Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit


There is an old saying "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". Learners are not machines, they can lose focus and concentration if extracurricular activities are not incorporated. Academics may agree that covering a rigorous academic curriculum is important for students to achieve their academic pursuits, but they can also agree that concentrating on class work alone may leave some learner talents unfulfilled. So while students are focused during the school year on doing the hard work of learning, reading, and preparing for end-of-term and end-of-year tests, we also recognize that even the great footballers of our country discovered their talents while they were at school during extracurricular activities. And they have excelled, become heroes and survived on their talents.

It is against this background that Impact Network is nurturing the learners to not only excel academically but also in their social wellbeing. During week 7 of this school term, we held activities that revitalized our students and teachers, and re-committed their minds to carry on with the rest of the term’s school programs. These activities were aimed at promoting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of our incredible students, and included activities such as football, netball, debate and quiz. They have energized and helped our students relax their minds and rejuvenate their brains. With this, students will refocus their energy towards the academic goals and tasks ahead. It is our belief that a balance between schemes of work and recreation is the proper way to keep the mind and body in trim shape. Just as B.K.S Iyengar said “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit”.

Across our Katete West schools, a well-organized tournament was conducted and students across all schools participated in both football and netball. The knock-out games were conducted on Thursday and the final games were hosted at Joel. It was a great opportunity for the learners and teachers to showcase their sports talent. The tournament saw Zatose School emerging netball winner and Mkale emerged as football champions. Congratulations to our incredible students!



A ribbon cutting for the ages!

On June 18, we had the incredible opportunity of hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony at the recently constructed classroom block at Kanyelele. The much-needed structure was one of three made possible by a grant from the Bayer Fund, with the other two located at Joel and Chadzuma schools.


A huge thanks to the Katete site managers who did a fantastic job of making arrangements for our esteemed guests! Our team has gotten so amazing at hosting visitors and they certainly did a fantastic job with this one.  The teachers and students took great pride in tidying the grounds and making a welcome sign for the honorees. The students’ excitement was palpable and they were so thrilled to participate in the momentous event.

An impressive attendance list included parents and PTA committee members, local headmen, a representative of the District Education Board Secretary, our incredible students, and visiting guests representing the Bayer Fund. 

For entertainment, the school choir sang 3 songs, students in full costume performed a comedy that had everyone laughing, and last group of students performed a lovely poem their teachers helped them prepare that expressed their gratitude. To top it all off, a Nyau was performed, much to the delight of the students and community members!

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Ndavi Muia from Bayer and Ms Mbewe cut the ribbon together and the key handover followed. It was great day and the classroom block will be appreciated for many years to come. The generosity of our donors and supporters allows us to continue to serve our 6,000 scholars each year. Without them, we would have to turn students away and would not be able to serve all of the communities within our reach. A huge thank you to the team from Bayer who supported us during this time!


Fostering a Love of Reading

Happy Readers – A Targeted Reading Intervention Laying Strong Foundations and Fostering a Love for Reading

As an educationalist I am continuously exploring how to improve literacy levels in schools. I wake up in the morning and endlessly ponder what Impact Network can do to ensure that our students are given the best opportunities of learning how to read. I spend my days looking at data, reviewing student assessments, talking to staff and researching interventions. (Yes – some would absolutely call me a nerd.) But in a country where reading levels remain very low, with only 63% of the population literate, the importance of gaining the key and basic reading skills in primary school is more important than ever.

For the past year and a half, Impact Network has been experimenting with reading interventions for students in grade 4 and 5 across schools after initial assessments showed that students in grade 5 were significantly struggling to read at the required level. At the start of grade 5, as required by the Government of Zambia, the language of instruction changes from Chinyanja (the local language) to English, which is a particularly challenging transition for students. By starting with targeted English reading interventions in grade 4, the idea has been that students will be more prepared for this transition. After one year of testing different resources, the team finally settled on one approach to be rolled out across schools.

At the start of 2019, the Happy Readers project started with a new approach and new reading resources for all students in grades 4 and 5. All students were assessed in reading and grouped by ability. Since February, all reading groups, which consist of 5-6 students have met multiple times a week and read books appropriate for their level with the support of a School Support Officer.

Over the past 2 weeks, a team of assessors have gone back the schools to see how the reading levels of the students there have changed in the past 5 months. Although reading levels take a lot of time to improve, the preliminary results after only 5 months look promising. The number of 0-scores has decreased significantly and students are reading faster and with more confidence. Looking at the results, I am so proud of all the students who made incredible strides in learning to read English.

Even though I am profoundly excited about how this intervention is equipping our students with the necessary reading skills, the point that has really stuck me is just how happy our students are to read. Witnessing a group of grade 4 students last week giggle hysterically when reading how the main character Hippo falls into his birthday cake was such a joy to see. Not only are our students gaining the skills that will transform their lives, but they are having a wonderful time exploring books and opening their minds to a world of possibilities.

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-Felicia Dahlquist

The scholars who broke the spelling bee

Last month, while I tried to follow the NBA championships from Zambia (hurray Raptors!) – I was also captivated by another championship. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is held each year in Washington, D.C., pitting students under the age of 15 against one another in a fierce competition of language – a competition so intense that it airs on ESPN.

And this year, something unprecedented happened. 

The judges ran out of words to challenge these young scholars and declared an eight-way tie. The champions and the words they spelled correctly:

·         Rishik Gandhasri, age 13: auslaut

·         Erin Howard, age 14: erysipelas

·         Saketh Sundar, age 13: bougainvillea

·         Shruthika Padhy, age 13: aiguillette

·         Sohum Sukhatankar, age 13: pendeloque

·         Abhijay Kodali, age 12: palama

·         Christopher Serrao, age 13: cernuous.

(I admit to knowing none of these words).

While some may claim that the words themselves were too easy for this Spelling Bee – the main consensus is that spellers have gotten that good. It’s hard to challenge them. It’s increasingly hard to challenge them on words that have not been used in previous spelling bees. And more than both of those, they now have better tools to study. Students preparing for the spelling bee often have coaches who help them identify study techniques, help to prepare them, and give them the resources and skills they need to compete well. And, there is now a computer program that helps to drill students on difficult words – in fact SpellPundit (as it’s called) claims that 6 of the 8 champions from this year’s competition used it to study.

What’s remarkable about this story is how eerily simple some of this seems – it comes down to tools, teachers, and time. These 8 champions didn’t get lucky – they put in extraordinary amounts of time, they engaged and focused, and they had incredibly support around them. And so it is for our 6,000 students – providing that support to our students is what motivates each of us, every day, to improve, to change, to innovate, and to endure.


As iron sharpens iron

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

—Proverbs 27:17

In the same way that iron sharpen iron, teacher sharpens teacher – these are the words we live by every term during week 7. Teachers gather to sharpen their skills and their peers’ skills to improve lesson delivery. There is mutual benefit in the rubbing of two iron blades together; the edges become sharper, making the knives more efficient in their task to cut and slice. Likewise, teachers sharpen during communities of practice – a leveled platform where all teachers, both struggling and excellent, share their classroom issues and burdens, advise on how best to handle them, and get relief when best practices are shared.

During the daily grind of teaching, most of our teachers’ time is centered on lesson preparation and delivery, not on honing their skills and serving as a sounding board for their peers and mentors. In far too many instances, the only time that a teacher is helped is during teacher training and coaching. However, this inhibits the teachers from sharing all of their challenges – there is not always the time to go into detail on the issues a teacher is facing in a classroom. However, during the communities of practice, teachers tend to open up and share on their specific obstacles to success in the classroom. They share these challenges in small groups, and then other teachers help provide positive solutions.

A knife that has been sharpened will also shine more because all the dullness has been rubbed off its surface. Likewise, Impact Network teachers have a chance to shine once they have been able to receive support, guidance, and mentorship through communities of practice!

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Observing our classrooms...for the first time!

I often lose sight of the bigger picture while going about the business of our work; when I walk into a classroom, I miss the tens of curious, smiling faces for the rigorous inspection of lesson plans, classroom management and time on task. I’m constantly looking for the improvements – how can the groups be managed better, can we set up the tablets more efficiently, why is there a spelling mistake in that poster?

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That’s why weeks like these are incredibly refreshing for me. We had visitors in Katete! From Monday through Thursday, we welcomed supporter Elaine Brodsky and board member Diane Fusilli. After a wonderful few days in Livingstone, I got to experience our classrooms through the eyes of someone seeing our work for the first time. I was able to see their faces as we traveled through dusty roads and came upon one of our schools in the middle of nowhere. I was able to witness their delight as our first graders welcomed them to our classrooms with a very loud “Good morning, madam!”. I was completely absorbed as we all witnessed our three and four year old early childhood class learning about the number 2 in a dozen creative ways. We also had the privilege of observing two School Support Officers leading Guided Reading sessions and literally watching as kids learned how to read successfully. Caroline, our School Support Officer Supervisor, invited us into her home and taught us how to cook and wear chitenges. And, after all of those visits, Diane led our management team through an incredible storytelling and communication workshop. It was an absolute delight to hear our staff talk about the ways that Impact Network is changing the communities around them.

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A huge thank you to Diane & Elaine for taking time out of their trip to visit us, and giving back to the communities that we serve – having you visit our projects means the world to us.  And an even bigger thank you to the teachers, staff, and especially the students, who let us into their lives on a windy Tuesday.


Tis the Season ... for Graduations!

It’s the beginning of June which means graduation season is wrapping up in the U.S. We’ve taken graduation to a whole new level here -- there are tons of first and last day of school photos flooding social media and every grade now has a graduation. Last week I even attended a ceremony where my 3-year-old walked across a stage a received a diploma for going to a nursery program two mornings a week.

A big part of graduation ceremonies is the commencement speech. Universities invite people from former presidents to celebrities to give the keynote address, and highlights tend to circulate online. One of those stories that received a lot of attention recently is about Robert Smith, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist who gave the commencement speech at Morehouse college. In his speech, he forgave the debt of the entire graduating class of 400 students - an estimated 40 million dollars. The gift averages out to $100,000 per student and has lifted a huge burden off of students who were starting their careers heavily indebted.

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While this is great news for those students, it made me think about my own education, the impact of a $1 and our students at Impact Network. Unlike our students in Zambia, I always took going to school as a given. I’m not sure I would have had the commitment to walk up to 3 hours each way to get to school as some of our students do, but I never had to find that out. Whether I would go to university was not ever a question; the question was around which university I would enroll in. I sometimes take for granted that my 3-year-old has close to a dozen different schooling options and the decisions I have to make are between Montessori, dual language, traditional programs or outdoor-based schools. These are things that most people in the world do not have access to – early childhood education, university and a schooling options in general.

Working in Zambia has made me realize the enormous impact you can make with a small amount of money and it is one of the reasons I love the work that we do – not everyone has 40 million dollars to donate after all. We can provide a quality education to students for just $5 a month. This education will change the future of many of our students lives just as the gift from Robert will have a great impact on many of the students from the 2019 graduating class. The students of Morehouse's graduating class have been encouraged to pay it forward. I look forward to hearing more about their stories in the future.


Little Learners!

For a few years now, Impact Network has been thinking about what happens to our students as they enter grade 1. For almost the entire class, it’s their first time being in school. They are learning how to hold a pencil, mastering the fine motor skills necessary to write the letter “A”, and learning the alphabet. It’s an important time for them – but it can also be quite challenging.

There is unquestionable evidence that Early Childhood Education (ECE) can drastically improve student outcomes later in schooling, but there remains very few options for school for students aged 3-6 in many African contexts. Where we work in Zambia, while there is a stated desire for more ECE, but without additional resources, classroom space, and dedicated teachers, it’s impossible to implement in rural areas.

That’s why Impact Network opened its first pilot ECE class earlier this month! I was thrilled to be able to observe our first classes at Joel Community School earlier this week. The classroom was filled with brightly colored chairs, a few clusters of desks, and play mats where the children sat for circle time, songs, and discussions. Their teacher sat with them in a large circle and they used dolls to discuss the people that make up their family. Some students were shy explaining who they have – mama, daddy, umbuya (grandmother), aunts, uncles, cousins. The teacher used dolls to explain how families worked together. I cannot wait to see these students progress through our Impact Network schools!

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And I have to say – the kids were so cute. I say that as someone who has seen thousands of kids walk through our schools over the last six years. But they were absolutely adorable.


In no other country on Earth is my story even possible

Bwanji from Zambia!

As some of you know, a few weeks ago I became an American citizen (don’t worry, I still have my Canadian passport just in case!).  In the waiting area as your paperwork is checked with hundreds of others and a judge swears you in, no electronics are allowed. So I grabbed a book before I left home and made my way through the first two thirds of President Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father.  A memoir written 13 years before he became President and while he started his Senate campaign in Chicago, it maps a journey of his time in Hawaii, Indonesia, California, New York, Chicago, and Kenya. And, as luck would have it, I started the section on Kenya as I departed for the Global Schools Forum taking place in Nairobi.

What struck me most was that while Obama’s story of success is an unlikely one, tracing his origins and early career was enormously powerful in understanding why he has been successful. In particular, he details the painstaking work he did organizing small, impoverished communities in Chicago in his early years. He discusses all of the failures – all of the times he set out to meet with a particular group of parents, or churches, and 8 people showed up instead of 50 (imagine being one of those 8 people now!).  He discusses his successes – but truthfully, they seem like little tiny wins that wouldn’t really move the needle much on his goals. He describes the tedious process of organizing communities around a common goal, how he built relationships built on trust and mutual respect, and how he ultimately became successful. 

He also discusses his journey back to Kenya and meeting his father’s family. As he described the landscape and economic opportunities in some of these rural villages, it is impossible not to be in awe of the fact that just one generation before him, the possibilities for someone born into the Obama family were limited by geographic and financial constraints. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was born on the banks of Lake Victoria, attending a local primary school in Kendu Bay. He eventually attended secondary school in Siaya, an Anglican boarding school in Maseno, and then, the University of Hawaii. While Obama Sr. was a complicated man, it is undeniable that education shaped the opportunities he was given, and that this ultimately offered a better future for his son. Indeed, without his schooling and the opportunities it gave him, we would not have had President Barack Obama.

I am reminded again of this quote from President Obama:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

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In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

I hope that the story of Barack Obama will become less exceptional as our world becomes increasingly flat. In the context of our work with 6,000 students – any one of them is the future President of Zambia. And maybe one of them is the next President Barack Obama too.


A Beautiful Mind

Four years ago this month, famed mathematician John Nash was killed along with his wife Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Larde, in a car accident in New Jersey.

While some of us may remember John Nash from the portrayal of his person in the movie A Beautiful Mind, the movie could not do justice to the work and contributions Nash had to the fields of game theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations. Today, his theories are used in a seemingly unending list of specializations – computing, economics, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics and military theory. In 1994, he shared the Nobel Memorial Peace Prize in Economic Sciences, and is best known for his discovery of the “Nash Equilibrium.”

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But somewhere between his beginning years as a budding mathematician, and his incredible success as a Nobel laureate, Nash was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He battled with this mental illness, and spent time in and out of psychiatric facilities. Each time, after he had been hospitalized for a period, he would renounce his “delusional hypotheses”, go back to a more balanced mental state, and make progress in his mathematical research. And with the support of family members, colleagues, friends, and most importantly – his wife – Nash had figured out a way to cope with his illness, without the use of medicine.

Nash’s story is so striking to me because it displays a clear struggle with an illness that was generally not discussed. At the time (and even now) there were few people in the spotlight who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. For him to learn how to cope with his diagnosis while in the public eye, remaining successful in his field, is virtually unheard of. And rereading the many tributes on his life and work today, he is a reminder that we all have our demons, we all have our struggles, and we can all have our redemption too. Nash may be remembered for his diagnosis, but he will be revered and beloved for the contributions he made to the sciences, and the advancement of human knowledge.