachers. Students performed for the parents and staff as we waited for the Ambassador to arrive. They prepared a traditional dance routine and a series of songs.

Once the Ambassador and other distinguished guests arrived, the ceremony began when the Master of Ceremony, Mr. Fosters Mapata Mwanza, Head of Kalumbi School, led everyone in singing the national anthem. Afterwards, parents from Joel sang a welcoming song and three Nyau came for their first series of dances. As the Nyau were dancing, their assistants dug holes and set up two 20 foot tall tree trunks connected with wire, in preparation of the final dance. While they were dancing, the Master of Ceremony explained that the Nyau dancing in front of us were not human – they were animal spirits. The energy was very high as they drummed and danced and we were excited to see their following dances.

During the ceremony, all of the guests delivered speeches. Daniel Mwanza, the Regional Director of Impact Network, began by explaining what Impact Network does, and how we work to bridge the gap between urban and rural by using e-learning solutions. He explained that in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Impact Network is able to provide education to over 2,300 students at 9 community schools in the region. He then explained that due to an increase in students, there has not been enough space to accommodate all learners. The grant provided by the Japanese Embassy is an answer to that problem as there are now six more usable classrooms for students.

Ambassador H.E. Hidenobu Sobashima delivered a speech regarding the grant and the Japanese Embassy’s role in grassroots projects across Zambia. He explained that over the last 30 years, the Japanese Government’s Grassroots Projects for Human Assistance has funded over 160 projects! A project such as Impact Network was selected for funding because of their sustainable plan to expand educational opportunities in underserved areas of Katete District.

Chief M’ban’gombe stressed the importance of education as he could see future doctors and teachers in the students at Impact Network schools. He emphasized how important it is to achieve universal literacy across Zambia and congratulated Impact Network on their hard work towards the realization of this goal. Chief M’ban’gombe donated the land on which Impact Schools sit and said he was appreciative to see that the Japanese Embassy assisted in the expansion of three community schools.

Students from Kanyelele and Joel Community Schools performed two poetry pieces which covered topics such as Nelson Mandela and the liberating power of education, ending early marriages through education, and thanking the Japanese Embassy for donating the classrooms to Impact Schools. Mr. H.E. Hidenobu Sobashima clapped very loudly during the first performance when the students bowed and said “domō arigatō gozaimasu”!

We moved on to the ribbon cutting and a tour of the new school block. Daniel Mwanza led his guests around the new building, showing the new facilities as funded by the Japanese embassy. After the ribbon cutting, we all made our way back to the center of the campus for another dance with about 20 Nyau total. The Nyau are an impressive sight – they wear masks and large headpieces. Because they represent the spirits of animals, they make guttural calls and whoops so it is easy to tell when they are nearby. Several teachers from Impact Schools told me to be careful, the Nyau spirits can be tricksters!  The final Nyau dance was a on a high wire 20+ feet above the ground. It was incredible to see the Nyau limberly climb up the pole and move on the wire. The spirit was of a bird so the Nyau danced upon the wire for a few minutes. As he was getting off of the wire, the wire snapped and he fell to the ground. I was worried but everyone told me he was fine – his fall was part of the routine and signified the magic that held him up had disappeared.

We ended our day with a reception in Chipata hosted by the Japanese Embassy. The reception began with remarks from the Ambassador and the Permanent Secretary of Eastern Province, followed by presentations by the 3 beneficiaries of Japanese grant money. It was inspiring to see the other projects happening in Zambia relating to food security, sustainable paper production, and agriculture. One common thread between the organizations present were the provision of schools in rural areas of Eastern Province. As the Permanent Secretary for Eastern Province said, quality schools are a fundamental ingredient for the Government of Zambia’s goal to achieve universal basic education. Impact Network will continue to provide quality learning environments for the children of Zambia and is very appreciative towards the Government of Japan for their assistance in that mission!

Until next time,

Kristen

Preparations for the Japan Handover Ceremony

This week Kristen, our Education Development Intern, writes about the team’s activities to plan for a ceremony celebrating the completion of Impact Network’s grant from the Japanese Embassy in Lusaka.

February 28th is an exciting day at David Seidenfield School! The Japanese Ambassador to Zambia, H.E. Hidenobu Sobashima, as well as Chief M’ban’gombe, the Minister of Eastern Province the Hon. Makebi Zulu and many other government officials are visiting for a handover ceremony.  The Japanese Embassy funded the construction of three new school blocks at David Seidenfield, Mkale, and Zatose Community Schools. These buildings will accommodate more students at schools - an important step because there are more grade 7 students attending classes at Impact Schools.

The past week has been full of preparations, ranging from visiting the Ministry of Education offices in Katete and Chipata to deliver invitations to cleaning up the school.  Some of the highlights for me have been the many practices I’ve sat in on as students prepare poetry and dance pieces.

Several teachers at David Seidenfield and Kanyelele have spent countless hours over the past week working with students and helping them learn their routines. Joseph Banda, the head teacher at David Seidenfield, penned a beautiful poem thanking the Japanese Embassy, entitled Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu, and after plenty of auditions, Mphumulo Banda selected a group of five students to perform it. Zuwana Banda additionally coached a group of 6th and 7th graders on three songs and their respective dances. It’s inspiring to see the dedication that Zuwana and Mphumulo show.  They are new teachers and have stayed late every day of the past week to make sure everyone is ready for the ceremony! Many parents from David Seidenfield School have also been practicing nightly, as they are going to open the ceremony with a song and dance.

The Nyau will perform at the beginning of the ceremony so that as guests arrive they will be greeted with traditional Chewa dancing. Huge piles of firewood have been delivered, tents have been pitched, 10 cooks have been hired, audio equipment has been set up, and we are all ready for the big day! As I write this, all of the performers are going through the last run-through of their pieces.   

As the Deputy Commissioner of Katete said during our meeting last week, the future of the children of Zambia is everyone’s priority and goal - the handover ceremony will be a special occasion marking progress towards the achievement of that goal.

Check back next week to read more about how the ceremony went!

Kristen 

Getting around in Eastern Province

In this post, I'd like to paint a picture of the sights, sounds, and modes of transport in Eastern Province, Zambia.

Getting around Katete district is proving to be an adventure in its own right. Three weeks ago, on our journey from Lusaka to Joel, we traveled on a crowded bus along the northern edge of Lower Zambezi National Park. To my surprise we were driving through lush, tropical mountains! While the area we are in now is not mountainous, it is quite hilly and the fields are many vibrant shades of green. The deep, rusty red clay underneath our feet offsets the green. As it’s currently rainy season, the skies are full of clouds, many fitting to burst with heavy rain. The sound of the rain on the tin roofs range from a light patter to a thunderous cacophony, which can cause classes to stop and conversations to be put on hold. The heavy rains also contribute to the erosion of roads and the formation of tiny rivers in the clay. This erosion makes travel challenging, especially the day of a storm and the day after.

Joel village is situated off of a very busy main road. The road is full of pedestrians, bike riders, bike taxis with passengers, carts, herds of cows, motorbikes, and the occasional car or truck. Depending on the time of day, there are primary and secondary school students heading to school in uniforms and carrying their school bags. Many children use plastic carrier bags as their school bag. There are two schools within walking distance from where we live, and a few more that are in biking distance. It's hard for me to judge the distance accurately – a kilometer or two doesn't seem far until you get on the road and experience the hills!

Thanks to Bessie, our host, I've solidified my Chewa pleasantries so I am able to make small talk. I enjoy watching people's expressions change as I greet them – the sometimes-scrutinizing but oftentimes-curious gaze usually becomes replaced by a big smile!  I've put those pleasantries to good use as I take walks and explore more of the fields around. I've also taken to riding the intern bicycle to nearby schools. It can only switch between first, second, and occasionally third gear so biking uphill is out of the question. I've had some interesting conversations with people as we walk our bikes up the steep inclines though! The afternoon sun is blistering but, depending on where you're coming from, you can coast and enjoy the beautiful breeze.  The views are incredible: cornfields spotted with the occasional sunflower or gerbera daisy, all set against a backdrop of large hills on the horizon.

For the faraway schools, Joseph, the Operations Manager, takes us on the back of the motorbike. As I mentioned earlier, the roads are full of deep grooves from the rains so it can be pretty tough getting through the wet clay. An occasional stall or two is to be expected!

All of these modes of transportation are ways to see more of Eastern Province, to snap an occasional photo or two, and to practice Chewa. It's hard to picture just how remote Impact Network schools are until you venture between them. The distance is a reminder of how far some teachers travel to get to schools and how dedicated they are to make an impact in their students’ futures. It also shows how important Impact’s community schools are – they serve to open up opportunities for education around the region! I am humbled to be here and am looking forward to many more walks and rides through the hilly countryside in the next few months.

- Kristen 

What can we do better? Small steps to big progress

On May 11, 1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio announced that they had developed a tubeless tire.  I know this sounds like a small thing, but it was a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient.

Until then, pneumatic tires (which are tires filled with pressurized air) relied on an inner tube containing the pressurized air and an outer casing that protected the tube.  But in this previous design, if the inner tube failed, the tire would blow out quickly, putting the driver and passengers at risk.  Taking three years of engineering, the tubeless tire no longer required the inner tube and instead trapped the pressurized air within the tire walls themselves.  Within a few short years, the tubeless tire became a standard feature on most new cars, and was being touted as one of the most far-reaching changes to take place in the tire industry. 

I thought this story was a GREAT reminder of two important things:  The first is that innovation and advancement isn’t always glamorous, but it has the potential to change lives.  Engineers spent three years working on a tire – actually, just a TUBE in a tire to achieve something that changed automobiles forever.  They were thoughtful, relentless, and determined in their pursuit to do things better.  And not huge things, but relatively minor ones.  With Impact Network, this was a reminder to me that even the tweaks that seem the most mundane, the most laborious, and perhaps the most minor, have the ability to change things on a grander scale.  Change takes time, and usually happens on a much more micro level than the stories and advancements we hear about in the news.

The second reminder was that we can always do better.  Big improvements like shifts in achievement, attendance, and test scores can only happen if we take the time to make improvements to our model. Every time our team puts our collective brain power together, whether it’s on collecting data more efficiently or administering tests that are more rigorous – every time we do this, we are making a decision to do improve our practice. We believe this firmly and unwaveringly – it’s why we sit down together to discuss better ways of doing things, it’s why we commissioned American University to evaluate our programs and provide an external look at how we operate, it’s why I wake up every single morning to work for this organization and ask myself – What can we do better?   

- Reshma

A Fresh Approach to Teacher Training at Impact Schools

At this month’s Impact Network training, our team decided to shake things up.  In 2017, each school will have the opportunity to present a training session as part of the monthly training.  We are excited to see what our teachers come up with this year!  Our intern on the ground, Kristen, sent us this summary of how the first one went:

 

Shopping in Katete

Our preparation began Friday afternoon as Sarah, Joseph Mushashu, and I headed to Katete for a shopping trip. Joel Village is located off of the Vulamukoko Junction, which meets the Great East Road connecting Lusaka to Chipata. In order to reach Katete, we needed to either walk 3km to the junction or catch a ride. Fortunately, after a few tries, we found a ride all the way to Katete with Mr. Jacob Banda, the Head Teacher at Chivuse School, whom I had met the day before. After arriving in Katete, we met Daniel Mwanza and began shopping. We meticulously searched out the best deals and kept track of our budget - we were buying enough food for a 70 person lunch, after all! 

Above: heading to Katete with the hills in the background, below: driving through the busy market streets.

Above: heading to Katete with the hills in the background, below: driving through the busy market streets.

Preparing the Morning Of

We spent Friday night and Saturday morning preparing the classrooms with enough desks for 63 teachers and space for the management team. It was a tight squeeze but we managed to make it work! The morning was spent organizing cooking of the meal, greeting teachers as they arrived, and registering attendance. 

A Full Agenda

We began our training day at 8:40 am, with opening remarks from Director Daniel Mwanza and a prayer from Elias Phiri. Sarah, my intern colleague, and I introduced ourselves and in turn, all present teachers introduced themselves.

A busy bike parking area

A busy bike parking area

Impact Network is constantly searching for the best ways to train teachers and provide the necessary support for these community schools to grow on their own.  For instance, Impact is piloting a new project of school-led training sessions. Mnyalua School was selected to present the first training session, which they did on Teaching and Learning Aids. They presented an hour and 10 minute long presentation, which the entire staff enjoyed greatly. Mnyalua School prepared a highly interactive session and had full attention and participation throughout their session.

  • The session began with a PowerPoint presentation and Q&A format to discuss what teaching and learning aids are and how they can benefit learners.
  • Maxwell Mbewe then presented grid technique drawings to demonstrate how to draw faces (pictured below). His presentation was a hit! I could safely say we were all laughing and learned a lot from his technique.
  • Davison Phiri presented a teaching aid for personal hygiene to which he attached detergent boxes, a toothpaste tube, shampoo bottles, a comb etc. so that students could see the items they were talking and learning about. His aim was for teachers to bring practical materials when possible to make the subject they’re teaching come to life in a more accessible way.
  • Finally, Festus Banda presented on a word wheel to be used during tutoring. He demonstrated how to make a word wheel out of cardboard and the many ways it can be used.
  • Mnyalua School finished their presentation with a skit demonstrating the use of learning and teaching aids during class time. It was the most popular training session of the day and certainly an excellent way to continue learning from each other!
Mnyalua School's PowerPoint presentation on teaching and learning aids

Mnyalua School's PowerPoint presentation on teaching and learning aids

Another innovative session was grade group discussions.  Teachers from all schools met with fellow grade teachers and discussed successful lessons, teaching moments, any challenges they had during the first three weeks of the term, and other ideas about past and future lessons. It was great to see teachers sharing their successful moments and challenging moments together as it allowed for them to find a commonality between one another. These grade group collaborations will continue because they are a tool for teachers to learn from and support each other in their development. We additionally had a Lesson Demonstration bloc, which provided a platform for returning teachers to perform role plays in order to demonstrate teaching methods to the new teachers. Each role play ended with feedback on successful parts of the lesson and areas in which they could improve.

A unique part of the training session was the Exam Committee meeting with Director Daniel Mwanza. Four teachers write the exams for each grade level. They make sure the exams are in line with the Zambian Ministry of Education’s requirements and that the questions accurately reflect what learners have covered that year. In keeping with Impact Network’s democratic and community-based approach, there were votes on who would be included in the committee. There was a lot of dialogue between teachers and management staff to choose the committee and at the end of the session everyone was satisfied with their picks. The Exam Committee will meet throughout the term to create the exams.

Maxwell Mbewe's finished product - many teachers were excited to learn how to draw faces using the grid drawing technique! 

Maxwell Mbewe's finished product - many teachers were excited to learn how to draw faces using the grid drawing technique! 

After lunch, Sarah and I delivered lessons on how to use applications on the iSchool tablet. I presented an introductory session on the word processor for new teachers, during which we worked on typing, formatting text, and saving documents. Sarah presented on using spreadsheets to make an attendance register for the returning teachers.

Last, Daniel conducted an exciting discussion on some of the big things coming to Impact Network Zambia this year.   He said that on February 28th, we will host a hand-over ceremony for three Japanese-funded classroom blocks. The Japanese Ambassador to Zambia will attend the ceremony and the Nyau will perform.

The training ended with an evaluation of the day so that teachers could assess the training and add anything they would like to improve. Our next training is in April and is taking place in Mnyalua instead of Joel - this was received very well as many teachers from Zone B schools have traveled monthly to Joel in order to attend the training and it was deemed fair to trade the responsibility.

An example of a completed action plan from Maxwell Mbewe at Mnyalua School.

An example of a completed action plan from Maxwell Mbewe at Mnyalua School.

After the meeting, Teachers in Charge from each school checked in to discuss their Action Plans. This is a new project with the focus of implementing projects according to individual school’s needs. Sarah and I checked in with Teachers in Charge in order to see what their plans are and how they are developing. Some ideas included cleaning up and maintaining schools, building a school garden, and building a school kitchen. Teachers in Charge were tasked with brainstorming deadlines for the steps of their project, any potential challenges (such as rainfall), and resources needed to complete the plans. I’ve provided an image of Mnyalua School’s action plan to create a school kitchen. This is an exciting and useful development for them as they will need the kitchen for the Mnyalua based teacher training day in April. 

All in all it was a successful day! As with anything there was room to improve but we are hoping to continually do just that.

Best wishes from David Sedenfield school at Joel Village,

- Kristen

 

 

Introducing Kristen Fraley

This week on the blog, Kristen Fraley introduces herself

 

Hello!

           I’m Kristen and I am thrilled to join Impact Network’s Zambia team as an Education Development Intern! I’m from Florida but I’ve called Scotland home for the last year and a half. I recently completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh. During this time, I specialized in Education Policy, Transitional Justice, and Africa in International Politics. I received a B.A. from Florida State University in International Affairs and Religion with a minor in Anthropology in 2012. Afterwards, I moved to the Czech Republic and became a certified English Teacher, spending two years working as a preschool, primary, secondary, and adult English teacher in Prague. I also held a position as an Observer at a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification school, and I worked with teachers in training by observing their lessons and strategizing techniques for improvement. When I’m in Florida, I am a substitute teacher for Lee County School District. This role has granted me in-depth experience with students aged 4-18 and the stages of learning development.

One of the most brilliant things about teaching to me is seeing the “light bulb moment:” the way a student’s face lights up when they’ve figured out a challenging problem or improved in their abilities is so rewarding!

Exploring Ben Lomond in the Trossachs National Park, Scotland.

Exploring Ben Lomond in the Trossachs National Park, Scotland.

 

Why do you want to intern for Impact Network?

          As the daughter of a teacher, I have always had a profound respect for education. I believe that education is the bedrock of society and that, within every mind, lies great potential waiting to be unlocked. To me, equal access to education is a right for every individual and I am committed to strengthening education infrastructure across the world. I am particularly interested in the use of sustainable technologies for providing education to off-the-grid communities, therefore, the work Impact Network does is truly up my alley! This internship initially caught my eye because it bridges my academic studies with my previous work experience and my future career goals. I ultimately aim to work in Education Policy and International Development. I am very excited to see firsthand Impact Network’s successful implementation of Zambian curriculum standards while providing a ‘learning by doing’ environment for teachers and students alike!

Face painting during a sensory English summer camp in Prague- the book theme that day was Alice in Wonderland!

Face painting during a sensory English summer camp in Prague- the book theme that day was Alice in Wonderland!

 

What are you most looking forward to?

        I am most looking forward to assisting the team while further honing the skills I’ve gained over the last few years. Not only is this internship a unique opportunity for career development, it is also a way to learn firsthand about life in Zambia. I love learning new languages and I am looking forward to studying Chewa and Nyanja while I am here. I also can’t wait to explore the natural beauty Zambia has to offer by visiting the impressive Victoria Falls and going on a safari in the South Luangwe National Park. I will be in Lusaka for a few more days but I am eager to go to Eastern Province and begin working. For now, I am enjoying the sights and the weather. It is the rainy season so the days are warm, the nights are cool, and the trees are lush and green. Coming from Florida, it reminds me a lot of home!

I’ll post updates regarding my experiences here so do keep an eye out!

                 Kristen

 

 

The Incredible #42

This year marks 60 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color line and became a starter for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  In that first season, he completed 12 home runs, the Dodgers won the National League, and he was selected as the Rookie of the Year. His baseball accolades are far-reaching – he was an All Star player, was the league’s MVP, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  From day one, Robinson faced racial slurs from fans, opposing teams, and even his own teammates. Many players refused to play with him and against him, but the Dodgers leadership advocated for his right to be there and his fellow players began to speak up on his behalf.

But what most people don’t know is the incredible legacy that Jackie Robinson left to the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1942, five years before he first stepped onto that baseball field in the Dodgers uniform, Robinson was drafted and sent to Fort Riley, Kansas. Robinson finished his Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas – and it was there on a summer day in 1944 that Robinson refused to move to the back of an Army bus upon request by the bus driver. Military police took him into custody, he was court-martialed, and charged with multiple false offences.  He was eventually acquitted, the proceedings prevented him from going overseas and he was never in combat.

Robinson went on to serve as the first black analyst on ABC’s telecasts, he was the VP at Chock Full o’Nuts, served on the board of NAACP, founded the Freedom National Bank, and established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for low-income families. Twenty years ago, the league officially retired his number – 42 – across all teams, with the exception of Jackie Robinson Day, when every player on every team wears the treasured #42.

In researching a bit more about the incredible #42, I came across a dozen communications with various Presidents and White House staff (you can view them here). Through telegrams and letters, Robinson communicated with various Presidents, and supported both political parties at one time or another.  Reading these communications motivated me to be a more engaged citizen myself – if he could find the time, I can make the time.  And it made me rethink how we engage with our scholars and teach them how to be part of a broader community. How do we teach our students to become global citizens? How do we encourage them to write their own letters?  How do we foster their own interests in politics?

For me, today, it means leading by example.  I’ll be writing my congresswoman and senators this weekend.

- Reshma

At the intersection of tenacity and opportunity...

While I haven’t seen a movie in ages, the first one currently on my list is Hidden Figures. The film is based off on a group of African-American female mathematicians who worked in the shadows at NASA to put a man on the moon.  

Meet Katherine Johnson

Johnson started working at NASA in 1953, working as a human “computer” as part of a team of women within NASA.  She would help read the data from the elusive black box in planes, and analyze things like “gust alleviation”. At the time, NASA was still segregated, both by race and by gender, but one day, Johnson was temporarily assigned to the male research team.  There, she impressed her colleagues and bosses and they (according to her) “forgot to return [her] to the pool.” Until she retired in 1986, Johnson worked at NASA on some of the most influential missions of our time. When the first American was heading into space, Johnson was behind the scenes calculating the trajectory for the mission. When officials needed someone to verify the computer’s calculations of John Glenn’s orbit path, they called Johnson (Glenn refused to fly unless she verified the calculations). And when Apollo 13’s mission was ended, she helped return the crew safely.

Meet Dorothy Vaughan

Katherine Johnson’s story might not have been possible if it weren’t for Vaughan. Vaughan started working at NASA in 1943, initially completing complex calculations by hand, and then leading her colleagues in FORTRAN programming skills. She became the first black supervisor and one of the first female ones, overseeing a group of African-American female mathematicians – a group including, Katherine Johnson. Vaughan always remained on the cutting age of computer programming, understanding that electronic computers were the future, and ensuring her staff had the skills to succeed in this new era at NASA.

Meet Mary Jackson

Jackson was recruited by NASA in 1951, to work under Vaughan. Two years later, she worked under engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki on the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. It was there that she was encouraged to go back to school and become an engineer, and in 1958, she was NASA’s first black engineer ever. After working as an engineer in several NASA divisions, and receiving the highest level within the engineering department at NASA, she went on to work as an administrator aiming to bring equal opportunities to women in NASA.

I could go on.  But the thing that is striking about each of these stories is the lengths that each family went through to ensure their daughters had a good education, and the opportunities that these women took advantage of. Johnson was born to a lumberman and a teacher, who valued the importance of education and moved cities to give their daughter access to public schooling after grade 8. When Johnson started college at the age of 15, she took every math course that the college offered. She literally desegregated a graduate school in West Virginia in order to get her degree. Vaughan’s family moved from Missouri to Virginia, where she could graduate from high school, and go on to receive a full scholarship at Wilberforce University. Jackson had to petition the City of Hampton to allow her to attend classes through the University of Virginia’s program at a local high school.

And so it’s here, at the intersection of tenacity and opportunity that we find this incredible story. And it’s stories like this that feed the work that we do each day, to provide rural Zambians with a quality education. So that one day, you might read about one of our determined scholars who took advantage of an Impact Network school in her community, and soared.

The Audacity of Hope

This week, this country bid farewell to Barack Obama – our 44th President.  There have been hundreds (thousands?) of articles paying tribute to the country’s first African American president.  This week, I don’t plan to compete with them :)

Since the election, I have been re-reading Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, re-watching his many state-of-the-union addresses, and re-living his convention speeches.  Over and over again, I have returned back to the following passage from Obama’s speech in Philadelphia during the 2008 race:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

So it is that on this Friday, January 20th, on the inauguration of our 45th President, that I am choosing to be thankful.  I am thankful that we can bear witness to a peaceful transition of power from two diametrically different people.  I am thankful that for most of my time in the US, I have had leaders and mayors that I value, respect, admire and would have voted for.  I am thankful that I live in a country that values democracy in a world where every vote does not count.  I am thankful that the opportunities that made Barack Obama our President are the same opportunities that my father offered to me when he came to Canada as a refugee, fleeing a dictatorship.

And I am thankful today, and every day, to work for this organization and serve our 2,200 students and 120+ villages and communities.  Teaching our youngest citizens how to read and write nurtures the bedrock of our democracy, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to help in that process.

I have hope that the democracies from developing countries, like Zambia, will come to take the center stage and provide a voice for the most marginalized citizens of the world. I have hope that I will live to see many more leaders and mayors that I value, respect, admire and would vote for. And I have hope that the story of Barack Obama will become less exceptional as our world becomes increasingly flat.  As President Obama put it, I have the audacity of hope.

-Reshma