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.