Greetings from Zambia! About two weeks ago I embarked on my very first trip to Zambia. While here, I am getting a closer look at our program, staff, teachers, and students and it has been very enlightening. Within my first week, I had the pleasure of reviewing one of our teacher training presentations. This particular training outlined the steps to building a positive learning environment in the classroom. One of the components that really stood out to me and somewhat followed, or rather guided, me through this trip, was “Micro-Moments”. Research has indicated that our memories are based on tiny moments, micro-moments, which generally last a few seconds. These moments are divided into three categories: Positive, Negative and Neutral. We tend to remember the positive and negative and often push the neutral ones to the back of our minds. I will take you through a few of the positive micro-moments of my trip.
6:13 A.M. on a chilly Tuesday morning, I come out of my room to take in the sunrise. And to my surprise, I was stopped in my tracks gazing at an unexpected marvel. As I turn to close my door, I notice one of our students, Pagalani, being wheeled to school by his mother with his two younger siblings sitting in his lap. Once they arrive at our school, the mother, with our security guard’s help, picks up her son and places him on the school steps. Waves and hugs are exchanged between Pagalani and his siblings as they jump into his wheelchair to leave with their mother and Pagalani patiently waits for the school bell to be rung (at 7 A.M. sharp) and learning to commence. The commitment of our students and parents were evident at this moment and motivated me for the rest of the day.
Micro-Moment: All Smiles
During my first field visit, I was able to sit in on Mervis, a 1st-grade teacher in Kathangwira, deliver a Cinyanja (local language) lesson to 57 students. After class, the students are in the standing in front of the school, so I decided to take pictures. I take a few group pictures and then I noticed a very stern-faced tiny person. I choose her and a few other friends and ask them to smile in the local language. Little did I know that this four-letter word, “Seka”, would brighten my day and inspire me to smile like the world is watching.
Mirco-Moment: Teacher Appreciation
After observing a very interactive lesson on counting and utilizing the number line with our 1st graders, Tesila, a teacher supervisor, begins to coach Kennedy, one of our newer 1st-grade teachers. Just as we begin to examine the positives of his lesson, one of his pupils’ returns, holding a gift. This student has returned after dismissal to offer a symbol of gratitude, an ear of roasted corn, for an admittedly great lesson. The student shyly hands off the ear of corn to a deserving Kennedy and runs off giggling. To see this little girl showing gratitude in the grandest form she knew and watching Kennedy humbly accept this token, truly warmed my heart.
Micro-Moment: Welcome Committee
Mere minutes after I arrived in Joel, I was welcomed by several children who decided to take a break from herding livestock to greet me. They stop what they are doing to stare, then they disappear and I do the same to settle in. About five minutes pass and I hear faint whispers of “Hello, How are you? I am fine”. Upon hearing this, I take a break from settling in to get to know my new friends. We don’t speak the same language, so we just sit and examine each other with our eyes. To make me more comfortable, I begin to play music to fill the moments between smiles, awkward silences, and our laughter. We begin to dance and our dance session gets serious so I whip out my phone to capture this moment and my new friends stop in their tracks and run from the front of the camera to my side of the camera… And from there some of the most memorable selfies I have ever taken are snapped.
Micro-Moment: Guest of Honor
After a long day at one of our most rural school, we took a detour to conduct an audit on one of our Expansion schools in Mthunya. As we closed out our visit, we were getting ready to leave and the Head Teacher request that we sign the logbook. Naturally, our Operations Manager for this region takes the book and begins to fill out the logbook. The Head Teacher stopped him and asked that I sign the logbook. Completely caught off guard, I ask if he is sure that he wants me to sign the logbook, as I am so used to blending in or at least trying to blend in. He assures me that I should sign because I am the newest visitor. He goes on to say that he has heard about me; I question what he thinks he knows about me, as we have only been there a few minutes. He rattles off a few facts: my name, my heritage (Nigerian) and that I was visiting from another country. I was so surprised. This offered a new and very personal outlook on my presence in Zambia and helped me to see that, try as I might to blend in; my presence is noted and impactful.
Micro-Moment: Exceeding Expectations
My first morning in Joel, I am having breakfast with Felicia, our Implementation Specialist and Monica, our Education Program Intern and we begin to recap my arrival. Felicia informs me that I am not what our staff, particularly what Caroline, one of our School Support Officers, expected. She goes on to explain that Caroline was not expecting to be greeted by “a young, cool, down-to-earth person that she could talk about things like hair and music with”. While I am not exactly sure what she expected, I am happy that I was able to completely dismantle (and potentially redesign) her expectation of Americans.
Micro-Moment: The Looks
The looks from students as I walk into or past a classroom, past students in the schoolyard or past children in the village. Noticing their eyes being fixated on me; someone who looks like them but seeing that there is something new and different about me. These looks happened throughout my trip and I was able to capture one. This young lady’s gaze (pictured below) was replicated 100 times over on my short stay. It is these glances filled with admiration, wonder, and excitement that will continue to push me in this work.
In reflecting on the last three micro-moments I shared, I am reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk, The danger of one a single story. Chimamanda speaks about differentiating the narrative of a people and the power attached to those stories, how they are delivered and who is delivering them. In these micro-moments, I am the one delivering a new narrative with the simplicity of my presence. By no means do I see myself as a superhero by walking into the communities that we serve as someone who looks like our students, parents, and teachers, but coming from similar heritage as the visiting American, that no one expected, is important! After thinking more deeply about the dangers that Chimamanda examines in her Ted Talk, I am confident that our students’ exposure to a varied narrative is not limited to me, but rather offered to our students on a daily basis. From the interaction with teachers from different backgrounds to reading books about African leaders like Nelson Mandela to using our tablets where their animated learning companion resembles them and speaks their language; our students are definitely receiving more than a single story. It is difficult to know something is possible unless you see it. And we are showing our students (and staff) possibility.