(author’s note: this blog post got long, but I’d urge you to read all the way through because today was filled with so much and we want to share it all with you)
It certainly doesn’t get easier to stay awake on these nights. But I do love getting to share the day’s moments and stories with anyone who’s following along.
We started this morning by running errands with Moses in Chipata, the town we are staying in. Filling up containers with diesel to take to a couple construction sites, a stop by a roadside farmer’s market and a quick trip inside the small supermarket for some beverages for community guests that would be coming to the school today. By mid-morning we began our 30-minute drive out to Dwankhozi. There is a blatant contrast even in the short distance between the two places. Chipata, a bustling town with cars, bikes, walkers covering every square inch of the road; small strip-mall type buildings, every type of service or business you can think of operating a small shop, and you question if any of them can still make ends meet with such an overflow of offerings. And then there’s Dwankhozi, an area that gets more rural with every kilometer (silly Americans, we still use miles) you drive. No power or running water, small homes made of mostly brick and concrete with roofs made of thatched grass or aluminum. In the bustle of Zambian town life one moment, into mostly rural poverty the next.
We pulled into the Dwankhozi campus (a term that might stick, we like the ring it has) where school life was humming along. Older students were busy with exams again. Young children were still completing their morning classtimes. Mark brought an easy-to-learn math card game with him (a gift from a parent at Queen Anne Elementary) and we showed Idah and Mr. Chimbalanga, Headmaster at Dwankhozi. They quickly caught the hang of it and we shared laughs while the calm competitive sides came out of us. We hope it can be a fun tool for students to work on addition and subtraction outside of class.
Yesterday we had arranged for a handful of recent graduates to meet us at the school today. These are kids (not really kids anymore…young adults, age 18-22) who attended school at Dwankhozi and were sponsored to go on to boarding school for grades 9-12. This sponsorship program is the very reason we began a local secondary school. Too many students began to pass their exams and qualify – the cost of trying to help sponsor them all wasn’t possible. It was a terrific problem to have. They each sat down with us for 5-10 minutes and talked about their experience at secondary school, their hopes for professional futures (doctor, agriculture specialist, nurse, teacher, you name it), and how they have seen Dwankhozi change since they went away to school. Many still have younger siblings attending the school here. They expressed deep gratitude for the help to go on to secondary school. They also shared the difficulty of facing college costs now. Personally, it was heartwarming and heartbreaking to talk with them. So much has been done in this community over the past ten years. So much transformation and empowerment. Changed lives. So much good. And much remains. It is overwhelming sometimes. But they are challenges we look forward to facing in order to continue to help build lasting change that extends here beyond Dwankhozi Hope.
There was no fluff in our day today. Each and every hour was packed full. We moved quickly from our chats with graduates to a spot under the trees and out of the 80+ degree sun. Gathered in a circle were a group of twelve men, ages 40-70, sitting on a collection of cinder blocks, stumps and crates. The Headmen. Yes, that is their name. The Headmen. Each village has a Headman, who helps represent the village within the larger community. It is mostly a heritage thing, staying within many generations of one family. Together, they are the Headmen. We had requested to chat with some of them while we were here this week – wanting to hear from them about the Dwankhozi changes: what they see, what they think, questions they may have for us. And it was no small thing for many of them to get to the school. Some of their villages are from many kilometers away, so this was the day’s agenda. We were humbled that so many of them would come.
Our discussion touched on a handful of topics over an hour and a half. They were incredibly thankful for all of the developments at the school, the new health clinic (which wasn’t specifically built by DH – but health projects have been a focus since the beginning), and for support in surrounding school communities. We asked them what their priorities were for possible future projects: dorms for girls to short-term board, additional health resources, further help for nearby schools (whose students often ‘feed into’ Dwankhozi when they’re older), college assistance for students. Deep breath.
Mark and I also noticed the power of perspective in many of our discussions. Everyone sees Dwankhozi through a different lens. Teachers at Dwankhozi are hopeful for solutions to power and water access. Students and graduates are focused on college and finding ways to continue their education when families have limited resources. Parents and community leaders see additional needs of their children at the school, see a larger community need, and know the importance of health for adults and children. All are legitimate. We felt privileged to get to hear all sides, helping us understand this community as deeply as we can – so we can best listen and come alongside their leadership. Also, new personal life goal: become a Headman. Somewhere. Anywhere.
Sidenote (yikes, tonight’s blog is getting long but while these thoughts are in my mind I may as well put them down in writing): The Headmen were all playfully (albeit seriously) nudging Moses to pursue political office in some regard. Moses is well-connected, honest, authentic, from the area, and has a successful business. But as I said in a previous blog, Moses is also a community-first man. To his core. So while he laughed and joked with the men about ‘President Moses,’ he told Mark and I at dinner that in the circle he shared with the men that he can do far more for the community as a non-politician. An elected official spends time at the capital and often becomes out of touch with community needs. More can be done from where he is now. More education projects, more health projects, more, more, more. Who’s running for U.S. president again? I think I have a suggestion for a late third-party candidate…
We made it to our late afternoon activity around 3, when the heat was really making itself known to us Seattle-types. We drove to Dwansenga Primary School, about a ten minute drive up the paved road and then a turn off and 7 kilometers more on a bumpy dirt road, past small villages and fields. Dwansenga is a partner school that Dwankhozi Hope has invested in over the past several years. We have helped complete school buildings and buy additional supplies. While most of our energy has poured into the Dwankhozi community, we recognize there is much need elsewhere. And the children who come to Dwankhozi as older students with a poor education quickly fall behind. So there is a lot of community benefit for the level of all schools to be raised.
Teachers, PTA members, the local Headman and other community leaders greeted us at the school. It was a little overwhelming. They had all gathered to be with us to simply say thank you. We toured around the school buildings and teacher housing. While we have helped complete a couple classroom blocks, they still have a class that meets under a thatched grass roof and have limited teacher housing options, making it difficult to draw enough teachers to their school. They presented us with a handwritten letter, detailing all the help Dwankhozi Hope has given and how much they appreciate the support. Tears were not far away from our eyes then. Or now, for that matter.
As we walked out of the classroom and toward the car to leave, a goat stood in our way. A goat for us. A gift of their gratitude. When I came three years ago, our group was in a similar moment – being offered something of immense value from a small, poor community as a token of thanks. I wrote about that moment then and those feelings still remain, even intensified. It is humbling. It isn’t fair. We don’t need it. They do. It is an honor for us to receive something like that. It is an honor for them to give it. It is an act of generosity that is full of contradictions. To me, it feels wrong and right all at the same time. While we have come to Zambia this week to learn how we can continue to best serve others, we are constantly faced with moments when we ourselves are served. And it’s uncomfortable sometimes. But there is true worth and importance in allowing others to serve you – especially in this culture, but also anywhere we find ourselves in life. So we said thank you. We said zkomo. We shook hands. They tied it up for us and put it in the trunk. We dropped it off at Idah’s farm (because customs may have some issues with our luggage if we tried to cram it in on our journey home).
It was a good day today. It was a full day. It was a day filled with emotions. It was a day filled with dreams and discussions of future possibilities. More than anything, it was a good day to be in Zambia. Because this is a good place. Filled with better people. And I better go to bed because I’m spilling tears all over my keyboard now. Goodnight, Zambia. We’ll see you tomorrow.