A fair warning for all readers: Yesterday’s post came to me over the couple hours it took us to drive from the airport, giving me a little time to string some coherent thoughts together. Tonight is a battle against flickering eyelids to comb over the day’s moments, conversations and sights. So hopefully an influx of pictures can make up for any lacking qualities in the narrative.
After breakfast with Moses this morning, we left to run a couple quick errands in Lusaka on our way to the school (picking up water, soda for the teachers and stopping to check on some doorframe welding happening for the secondary school). After another 30 minutes or so on the road out into the rural village areas, we turned left at the “Dwankhozi Primary School” sign and maneuvered the short distance past the trees and into the open area.
And to best understand what we saw requires a quick history lesson.
In the early 2000s, Dwankhozi School could hardly call itself a school. It was a group of kids gathered under a tree with a volunteer teacher tracing a stick on a mud wall for a makeshift chalkboard. No resources, no materials, nothing. But the community of adults here had a vision for their children, so they persisted. Around 2006, a group of friends in Seattle (who would eventually form the organization, Dwankhozi Hope) sent some assistance to help complete the roof on a constructed classroom building. A roof that would soon after get blown off and have to be fixed again.
Fast-forward nearly ten years (I recommend checking out this video to slow those ten years down and hear what happened) and there we are walking around the school today.
And the word ‘school’ can hardly do justice to what it’s become.
It is a full-fledged Dwankhozi Campus.
Blocks and blocks of classroom buildings, teacher housing, a new health clinic, a new secondary school classroom block finished and more under construction, a science lab taking shape. Plans for an administrative building. Government-sanctioned, grades K-12, now 20 teachers at the school. And I’m probably forgetting more details. The campus sprawls across the grass fields, now taking a 6-8 minute walk to get from one end to the other.
So you’ll understand our amazement when we hopped out of the car and toured around. Look how far this has all come in the last ten years. Mark, who has been involved since the very beginning of Dwankhozi Hope, put it simply: “It’s a miracle.” Everyone agreed.
There is a great sense of pride for those who work here, especially in the teachers who have been here the longest and in the Masala family – the group of siblings who have championed this outpouring of support in their home community.
We continued our walking tour, meeting teachers and students along the way. An overcast day kept the air cool and an occasional sprinkle of rain made Mark and I feel very at home.
In the early afternoon, we sat down with the majority of the Dwankhozi teaches (about 15 of the 20) We shared the reasons for our visit, how we looked forward to talking with each of them at more length, and expressed our admiration for the work they are doing.
Because make no mistake, while this school has grown and grown over the last decade, this is still a very, very rural school, strapped for enough basic resources and working to manage a huge enrollment of children.
During our chat with teachers, we asked what were some of the challenges to commit to teaching at a school like Dwankhozi. Most live at the school in teacher housing, where there is no running water (bore holes in different spots) and no electricity save for some solar power in a handful of classrooms. Many of these teachers could find another teaching job in place with running water, with electricity. Some came from previous positions in the capital city, Lusaka, where it is less rural. It is a real sacrifice for many to teach here. So why do they do it? One teacher (I’m forgetting his name now, I’m sorry!) shared a sentiment felt by many: yes, it is a sacrifice…but it is worth it. To be at a school so committed to the children it serves, to be surrounded by leadership staff who care deeply about their work, to be making a difference for these children who have a limited chance at education. That is the draw and it fuels their passions.
Yes, you may join me in giving them a standing ovation.
The rest of our day was spent chatting and eating lunch with teachers, those who we know and those who we just met today, as well as laughing with young kids (most older students were taking exams and only at the school for half of the day). There is a fascination with seeing yourself on camera that is wired into the human race. Kids go absolutely bananas when seeing themselves on a small camera screen – dancing, giggling, waving, shouting. We may have gotten slightly more used to it in a place like America, but the thrill and self-interest never completely wears off. We see it in its rawest, most loveable form here and it is an incredible joy to be a part of.
Previous trips to Dwankhozi have garnered large community celebration gatherings full of elders, community leaders, PTA members, government officials and more. We are staying a little more under the radar this time. There are only two of us and we really hope to get a true glimpse of how the secondary school is moving along and what a large-scale project like this means to the community – both children and adults.
Apologies if this blog is extra long tonight. I am simply writing all I can remember from the day. There is very little time spent on editing and revising here. I will call it quits for tonight. We will rest and be back at the school again tomorrow. See you soon.