Literacy Day! The Key That Opens the Doors to Knowledge


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” -Dr. Seuss

Literacy Day is an exciting day, which allows our learners in grades 1 to 3 to showcase their literacy levels to their parents and guardians. Parents come to school with their children to meet the teachers, engage in lessons, and see their children participate in educational activities. It is a well-established day in our termly calendar to highlight the importance of literacy to our learners, their parents and the broader communities that we serve. It is also a great opportunity for parents to learn about the Impact Network model, how tablets are utilized, and the way lessons are conducted for their children.

Literacy day is a way to involve parents in the learning process and to allow them to share literacy skills and knowledge with their children in an educational and fun way. The event not only sharpens the parent’s skills but strengthens the relationship between themselves and their children. With many parents having only basic literacy skills, they are excited to see their children read and share what they have learned in class. It is a nice space where parents also get the opportunity to meet and interact with other parents in the community and collectively celebrate the impact that quality education has on their children.

 The activities are coordinated by our Teacher Supervisors, Teachers and the Operations team across all Impact Network sites in three districts (Katete, Sinda and Petauke).

This year Literacy Day was bigger than ever before! Involved in the event were 36 schools, 2,014 parents, 112 teachers and 2,532 students in grades 1 to 3. Activities included: identifying vowels, reading words and sentences, matching objects with words, quizzes (parents vs students), word puzzles, games, spelling bees and poetry presentations. All the activities were structured in a semi-formal way and the results were great.


“Literacy opens the doors to knowledge and places. Literacy follows us every day, unconsciously: at home, on TV, in shops, restaurants, work, buses, and streets. Literacy is everywhere.”

It is with this in mind that we strive for our learners and their parents to be familiar with the world in which they find themselves through reading. We know that literacy follows them on their way home, at the farm, on the playground and in many other places that they visit. Above all, it helps them to get connected to places that they have never been and to know things that they have never heard before. This is why we celebrate and share all the knowledge and skills that students have acquired through reading with parents and community members. Literacy truly opens doors to new opportunities and we want everyone to take part!



I've failed over and over again...

In February of 1963, in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, and earned the title of the greatest basketball player of all time. At 6 ft 6 inches, MJ joined the Bulls in 1984, and quickly became a fan favorite, known for his incredible leaping ability and scoring. He still holds the NBA record for highest career regular shooting scoring average (30.12 points per game) and playoff shooting average (33.45 points per game). He was such a force that teams created “Jordan Rules” – defensive strategies to limit his scoring during games. 

 But today it’s not the shots that went in that I want to talk about. It’s the shots that didn’t.


I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.

I've lost almost 300 games.

26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.

I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

-Michael Jordan

This mindset is one that we see from star athletes around the globe, time and time again.  It’s something that we talk about to children (“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”).  But it’s also something that we don’t celebrate or talk about. Today I want to talk about one of Impact Network’s greatest failures.

When we started out in 2007, we started by building schools in rural Zambia.  We knew about the millions of children who were shut out of the educational system. We knew that, especially in rural areas, bringing access to education would transform communities. We knew that providing a safe and secure space to learn was important. But after completing the construction on several schools, we saw that while the buildings were impressive, the level of education being received by the hundreds of students in attendance was not. Building was the easier step.

In 2010, we shifted our focus beyond the build, to create a solution that could deliver high-quality education year in and year out, while keeping costs to a minimum. We researched how this could be done, looking into scores of strategies used across the globe. Today, we believe that the highest impact way to accomplish this is to provide technology to classrooms, and empower teachers with comprehensive coaching and training. But we are always changing, always experimenting, and always trying new things to prove ourselves wrong. We have some incredible new programs to test out in 2019 – from piloting homework programs to early childhood education. Stay tuned for our failures, and hopefully, some of our successes too!


Talent is Universal

Last month, one of the most incredulous stories I read was about a third grader – Tanitoluwa Adewumi. Adewumi is an 8-year-old, who arrived to New York City a year ago, after fleeing Nigeria. He just won his age group at the New York State chess championship.

Adewumi’s story is one of those ones that gets highlighted in press because he has succeeded against all odds. He was undefeated at the chess championship, despite only learning chess a little over a year ago. His family is seeking asylum and was living in a homeless shelter while he attended the local public school. Because of the dynamics of the state, he was up against children with chess tutors who have many more resources and training.  And yet… he won.

Source: Tani’s GoFundMe page “Just Tani”

Source: Tani’s GoFundMe page “Just Tani”

But instead of focusing on these limitations, I want everyone to instead consider why it was that Adewumi did succeed. I want you to consider the myriad of reasons that make it not unexpected that he would take home this first place prize. First, he has two very supportive parents – apart from their tireless support of his education, his mom takes him around to practices and tournaments, and his father helps him practice on his laptop each evening. Second, Adewumi is gritty and works incredibly hard – his chess teacher claims he does 10 times more chess puzzles than typical kids his age. And third, Adewumi had a coach and mentors at his school who saw his potential, and helped him learn and master chess. They spent time nurturing his talent and honing his skills.

It’s from these reasons for Adewumi’s success that I hope to draw lessons on how we can better serve our 6,000 Impact Network students. I found this quote incredibly powerful: “Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich this nation — and that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.”

The full article is here:

Also, there was a go fund me for Adewumi’s family and a follow-up report written on them here: Currently, it’s at over $250,000. The Adewumi family decided that they would donate the full amount – 10 percent to their church, who helped them when they needed it most, and the rest to a foundation to help African immigrants.


What do Leonardo da Vinci and Water Have in Common?

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Famed Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci once said that “water is the driving force of all nature.” Like many of da Vinci’s designs and inventions, this quote rings just as true today as it did in the 15th century. Water is the ultimate elixir of life – all forms of nature need it, including humans, who are made about 60% just water! Without it, life on earth would be impossible. On Friday, the world celebrated UN World Water Day – the day where we celebrate the importance and power of water worldwide.

Yet World Water Day is about so much more than just how awesome water is. It is our duty today and every day to recognize the massive water-related inequalities worldwide. Sadly, some 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water. Even more people – upwards of 35% of the world’s population – do not have access to improved sanitation, such as hand-washing stations and latrines. Lack of clean water and sanitation is a catastrophe for many reasons, including high disease transmission rates and poor nutrition.

Water & sanitation access in Zambia is improving, but more work must be done.

Water & sanitation access in Zambia is improving, but more work must be done.

Zambia is one of the nations most affected by water inequality – especially in rural areas. According to UNICEF Zambia, only 44% of rural Zambians use clean drinking water services and only 19% use basic sanitation services. As an organization serving the needs of rural Zambian communities, we have a duty to do all in our capacity to fight against this inequality.

Impact Network’s projects live up to this duty – our schools have a borehole nearby with safe drinking water not only for the schools, but for the local communities as well. Our schools have latrines for students and hand washing stations located close by.

Farm training at a Seeds to Grow school

Farm training at a Seeds to Grow school

Recently, our work with water security has increased with a community school pilot farm project at 3 schools with funding from the Bayer Foundation. With this project, entitled Seeds to Grow, we are training students at the schools how to grow crops, including water maximization and importance. We are also in the process of implementing “VIP WASH Stations” at seven of our existing schools. These improved stations will provide well-needed increased sanitation space for older grades in our schools.

In short, next time you drink a glass of water, cherish it. We’re happy and proud to be fighting against water inequality with our current and future projects, but there is still much more work to be done.


It behooves us to nurture them all...

Hi team!

 Hope everyone had a restful weekend.

 I recently spent time with some fellow Winnipeggers (that is, individuals hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, such as myself :)), and was reminded of a favorite Winnipegger of mine – John Urschel. Urschel was an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, and started playing football in high school, during a time where he already had developed a love of something different – mathematics.

 It’s seemingly rare in professional sports to find a player equally accomplished in another field, largely because of the dedication and time that sports training can take away from academics (and vice versa). But in 2013, Urschel taught calculus at Penn State, earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mathematics, and won the equivalent of the Academic Heisman, called the William V. Campbell award. A few years ago, he published an article called "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians." [I have a degree in maths too, and could barely get through the abstract of the article].  Urschel has loved mathematics since he can remember, and recalls going through puzzles and logic teasers incredibly quickly as a small child.  At 22, he taught an undergrad class while completing his graduate school credits at Penn State, prepared his thesis, finished his master’s degree, and was still able to make the football team’s workouts.  And the guy is Canadian! :)


 Urschel retired in 2017, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in math from MIT. He retired shortly after a major study published an article on the existence of CTE, a debilitating brain disease, in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players who donated their brains to research. While not specifically citing this as a reason for his retirement, it likely played a role. For his part, Urschel states that he just “stopped liking football as much as he liked math.”

 What I love about Urschel is that during the prime of his career, he remained unwilling to choose.  That in the face of two incredible interests, two incredible talents, and two incredible drives, he chose neither – this despite the fact that he fit in with neither group as a result. He is living proof that no matter how much our skill sets may vary, it behooves us to nurture them all – you never know where you might end up. 

 For those interested, I enjoyed this article on where he is now:


Forward for Women and Girls

Friday, March 8th was International Women’s Day, and across the world, stories of female empowerment were shared along with poignant calls for equality and justice. The importance of supporting women around the world was highlighted as the key to progress, development and the way forward (check out our very own Isaac Bird’s blog here:

In today’s world, storytelling is the key to how we understand ourselves and those around us. Through photos and diverse narratives, we gain a better understanding of other people’s lived experiences and how we can position ourselves in the world. My favorite article from this year’s International Women’s Day is actually not an article, but a compilation of photographs. “What I See” offers us a glimpse of the world as seen through others’ eyes. Nine documentary and portrait photographers were asked to share an image that captures the essence of the word forward as it relates to women around the world.

What I See: 9 photographers on what forward progress looks like

The striking photographs highlight the many different experiences women and girls face globally. It is through these stories that we continue to learn and imagine the way forward.

Although I am certainly not a photographer, I have also chosen to share a photo from one of my recent school visits, that relates to the word forward.

I spent some time in a classroom where I was struck by this young girl's focus, intention and enthusiasm for what she was learning. With a female teacher encouraging her and being a good role model, her trajectory is changing. Against the many odds, this girl is in school, she is learning, she is supported and she has a brighter future.


International Women's day is a good reminder to listen to all the stories around us to make sure we do everything we can to support women and girls around the world. Audre Lorde's words strongly resonate with me: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

By continuing to support women and girls in rural Zambia through education, we know that their stories are changing and their way forward is full of opportunity.

Onwards and upwards!

Thank you, Felicia!

5 Reasons Why Education Empowers Women and Girls


Quality education is the UN’s fourth sustainable development goal. Gender equity is its fifth. Though they are categorized separately, these goals are deeply intertwined. Indeed, women and girls worldwide have significantly less access to education than their male counterparts – so disproportionately that some 66% of the world’s 774 million illiterate are women. This staggering statistic acutely underlines the global necessity of education for women. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at five ways that education can improve the lives of all women and girls worldwide.

1. Education Decreases Women’s Poverty

Poverty is sexist. Lamentingly, like most socioeconomic burdens, poverty disproportionately affects women worldwide. Gender stereotypes, unintended pregnancies, lack of access to good jobs, and myriad other factors cause this inequality. According to Global Citizen, just one year of secondary school education can increase a woman’s lifetime earnings by up to 20 percent! Educating the world’s women and girls is clearly the key to transforming the cyclical nature of poverty into a cycle of prosperity.

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2. Education Gives Women More Employment Opportunities

Namita Datta of the World Bank once said that women not only need more jobs, but better jobs. Many factors push women into careers they did not choose, such as occupational segregation and illiteracy. Education for women and girls can fix this problem. First, it equips them with more skills and knowledge, thus qualifying them for better jobs. Second, it decreases societal gender stereotypes, which promotes the acceptance of women in higher-earning and decision-making positions. If all women and girls receive a quality education, their employment opportunities will be greatly improved.

3. Education Leads to Fewer Unintended Pregnancies and Delayed Marriage

Pregnancies and marriages are blessings when they are wanted and expected. Unfortunately, this is not the case for a large number of women and girls worldwide. According to a 2014 article by Gilda Sedgh et al., some 40% of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended. That’s roughly 84 million women who unintentionally forfeit their right to choose when to have a child every year. Likewise, according to the NGO Girls Not Brides, one in every five women worldwide is married before the age of 18. The overwhelming majority of these marriages and pregnancies take place in developing regions, where socioeconomic conditions are already strained for women. Educating women and girls poses a solution. A study in the journal Reproductive Health found that educational status is one of the largest determinants of unintended pregnancies, with less-educated women being far more prone to them than those who complete primary or secondary school. Girls Not Brides also found that uneducated women are 3 times more likely to marry before the age of 18 than those who attend secondary school. Education thus empowers women to decide when to become both pregnant and married, leading to an increase in their socioeconomic status.

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4. Education Improves Women’s Health

When women and girls are educated, they smarter decisions about their own health. Let’s take sexual health, for example. When public health advocates think of successful HIV cessation measures, they often think of Uganda in the 1990’s. The nation was successful in dramatically decreasing HIV contraction rates in school-age girls. According to an article by Marcella Alsan and David Cutler, the decrease was the direct result of higher secondary school enrollment rates for girls. This strategy should be applied at a global scale – educating women leads to better sexual health, which leads to lower rates of STI contraction. This could be especially useful in Sub-Saharan Africa, where young women are 2 times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than young men.

5. Education Increases Women’s Political Participation

Educating women doesn’t just make for more female politicians. It also means that women care more about participating in elections and political activism. A study out of Gombe State University in Nigeria found that there is a direct relationship between women’s educational attainment and political participation. Women participating in politics means that policies and politicians are not focused solely on the needs and wants of men – female opinions are just as important and participating in the political system ensures that their voices will be heard.

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Throughout all five of these reasons, one factor that has not yet been mentioned permeates: rural women have less access to education than others. In Zambia, for example, 27% of rural women have no formal education, in comparison to 18% of men. The gravity of this issue is compounded by the fact that 60% of Zambia’s population lives in rural areas. Clearly, education for rural women and girls is of desperate need in the county.

One of several organizations working to address this inequality is Impact Network, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit working to address this inequality. We believe all students deserve access to quality education and currently serve to over 6,000 students in rural Zambia. Our schools not only cost less than government schools, but bring e-learning to technologically-deprived communities through tablets.

Impact Network is demonstrably devoted to keeping girls in school and gender equity in the classroom. One example of this is our Life Skills and Sexuality curriculum. According to Caroline Chibale, a facilitator for the program, Impact Network educates “children, especially the girl child. With the help of the Life Skills and Sexuality education as part of the curriculum in our schools, we want to help our girls to handle themselves in difficult situations and to get boys to support their peers in different stages of life.” Through programs like this, we hope to empower and educate each girl in the classroom to make life decisions that are best for her.


In short, education for women and girls is the most effective key to the UN’s sustainable development goals of quality education and gender equity. Through education, women are not only empowered to flourish socioeconomically and make better decisions about their health and future, but society in its entirety is bettered by an increased presence of female voices.

Education never ends!

On a fateful day in March of 2017, I received my first email from Hope Zimba. It was for a job application for an Assistant to the Country Director, and we interviewed her a few weeks later. She was by far our best candidate, we hired her, and in May of 2017, I met her for lunch at Pangani. I still remember Hope from that lunch – a bit shy, but friendly, nervous, and excited about her new job with Impact Network.

Hope has always been incredibly hard-working, and she proved herself to be so much more than an assistant. During that first year, she traveled numerous times to every single one of our 35 expansion schools, facilitating maintenance and construction works. More importantly, she conducted community meetings with each school, getting to know them and their needs, and discussing how we could best partner with them. In those first few months, I remember being so impressed with her work ethic, her problem-solving skills, and her overall attitude as we embarked on this journey. There was no obstacle too big, and no community too far. In truth, we would not be where we are today, without Hope.


After the Expansion was in a good place, Hope transitioned to being an Education Programme Officer, helping to support our Teacher Supervisors and teachers with coaching, training and support. She continually showed herself to be a thoughtful, energetic, and incredibly dedicated staff member. As she trained and coached others, as she continued to troubleshoot issues at the schools, meet with Chiefs and communities, and serve on our Child Protection Committee. It has become so clear to me that Hope has so much potential!

And so, today, I am so so thrilled to let you know that Hope was accepted to McGill University, in Canada, to study a Masters in Education Psychology. McGill is one of the best schools in Canada, and the program is highly competitive. Only the best of the best get in, and so it surprises me not one bit that Hope will start there this September.

Hope shared with us her hopes and goals for Impact Network students last summer with this:

“Some of my hopes for the students that are in Impact network schools is that they get to benefit from the education that we are providing now. They get to understand the importance of education from this inception so that even as they grow old, it doesn’t end at them reaching grade seven and they stop. But they proceed to secondary school, university, and become better people in society.”

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Hope, truly, is living her hopes and dreams for our own 6,000 students. Hope – we adore you, we respect you, and we know that you are going places. Congratulations – you deserve it!


Dream More, Learn More, Do More & Become More

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams

It is true that great leaders inspire their people to reach higher, dream bigger, and achieve greater. The most important leadership skill that we can develop is the ability to provide inspiration to our team. If we inspire them to reach for the stars, they just might bring us back the moon.

Our main management task as educational leaders is to inspire teachers to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, just like Adams suggests. It is clear that our Teacher Supervisors’ roles as coaches, mentors and leaders do inspire teachers to learn more during their coaching sessions. As a result, teachers are able to do more and become more competent in their teaching. Once teachers are inspired to learn more and do more, their respective students are likely to learn more, do more and achieve more.

Petros Banda, Teacher Supervisor in Katete West, distinguishes himself by his passion, focus and commitment towards the achievement and the learning of his teachers. His commitment is an essential element of a successful education leader. He learns more about his teachers and is always committed and concerned with the development of these teachers. Petros cultivates his teachers’ curiosity and interest to learn by providing a one-on-one lesson demonstration in areas where teachers struggles most. He endeavors to learn new ways and techniques of coaching to fulfill his responsibilities to the teachers. He is very open minded to new ideas and once he get to understand the concepts, he goes above and beyond his prescribed duties to help the teachers help the learners to learn more.

Petros Banda

Petros Banda

We are therefore all challenged to dream big, learn always, do more and achieve greater as we enable the students realize their potential. I’d encourage you all to find time to learn more and do more in your daily work endeavors!


Head of Academics

Five Reasons Why We Should all be Learning in our Mother Tongues


The world-renowned education advocate Nelson Mandela once said that “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” On no other day is this concept more important than today, February 21st – also known as International Mother Language Day. Started by UNESCO in 2000, the day serves to celebrate the diversity of the over 6,500 spoken languages throughout the world. Not only does it celebrate them, but it calls for understanding of the necessity to preserve them and the cultures woven within them. Teaching in mother languages is one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure language preservation. Thus, in celebration of the importance of International Mother Language Day, let’s take a look at five reasons why all global learners should have access to education in their mother tongue.

1. Teaching in Mother Tongues Ensures that Everyone in the Classroom Understands

According to UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report, 40% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to education in a language they understand. That’s over 3 billion people worldwide that miss out on basic numeracy and literacy skills. Without these fundamental skills, further education and skill-development is exponentially more difficult. Since the main reason for this inequality is language standardization, such as in Senegal with French, the most intuitive solution is to promote mother-language classrooms and learning environments. Everyone understands the teacher when s/he speaks in the same language you hear at home.

2. Mother-Tongue Education is Proven to be More Successful

According to a study by Stephen L. Walter of the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, mother tongue education programs produce literate and capable readers within two to three years of schooling. The numbers were not as impressive for second-language classrooms, in which it takes roughly five years to attain the same reading level. As if those statistics are not astounding enough, the study also showed that average-performing students benefit the most from mother tongue education, while only advanced students flourish in a second-language environment. This makes it abundantly clear that mother language education gives the most children access to quality education – children should not have to wait nearly five years to be able to read, nor should only advanced students be able to excel in the classroom. Mother language education solves both of these problems!

3. Languages are Dying Faster than Ever Before

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger shows that over 2,500 languages are currently endangered. Since 1950, some 230 languages have gone extinct. That’s 230 heritages lost, forgotten, and not preserved. As world-renowned linguist Kenneth Hale once said, “when you lose a language, it’s like dropping a bomb on a museum.” As a global community, we cannot allow another 2,500 languages to have bombs dropped upon them by language-standardization efforts. Teaching in a mother language ensures that languages – and therefore the cultures embedded within them – will survive for generations.

4. Linguists Say that Dutch’s Days are Numbered

Here’s a great example of how fast languages are dying. According to an article by Željana Pancirov Cornelisse of the University of Zagreb, linguists are worried that Dutch will eventually be replaced by English as the first language of The Netherlands. Some experts, such as writer Harry Mulisch, believe that the replacement could take place in as few as 75 years. This is mainly due to an intense focus on English-only classrooms in universities and secondary schools. If this can happen in a developed nation like The Netherlands, the consequences could be tenfold graver in a nation like Zambia, which has over 72 indigenous languages/dialects but lacks many of the infrastructural resources to protect them.

5. Mother-Language Instruction Provokes Better Literacy in All Languages

As previously mentioned, many studies support the theory that language of instruction is strongly linked to a person's ability to learn how to read and write. A study in Zambia found that students who practice basic reading skills in their mother tongue make more progress in oral reading fluency in other Zambian languages as well as in English. Thus, mother language instruction would be especially beneficial to students in countries with low rates of literacy and/or high rates of linguistic diversity. Since countries that fall into these categories are often underdeveloped, mother language instruction is clearly an effective tool for international development.

Studies such as the one above have sparked a heated debate about mother tongue protection in Zambia. Reshma Patel, Executive Director of education and e-learning nonprofit Impact Network, laments that Zambian parents face a dilemma. On the one hand, they “want their children and communities to learn English from a young age, as they are aware of opportunities that speaking the language can offer.” On the other, “emphasizing too heavily on English-education diminishes local culture. Chewa culture is so embedded in Eastern Zambia that there are words and stories that simply could not be described or understood through English.”

Impact Network poses a solution to parents facing this challenge. The organization’s schools embrace the eSchool 360 model, which was pioneered to deliver high-quality, low-cost and sustainable education to children in under-served areas. In partnership with Mwabu, they provide teachers with tablets and projectors to deliver class lessons taught in the mother tongue of students and teachers. All of this is accomplished for less than $5 a month per student.

Zambian parents are pleased with Impact Network’s schools thus far, which Patel attributes to the fact that the schools are devoted to finding “an equal balance between honoring Zambian culture and emphasizing the importance of English.”

In short, if there is one lesson to be taken away from this year’s International Mother Language Day, it’s that mother-tongue education is necessary, feasible, and successful.