Reflections on my time in Zambia

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For many of us growing up in the western world, school is normal part of childhood. The photos of me and my sisters dressed in homemade onesies, gaped toothed smiles, and fish shaped name tags fill my mother’s photo albums, memories of being sent off on a yellow bus for our first day of school.  School was such a large part of my childhood, it seemed unquestionable.  Days spent staring at a white board, playing soccer at recess, eating uniformed lunches off styrofoam trays, and gritting my teeth through late night homework.  I couldn’t imagine a childhood any other way.

However, as many American children become complacent and bored with their school day routine, little do we realize how incredibly privileged we are to have those consistent, eight-hour school days.  In Zambia, I have seen another side to education. 

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In Eastern Province’s rural community schools, education is driven not by status quo, but by commitment.  Commitment from excited children, who overcome adversity to arrive in the classroom each day, daring to challenge social norms and expectations and to dream of opportunity. Commitment from hard working Zambians striving to create a better future for their children and their communities, sacrificing often comfort and time with their families to do so. Commitment from a small international staff who bring inspiration and focus, creating bridges not only across the ocean but across cultures and misperceptions, establishing a sense of global community so important to today’s world.

Interning with Impact Network, I have met many of these committed individuals. 

I have met young students who wake up early to complete their household chores before walking, sometimes for over an hour, to get to school, pulling their thin shirts tight against the cold winter winds, and persevering forward. So excited for the day to begin they laugh and sing as they enter the schoolyard.

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I have met twenty year old men who swallow their pride and sit in the grade five classroom with students half their age, taking educational opportunity as it comes. 

I have met teachers who awake before the sun to bicycle more than 20 kilometers to school and make the return trip after a long day teaching in busy classrooms and return to homes without electricity or running water.  Who cook nshima with the light of the fire, collect water from the borehole, and prepare themselves to make the trip again the next day.  

I have met teacher supervisors and managers who have moved far from family and friends to work in these rural areas. Who stay late writing reports on Friday evenings and travel, sometimes kilometers, searching for a cellphone signal underneath a tree in a random field to submit the reports.

I have met international staff and interns, who can be found hard at work in the office on the weekends, finishing up a hectic week and preparing for the coming one, conducting teacher trainings, holding workshops, or trouble shooting the never-ending challenges of running an NGO.  Who focus on encouraging the staff they train with such passion, that soon they may work themselves out of a job. 

The students, teachers, and management staff of Impact Network’s 44 schools face challenges everyday. Far distances, busy classrooms, limited resources, diverse and multi-leveled classes, and the constant need for more training all effects the ability to provide quality education in this context.  The struggles of everyday life in rural Zambia, including malnutrition, disease, and poverty, bring their own challenges.

However, I am amazed by how those who have chosen to fight for education persist.  The commitment of Impact Networks students and staff is a strong weapon for dealing with these challenges, leading to a level of problem solving and adaptability that I find astounding. 

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As Malala Yousafzai has said, “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the word.”  I am happy to know that Impact Network’s 6,000 students, 150 teachers, and 20 managerial staff are all making their own contribution to changing the world for the better, and I am very thankful to have been part of it.  

-Naomi