Thursday. Our final day visiting the school. A bittersweet kind of day. Full of goodbyes right as we are finding more depth to new friendships and settling into the rhythms of old ones. Dwankhozi is not an easy place to leave.
We have a couple days of commitments in Malawi before flying out early Monday morning. Although we’ll be away from Dwankhozi, I hope to continue this blog over the weekend. I’m not sure about our arrangements, but we will be visiting some other fantastic work happening in Malawian communities. Stay tuned.
Now back to today. After breakfast we headed to a couple of government education buildings in Chipata to visit with some officers and department heads. Whenever a group comes to visit Dwankhozi, we try our hardest to arrange to meet with these people. It keeps our work fresh in their minds, it reminds them we are still committed to these rural communities and it makes future partnerships and agreements much easier. Many projects involving Westerners in this region have a short life span. 10 years and counting at Dwankhozi Hope. Commitment and relationships – it’s how real change happens. We were out of luck this morning, as our drop-in visits found these officers out of the office. We may try again tomorrow morning though. The Zambian government, while strapped for education resources, has been instrumental in following through with teaching staff as Dwankhozi has grown in size and buildings. The best development for the school was being chosen as a government-sanctioned location and it has benefited from the consistent influx of teaching staff since then.
We had a handful of interviews we still wanted to complete today at the school. With so much footage, expect a lot of it to show up in semi-raw form on Youtube and then be incorporated into future Dwankhozi Hope video projects after that. It would be a crime to keep these wonderful conversations buried in hard drive folders.
Our first interview was with Mr. Chimbalanga, Dwankhozi Headmaster for the past ten years. He has seen the growth from a small primary school to a combined primary and secondary school over that time. He is never short of appreciation for the support of the school and community.
We then moved on to the new (September 2015) health clinic just across the way. A quick history: Dwankhozi has supported many health projects since beginning, taken health-specific trips to the school and brought bags of medical supplies for nearby clinics. Education and health are so intertwined, you can’t separate the two. A child’s ability to learn is completely dependent on their health. Tobacco is a lucrative crop in Zambia. The Japanese Tobacco Industry is a large producer in the country, and they have recently been giving back to these crop-producing communities by helping construct health clinics. So we were thrilled when we learned that a clinic was being built just adjacent to the Dwankhozi school grounds. This trip gave us our first chance to walk inside and meet the staff.
Parents and children often face long, long walks (up to 5-10 kilometers sometimes) to make it to the nearest health clinic. Often carrying young children or mothers who are expectant. That is just an insane injustice. This clinic gives families a closer option, but of course there is such high demand. On a recent Monday, the small clinic screened 101 patients who came in the door. And there were still people waiting when they had to close. Over 1,000 patients in a month. Some even come from across the Malawi-Zambia border, since it is only 3-4 kilometers away. Malaria is a among the biggest issues. So, all that to say – a much needed, wonderful development…but the need for services continues to exceed available supply.
Our interview was with a man who wears many hats, Mr. Mwele. He is the community health volunteer, who assists the resident nurse and covers when they are gone. Yes, volunteer. He has done this work for 15 years. He is also the PTA chair at Dwankhozi. He is also is a father to three children who are enrolled at the school. And he is also among the most charismatic, kind, thankful men I have ever met in my life. Yes, there is a picture of him below. He told us about joy of having a local clinic and the overwhelming need he sees. We were so appreciative of his services as both a health worker and a parent at the school, helping to lead families and act as a communicator between teachers and parents.
After chatting with another parent at Dwankhozi, we made our way to Idah Masala’s office – the Deputy Headmistress herself. We had saved Idah’s interview for last this week, as we knew it we would chat with her for an extended period of time and we wanted to get a basic feel for the current feel at Dwankhozi. And of course we had many chats with her during the week about students, curiculuum, school development and more. I think I wrote this earlier this week, but Idah is such a rockstar. She is kind, caring, smart, quick-to-laugh, super-talented and feels like a lifelong friend after just a short interaction. I consider myself among her #1 fans.
Idah reflected on the school’s growth, the ups and downs of being a teacher, the future for students after primary and secondary school, parent influences and her current teaching staff. She mostly manages the secondary school now. During our interview, Mark asked a great question to her about being a woman in her leadership position and what that means to her (Zambia is a male-dominated society). In addition to a testament to her hard work, she also talked about the model she sets for girl students. I was going to paraphrase her answer, but now that I think about it, it’s worth combing through the footage and getting the word-for-word response for you right now (until you can watch the video interview at a later time). Hold on.
“I spend time with the girls. I tell them that I was a girl also at one time. And I used to walk a long distance to school. I faced the same challenges you are facing. So I encourage them to work extra hard so that one day they can also work like I do. Because if I was not educated, by now I would just be in the village doing nothing, suffering. I encourage the girls a lot – the need for them to be confident, be focused, and work extra hard at school. Encouraging them that they can be whatever they want in life if they work hard. And you know, there is this saying: when a girl child is educated, when a woman is educated, that means the world will be educated. Because us women, like here in Africa and in Zambia, we are the ones who spend most of the time with the children. So for example, if I’m educated there’s no way my children cannot be educated because I encourage them to go to school. I’m always there with them. So we believe, like I believe, that once educated, a girl child will educate the whole world.”
It would be foolish to try and add anything to such a powerful message, so I won’t.
In the afternoon we had our final lunch together with the teachers. I haven’t spent much time on the local Zambian cuisine (maybe because I have been before), but I would eat it every day in the States if I could. Cooked vegetables, rice, goat and chicken paired with Nishima (a corn based dough that you mold in your hands and use to scoop up the assortment of things on your plate). The best part: no silverware needed! We said some goodbyes, shared thanks and affirmed the incredible work there are doing here at this school. We feel like we know them and their work in much more depth after this trip.
Our final activities: me scaling a water tower to try and find a better angle for a picture (up a ladder, avoid the wasp nest, squeeze around a tiny railing that is knee-high while hugging a water tank at 40-50 feet up…sorry if you’re reading this, mom); watching some construction on the new secondary building (note: when we arrived this morning the older students were cutting grass and trees and clearly the field where the third secondary classroom block will go. The students were doing this! What a sight); and saying goodbye to Idah, we piled in the car as a light sprinkle turned into a monsoon on our way back. Bittersweet. But thankful for the last four days.
We were treated to an impromptu dance/party performance on our way back, as we waited in the car for a moment at a roadside village while Moses straightened out some contracting work. A group of four 5-6 year olds giggling, waving, thumbs-uping and dancing around for our audience of two. They couldn’t get enough of it.
That’s all for tonight. I think there is certainly a pattern of these posts getting longer and longer. No coincidence there. There is a lot to say about this special, special place. See you soon as we venture toward Malawi.