Number 261

This week the annual Boston marathon was held, and a board member (thanks, Swan) pointed me to the incredible story of Kathrine Switzer. Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston marathon 50 years ago this week (A quick side note: runner Bobby Gibb ran the previous year but had finished unofficially because she wasn’t registered. She finished ahead of two thirds of the male runners). Switzer’s coach insisted that a marathon was too far for a “fragile woman” to run and discouraged her from attempting the race.  Switzer registered for the race as K.V. Switzer, escaping the oversight from the marathon organizers. When they realized a woman was on the course, one of the organizers attempted to remove her while she ran.

Over the course of the race, Switzer was greeted by snickers, but also incredible support from women in the stands when they realized she was running. It wasn’t until five years later that women were permitted to run in the Boston Marathon. She continued her running career, winning the 1974 New York City Marathon. She went on to commentate for marathons and advocating for women’s opportunities in racing. What’s remarkable about Switzer (and Gibb’s) story is the excuses that they were given for women not being able to participate initially. They were told that anything longer than 800m would injure women, rendering them unable to have children. They were told they would turn into men, growing hair on their chest and getting big legs.

Even more amazingly, this past week, Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again, 50 years later, at the age of 70, using her same bib – Number 261.  It was a reminder of two things really – that age really is nothing but a number, and that progress and real change can happen if trailblazers continue to break barriers and supporters and allies continue to advocate.  Here’s to all of the trailblazing scholars in our own Impact Network schools!

- Reshma

Sports Day at Joel Village!

While working in the office last Thursday, Mphumulo Banda (a previously featured teacher) popped in to give the staff handmade invitations to his Grade 3 Sports Day. It was really neat to get the invitations and we were all excited to go see what was in store.

Throughout the term, Grade 3 students practiced long jumps, 100 meter dashes, and playing football. Sports Day is a 2 hour lesson plan in the iSchool tablet and serves as an Expressive Arts revision to mark the end of the term. It was a day for students to put all they had learned to the test! Students competed in teams and they chose the team names Kafue, Zambezi, and Luangwe after three large rivers in Zambia. The day began with students preparing the field for the activities. Students were given a variety of tasks, such as setting up the high jump poles and marking a perimeter around the field. It was a very windy day so marking the perimeter was a bit challenging!

Students busily preparing the perimeter of the track  

Students busily preparing the perimeter of the track  

The highlights for me were the high jump and the egg race. The high jump got progressively harder and it was really fun to see the students participate. The final height was over 4 feet- some students tried and fell, others started sprinting and then stopped abruptly with huge grins on their faces. The Egg Race, a staple field day competition from my childhood, was the most exciting event of the day. It was a relay race and the last team with an unbroken egg won. The students started out very slowly but picked up the pace as they got more confident carrying the egg with a spoon. The looks of surprise when the egg fell was priceless!

The final challenge- an egg race!

The final challenge- an egg race!

Sports Day was fun to watch because the personalities of the students really showed. There were timid students who looked surprised when they jumped the very high jumps, and competitive students who had to sit out because they got a little too bossy. The age range of students at Impact Schools varies so there were 8-11 year olds participating. Owing to that, there was a range of heights and abilities but everyone did their best! As a prize, Mphumulo passed out a school book and pencil to the three winners, all of whom were girls!

Watching students run their fastest and jump their highest without a care in the world was really heartwarming. I was especially glad to see so many girls participating and having fun as the daily reality for a young girl in Eastern Province is full of a large amount of housework. It was an inspiring morning all around!

Winners of the girls’ relay race checking in with the judges

Winners of the girls’ relay race checking in with the judges

-- Kristen Fraley, Program Implementation Intern

Congratulations, Francis Sakala!

Last week, Impact Network was represented at the Chimtende Zone Science Fair. Roughly 90 students from grades 2-4 attended the fair, and 10 students of those students came from Mkale Community School. Francis Sakala, a grade 3 student at Mkale, came in 3rd place! He will compete at the Katete District fair later this month!

I traveled to Mkale to ask Francis some questions about his experience competing in the science fair. Joseph, our Operations Manager, drove me out on the motorbike. Mkale School is one of the furthest schools from the office and it takes over an hour to get there by motorbike. The journey there is beautiful, rock formations and huge baobab trees dot the way. I learned that Mkale gets its name from the Mkale stream just behind the school. Mkale hosts grades 1-7 and serves over 200 students. The nearest government school is several kilometers away. The distance between schools is always a reminder of how far some students would have to travel if there weren’t Impact schools near their homes.  

Francis comes from Msonde Village which is right next to Mkale School. He was very shy during our interview, probably because he had an audience of his curious peers watching as we asked him questions. Francis speaks some English but we needed a translator. Sylvester Banda, a Grade 5 teacher, helped us out. Sylvester took all of the students from Mkale to the science fair so he was able to answer some additional questions.

Mangani Banda on the left, Francis in the middle, and Sylvester Banda on the right

Mangani Banda on the left, Francis in the middle, and Sylvester Banda on the right

Hi Francis, congratulations on winning the science fair!  What was your project?

I made an antibiotic paste to kill bacteria using local materials.

Did anyone help you with making the antibiotic paste?

Mr. John Lungu, head teacher at Mkale showed me which materials to use and how to prepare the paste.  

How did you feel about winning the science fair?

I was very excited to win!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a doctor when I grow up.

Were your parents excited when you won?

They were very excited when I told them. They encouraged me to continue on in the same spirit!

I spoke with Mangani Banda, Francis’s 3rd grade teacher. He, like Francis’s parents, was very proud when he learned that Francis won. He is excited to see where Francis goes from here! I’m sure Francis has a lot of supporters from the Impact Network community and we will be rooting for him when he attends the Katete District Science Fair.

-- Kristen Fraley, Program Implementation Intern

The power of failure and imagination...

I recently got a chance to start reading the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (yes, I still read young adult fiction!), and it got me interested in knowing more about the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. Rowling was actually working at Amnesty International when she got the idea for the character of Harry Potter – a young wizard who fights the forces of evil as a young student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The first manuscript for her novel took seven years to write and was rejected twelve times before being accepted. Six sequels later, and the books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide.

Rowling often talks about the importance of two paradoxical things – failure and imagination.

While the obvious example of her “failure” is the rejection of the Harry Potter novel, Rowling often discusses reaching rock bottom when she signed up for welfare benefits, describing herself as being "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless."  But it was from this place that she was able to realize her success as well.  She notes:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

For us, failure is what has made our education model, the eSchool 360, what it is today.  Each component of the eSchool 360 came from tinkering and trying different methods, until we arrived at a solution that could best deliver a quality education to our 2,300 students. The first time we had students at a computer, we realized that the technology was getting in the way of learning, and moved to a tablet and a projector. When we first started having teacher trainings, we did it every term – until we realized that our teachers need to be together once a month to really form bonds and further their development.  When we first started tracking enrollment, we wanted to do everything electronically before the organization was able to handle that amount of data.  We learned a lot of lessons in those early days, and continue to learn them today – because of our failures.

On the topic of imagination, Rowling thinks big. Yes, imagination plays a hugely important role in her novels and characters. But more broadly:

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Indeed, imagination is truly the birthplace of innovation.  The imaginator Thomas Edison invented the first version of the projector we use in our classroom each day (a movie projector!). The imaginators at IBM created the first smart phone (yes – not Apple!) which is a version of the tablet used by our teachers each day to deliver lessons. The imaginator Shiva Ayyadurai invented email – the tool we all use to communicate every single day.  Some food for thought!

Chitenge, Chitenge!

Timepo’s son peaking out from his chitenge wrap

Timepo’s son peaking out from his chitenge wrap

I can’t believe time has flown by so quickly but the final weeks of my stay in Joel are upon me! Aside from busy exam week preparations, I’ve had a bit of souvenir shopping to do. I spent last Saturday wandering around the market and shops of Katete picking out chitenge fabrics to bring back home with me. I plan on using fabrics I bought to make tablecloths, a quilt or two, and decorative pillowcases to give friends and family as gifts from my stay.

A decorated crocodile Nyau

A decorated crocodile Nyau

Days here are brightened by women and girls wearing beautiful swaths of brightly colored fabrics. The chitenge is a multipurpose piece of material- typically two meters long and waxed so that it can be tucked in and worn as a skirt. The chitenge can be wrapped around the back or front and used to carry children or items purchased in the market. I’ve even seen some mothers carrying one child on their back and one on their front! The chitenge can also be worn as a shawl when it’s cool out. The Nyau, a secret society of traditional Zambian performers, are decorated with bits of chitenge fabric alongside the grass and animal skin they wear. Strips of chitenge fabric can be woven into rugs and sewn into patchwork quilts. It’s an incredibly versatile piece of material! You’ll see women wearing a chitenge over their jeans or slacks as it is considered a sign of respect towards the community elders. Among the bright prints and patterns, you’ll see the face of Edgar C. Lungu, the president of Zambia, and his party, the Patriotic Front. They serve as a way of showing political and religious beliefs, Zambian pride, and even the staple crop in Zambia- maize. Chitenge fabric comes from all over Africa and usually has a mark with the pattern number and place of origin. The fabric can range from polyester/cotton, pure cotton, or even a silk blend. They range from 15 kwacha ($1.50) to 45 kwacha ($4.50).

Chitenge chairs on the banks of South Luangwa  

Chitenge chairs on the banks of South Luangwa  

 Tons of patterns and colors from the Handover Ceremony

 Tons of patterns and colors from the Handover Ceremony

My pack home is going to be a bit heavy from all of these!

My pack home is going to be a bit heavy from all of these!

While at the market I practiced my haggling skills- something I picked up while living here! I window shopped for a little while- there are hundreds of patterns and you may not see the same pattern twice. I’m excited to start sewing which I’ll do as soon as I’m back in the States. I’m sure I’ll think of Joel Village and life in Zambia every time I see them!

It was written in the sky...

I arrived in Zambia on March 13, just one day after the 2017 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations (hosted by Zambia!) wrapped up. The top four teams qualified for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea – and Zambia came in first.  The buzz in the country reminded me of the beloved 2012 Africa World Cup team and win. .  It was a politically charged event – Libya and Tunisia both qualified for the tournament despite the political turmoil in their nations at the time.  In the final, during a dramatic shootout, Zambia defeated third-time finalists (and favorites to win) Cote d’Ivoire.  It was the country’s first continental title, and the Zambian team dedicated the win to the members of the national team who died in the 1993 Zambian national football team plane crash. 

More than two decades ago, the Chipolopolo were a promising Zambian team with their eye on the 1993 African World Cup.  In the late evening of April 27, 1993, the plane ditched into the Atlantic Ocean, about 500 yards away from Libreville, Gabon, killing all of the passengers and crew, including 18 players.  After losing almost the entire team in the crash, the country faced the difficult task of resurrecting a new team to compete in only a few months. Defying all odds, they reached the final in the 1993 African World Cup, and played against Nigeria – despite a loss, they returned home national heroes.

In 2012, while the celebrations continued, the team’s coach, Hervé Renard, had only one explanation: “There was a special spirit with us,” he said. “It was written in the sky.”  In the three days before the final game, Kalusha Bwalya – one of the only survivors from the 1993 team – led the team to the beach of Libreville to honor the team that they had lost two decades before. The team walked as close as they could to where the plane went down, said a few prayers, and paid their respects.

I thought this was a poignant reminder of the strength we gain in remembering where our beginnings lie.  Each of us will face struggles in our daily work, and in our personal lives.  And each of our scholars faces struggles as they progress through their education.  But focusing on these struggles alone will get us nowhere – we must build from it, gain strength from it, and endure.  If we want to succeed in changing the fate of education for our students, we have no choice.  But just like a football team – we are not alone in this determination.  We all have one another to rely on, to gain strength from, to lean on.  And together, we will succeed – I have no doubt.  We must have faith that it is also written in the sky for us – that we are destined to succeed in our work to educate our students.  We must believe in our work and our mission wholly to find the strength to persevere. 

- Reshma

"We start each day by saying hello to each other": Read Kristen's interview with teacher Mphumulo Banda!

Mphumulo Banda is a new teacher at Impact Network and over the course of his first term has shown great initiative, a passion for education, and truly impressive classroom management skills. He teaches Grade Three at Joel Community School – enjoy!

Thank you for letting me ask you some questions, Mphumulo. Do you live in the community or nearby? Where are you from?

Yes, I do. I live in Joel, very near to the school. My parents live in Chipata but this is our family’s community. I have many family members here in Joel. I found out about Impact Network when I visited my grandmother. I was still in Secondary school then and was very interested in applying.

How do you greet your students in the morning?

We start each day by saying hello to each other. I have my students stand and sing a song for about one minute. They sing a different song each day. Then, we revise what we covered during previous lessons.

Do you like using the tablet and projector?   Was it hard to learn?

I like using the tablet and especially the projector. The students are very interested when we use the projector. It wasn’t hard to learn to use the tablet, no.

Do you like the curriculum?

 I do, very much. The learners enjoy the curriculum on the tablet and they easily understand concepts when I introduce them. The stories on the tablet are in English and Cinyanja so the students are able to follow along. Their favorite lesson so far was Thomas Tuber and his vegetable friends. The lesson was fun and the students will not forget it!

How do you get the students to listen and behave?

I have a very large class so we have rules and the students keep to them. We created our class rules together on the first day of the term and we follow them every day. If a pupil breaks a rule, I ask them to show which rule they didn’t follow and I remind them of what we agreed on.

How are the training sessions?  Do they help with your teaching? Are you close with other teachers?

I love the monthly training sessions. They are a great time to meet teachers from the other schools. It is very helpful to talk to other Grade Three teachers and to learn from them. The presentations are very helpful, especially for the new teachers. I have a close relationship with Joseph Banda, a Grade Six teacher here. He gives me good advice when I need help. He teaches extra book lessons with his students because he teaches the upper grade. I usually watch those lessons so I can learn from him. We usually plan our lessons together.

What is the most meaningful thing about teaching?

It has been my dream to teach and to help the young ones. I enjoy sharing the knowledge I have with my students. I share everything I can with them! That is the most meaningful thing about teaching for me.

How do you help the kids who need extra help?

I work closely with students who need extra help and we also have daily tutoring sessions. I use government books to help the learners during our tutoring sessions.

Do you have much contact with the parents?

Just two weeks ago I phoned the parents from our tutoring sessions. I wanted them to see what our lessons look like and what our students learn. I get along very well with the parents.

How is school different today than it was for you growing up?  Give examples.

I went to a government school for primary school and then to Secondary school at a boarding school in Mambo district. When I went to primary school we didn’t have electricity so Impact schools are very different. We didn’t have many books. I think the lessons learners have today are easier, especially because of the projector.

What is your favorite thing you’ve done this year?

I would say the garden we planted. We did that as a class and every student was involved. We dug areas for the bricks and arranged them. I had students bring plants to school and we all worked together!

Learning more about Mphumulo and his drive to be an excellent teacher really brightened my day. Mphumulo’s is a story of a young teacher with a passion for education and an Impact Network community school in his community. Talking with him today was a reminder of the positive impact these schools have for so many different people here in Katete District. I’m sure he will continue to put his heart into teaching as the year progresses!

Thanks for reading,


Reflections from Joel village...

After a two week hiatus, we are back!  I am rounding out my last day of a two-week trip here to our projects and return more humbled, more invigorated, and more excited about our future ahead.

Over my time here, I have had the immense privilege of seeing:

  • 100% of Teachers on the Exam Committee arriving on time and ready to work!  Our exam committee for term 1 met on Saturday to develop questions and exams for our upcoming end-of-term exams. It was my first time seeing the incredible dedication, time and energy in the room to ensure our students are being tested fairly and accurately.  Amazing work!
  • Teamwork – real, messy and productive team work.  From large group meetings to smaller discussions, our management team came to the table with great ideas and creative solutions to improve our programs and plan for our expansion.
  • Board Member, Anup Patel, experienced our students and schools for the first time.  From watching little people learn to read and write to seeing older scholars complete complex mathematical equations – seeing it from someone for the first time is always a powerful moment for the team.
  • Huge progress towards meeting our goals of educating students through the primary grades. Our biggest group of grade 7 students yet – 4 classes! – is working hard NOW to prepare for their examinations in November.  Our teachers are reinforcing that to be successful, they need to work a little bit each day towards a goal.

As always, our scholars were engaged in their own education, but what struck me this visit was the amazing dedication of our 60 teachers.  From our oldest teachers to ones hired just a few short months ago, I saw teachers working closely with students to learn how to write the letter S, to learn how to calculate the area of a triangle, to draw an insect, and to improve their public speaking.  Enjoy some pictures of the adventure!

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,