Friday, Saturday, Sunday…in transit and in Malawi

With no internet access over the weekend (we went 5 for 5 in our nights in Zambia though, so no complaining here), I have still been writing down our adventures and can finally post them here. They are less Dwankhozi-focused, since we were cruising around Malawi. But nonetheless they give us some more context for our work in Zambia and we even got to see another community/school campus very similar to Dwankhozi. All that to say, relevant and worth reading I think. Pics are limited at the moment, as I only have access to my phone and not my camera. But they give a brief glimpse of our days.
IMG_2417

Amazing views as we traveled through the mountains and back to Lilongwe on Sunday.

Friday we woke up, packed up and headed to our first stop, the Department of Education in Chipata. We met with a Provincial Education Officer (because Zambia is divided into provinces, with Dwankhozi in the Eastern Province) for thirty minutes who had recently been placed in her position after serving in another province. Her name was Beatrice and we (Mark, Moses, myself) told her the background of the Dwankhozi community, of the organization Dwankhozi Hope and how the school has grown over the past ten years. She was ‘moved’ to hear about the commitment and generosity of such a partnership. We encouraged her to visit the school in the near future. After exchanging email addresses and referring her to the Dwankhozi Hope facebook page (which she quickly brought up on her phone and clicked on a blog posting to see…Goat Mark!!), we said our goodbyes and headed back the Zambia-Malawi border. After crossing the border, we settled into road trip mode. Our destination was hundreds of kilometers away in a town called Zomba (pronounced “zohm-bah”). There we would meet a good friend of Moses and Mark, Father Phillip, a Malawian priest residing at a local parish. Our final destination in Malawi would be Namitembo, which we would visit on Saturday, a small rural community/parish that Mark is well-connected with along with his business partner, Jim. So with Moses at the wheel, we began our trek into Malawi. Although my exposure to Zambia is fairly limited to Chipata and the outlying rural communities, it is quickly apparent that Malawi is very poor and has been hit very hard by the recent drought. If you’ve read any global headlines this winter, you saw that many parts of East and Central Africa received minimal rainfall, and in rural agrarian-based economies, that is a recipe for disaster. Droughts have driven countries into famines and states of emergency. We drove by fields and fields and fields of brown, weathered corn crops along the road that never produced any harvest this year, or very little. Moses explained to us that while Malawi suffered the brunt of a dry rainy season, Zambia was very fortunate to experience an intense month of rainfall this winter that essentially ‘saved’ many crops and avoided severe disaster in most parts of the country. IMG_2415 So we drove and drove and drove, with a short stop in Lilongwe (the country’s capital), until the overcast afternoon gradually turned into darkness. All credit to Moses again for maneuvering the often reckless and oblivious bike riders that line the sides of the road. It is no simple task to drive cross-country in these areas, and by 7:30 or so we arrived at the parish in Malawi. And there we were greeted by three priests as we stepped out of the car, Father Phillip (who Mark and Moses know well), Father Daniel and Father Bernard. We sat down to dinner with them and ate and laughed together over a couple hours. Such warm, welcoming people who are all quick-to-smile, quicker-to-laugh and terrific hosts. Dining with Malawian priests at a local Malawi parish – check that off the list of things I never thought I’d be doing in my life.
IMG_2411

Father Phillip showing us around Pirimiti.

We woke Saturday morning for breakfast before 9am mass, which was of particular importance because the Bishop of Malawi would be arriving to lead mass and address the community. A big deal! Father Phillip gave us a short tour of the village and parish, where buildings are very old and made out of concrete or handmade brick. Again, signs of the drought were evident in the corn crops everywhere we looked. The community operates as a village similar to others we have been to in Zambia, although here the parish owns many buildings, rents many at cheap rates to families and is the central piece that everything revolves around. We then went and found our seat for mass. And man oh man, Malawians know how to do Mass! Incredible singing, dancing, all generations from young to old. Truly a community event, we felt lucky to be a part of it for just a morning. After lunching with the Bishop and the priests, since we were guests at the parish (again, a surreal experience I could have never imagined I’d find myself in!), we packed our bags and headed for Namitembo. Namitembo is another parish/community, but buried waaaaaaay deep into the hills of Malawi and so far off the grid that you could never find it unless you were looking for it. Bumps and wrong turns and many stops for directions finally led us to the school and parish in the early evening. Father Henry and Father Earnest welcomed us, the type of people that quickly turn from new friends to old, lifelong friends in a matter of minutes. Just as quick to laugh, jokes always close at hand. The level of hospitality we experienced in Malawi was just off the charts. Father Henry led us on a tour of Namitembo, which operates a school very similar to Dwankhozi. Their primary school is massive, over 2,000 students and about 29 teachers. Yes, you do the math. And if I’m not mistaken, that doesn’t include the secondary school they also have on campus. They own the buildings and the government contributes teachers and staff, like Dwankhozi. They also operate a trade school, teaching vocational skills like bricklaying, tailoring and more that I can’t remember at the moment. We got to tour their library, classrooms, signed the Headmaster’s guest book, asked lots of questions and shared the different experiences of these two schools. We spent the evening sharing dinner and swapping stories about our backgrounds, life in America and life in Zambia, politics, and again, so many laughs. All of them genuine. We got to attend Mass in the morning and headed on our way before noon – navigating the twists and bumps of rural, rural, rural Malawi until we found our way back onto the main tarmac road. From there we took a short detour to stop for lunch at lake Malawi, a huge lake that runs along the entire eastern border of the country. Even Moses hadn’t seen it before, and if you were blindly dropped there I swear you would think you were beachside in the Hawaiian Islands.
IMG_2414

A stunning view, and a stark contrast to the rest of the Malawi we saw over the weekend.

More and more driving to make it back to Lilongwe, where we took a shortcut up through the mountains and caught some stunning views. For our last evening in Africa we got to have dinner with Rhoda, another one of the Masala siblings, who lives in Malawi and works for the government teaching nutrition to communities. Wow, she is so smart and generous and warm and engaging to talk with. I wish we could have recorded our entire dinner conversation as she reflected on their upbringing as children with their mother, the challenges facing these rural communities when it comes to nutrition and crops, and together her and Moses shed some very interesting light on the farming practices and culture in the two countries. So that brings us up to speed. While I try and pack as much as I can into these posts, while still keeping it readable, inevitably there is so much that doesn’t make it into this blog – conversations, people, moments, car naps (there were a lot of those, and Mark may have been the ringleader!) – so ask us! Now we begin to whittle down what we saw, experienced and captured...into some video forms. If you’ve connected with this trip and want to continue hearing stories about what is going on in this incredible community – join us at our Building Hope Dinner on April 28th! You’ll see videos, hear stories and have a chance to be a part of the transformation happening at Dwankhozi. Seriously, it will be a special night. Reserve your spot here. Thanks for following along on our trip. We’re safely back in the States and of course are noticing the pieces of us that remain in Africa with our friends. Talk soon.

So long, Africa

We are sitting at the Lilongwe, Malawi airport about to begin our journey back toward the States. We've been off the grid for the last few days, exploring the deepest parts of Malawi. It will necessitate a longer post, perhaps during our layover in Dubai when I can be on my computer and not on my phone. For now, just know it was filled with lots of laughs, a few wrong turns, new and old friends, Malawian priests and parishes, one giant lake, mountain countryside and miles and miles of tarmac. We are healthy, we are tired, we are ready to be home but not ready to leave. Stay tuned for a longer post later today.

Thursday at Dwankhozi

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.
IMG_1444

Birds eye view of the secondary school construction. Completed building on the top right, second class block on the left, and science lab in the foreground

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.
IMG_1029

Students writing exams.

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.
IMG_1447

The new health clinic building.

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.
IMG_1253

Mr. Mwele at the Health Clinic.

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. IMG_1280 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.
IMG_5893

Mark showing some pictures of his family...which drew quite a crowd of the young ones.

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.
IMG_5896

We are incredibly grateful for the meals prepared for us at the school each day, which is often a full day's activity from beginning to clean up.

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.
IMG_1480

Avert your eyes, mom.

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.
IMG_1292

Construction hums along at the school as more progress is made each day.

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.

Wednesday at Dwankhozi

(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.
IMG_5842

Some young ones became an audience for our chats with secondary school graduates.

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.
IMG_1184

Memory Banda, our first sponsored student and recent secondary school graduate. She simply radiates warmth, beauty and gentleness.

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.
IMG_1192

The community leaders, the Headmen, gather around this afternoon.

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.
IMG_1217

A Headman caught in a candid moment. There were many laughs around the circle.

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…
IMG_1221

These chickens seemed uneasy to be going for a ride. Tomorrow's lunch? We will see.

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.
IMG_2407

Dwansenga School.

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).
IMG_1247

Mark and Goat Mark. A humbling honor to be the recipients of such a gift.

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.

Tuesday at Dwankhozi

Apologies for the delay. A spotty internet signal made posting difficult. But it looks like things are better now and we won’t have to skip a day’s post. The sun burned away most of yesterday’s cloud cover and brought Zambia temperatures back into the 80s today. The toll of that heat wave is certainly being felt right about now, at 9:30pm on our beds. So I will do my best to fight through the yawns, perhaps sacrificing a few lines of writing and supplementing with more pictures from our day. Today we set out for the school with clear plans. Story capturing. We wanted to hear from students and teachers at the secondary school. How is it going? What is difficult? What is rewarding? And not just informational interviews, but also learn their backgrounds and interests: what made them excited about teaching or learning?
IMG_2401

Two classroom blocks on the left and the beginning of a science lab on the right.

We arrived mid-morning to find about a dozen men hard at work on secondary school construction projects. In teams of four or five, they were framing windows on the new buildings with iron frames and grates. It was labor intensive work. Chiseling into bricks, hoisting the large window grates up together, leveling surfaces to ensure quality. There is no shortage of effort and dedication in this project. The atmosphere was quiet around the secondary classrooms when we arrived. Grade 10 and Grade 11 students were in the middle of math tests. Fingers typed away on calculators, pencils scribbled in answers to complex algebra equations. We got a chance to look at a copy of a test…not easy! I was thankful no one asked me to dust off my math skills, because I certainly would have been embarrassed.
IMG_5767

The soon-to-be secondary school classroom block. They're getting close to finishing!

After testing, Mr. Simouquay (spelling is so wrong, but it’s pronounced ‘sim-oo-kweye’) helped gather a handful of students in a classroom who didn’t mind being interviewed. We sat in a corner and began chatting with students, who ranged from 15 to 19 years old. Some had just come to Dwankhozi this year. Some travelled nearly 20 kilometers to attend the school, even leaving more developed areas like Chipata. The school’s reputation in the area is growing and growing. It is drawing students from far and wide because they have heard about the quality of teachers and education here. Other students had been attending Dwankhozi since grade 1 or grade 4. They explained how much it has changed over the years – new buildings, more teachers, clean water nearby. The longer we sat interviewing students, the more younger children gathered outside the windows to peak in and watch. We had quite an audience by the time we were finished! Many students had nerves in their interview, but were very excited to share and answer questions in English, so we all gave each one a round of applause after they finished, bringing huge smiles to their faces as they said thank you.
IMG_1089

A quick pose after sitting down to chat with us.

In the afternoon, we sat down with four secondary school teachers. These interviews lasted longer, as the Dwankhozi teachers are very articulate and have wonderful reflections on their jobs and living/working at the school. And for those who have visited Dwankhozi before, there are MANY new teachers. We probably only know half of the current 20, because many have begun teaching in the last year or so.
Our favorite teachers.

Our favorite teachers.

A theme that quickly came out: sacrifice. A handful of teachers have come from Lusaka, where there is power and running water available in home. Neither of those are available at Dwankhozi. It was a bit of a culture shock to some, being placed at Dwankhozi and beginning to understand they were going to teach faaaar off the grid in a place they had never been. But while they acknowledged it’s a challenge and a learning curve, every teacher shared that Dwankhozi had grown on them since arriving over the last year and a half. The words ‘zeal for learning’ came up multiple times from teachers when talking about the students. Kids are passionate about learning. They are focused. They want to be at school. For the teachers, that fuels their own passions. And while there continues to be needs at the school, each of them recognized the incredible progress that was being made – and were so grateful for the support of Dwankhozi Hope. That was never lost on them. It was humbling to hear. We just want to do more, more, more to support them. Mark and were cleaning up and each of us remarked on just what a high quality teaching staff was coming to this school. Students are in very, very good hands – and it has been a gift to get to know them this week. We are looking forward to sharing those interviews with you when we’re back – at our events, over social media, etc. They are too good to get buried in a photo library.
IMG_1157

Some younger kids were captivated by the teacher interview setup this afternoon.

After packing up and loading in to Moses’ car, we made a quick stop on the way home: the Farm. The farm is a small turn off onto a dirt road from the paved arterial, where a small home sits beneath a collection of mango trees…home to the Masala parents. Moses’ mother (as well as Idah’s, Maurice’s, and the other eight children!). The family matriarch was sitting beneath a thatched grass overhang cutting okra into a bowl for dinner. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more radiant 80 year-old woman.
IMG_5834

Mrs. Masala.

We visited with her for a few minutes and ate corn on the cob that had just finished steaming over the fire, picked straight from their small farm just fifty yards away. This is the woman who raised ten children in the rural areas of Zambia, all of whom grew up to succeed and school and get a college education. And not just her children, but she has helped raised grandchildren, nephews, nieces. Multiple generations. I felt like I was in the presence of royalty. She graciously allowed a quick picture, and I’m glad because words wouldn't be enough. We’ll call it quits for tonight. Thanks for following along. Looking forward to sharing more stories with you tomorrow.

Monday at Dwankhozi

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.
The one and only, Moses Masala.

The one and only, Moses Masala.

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.
IMG_0899

Moses and his sister Idah Masala, Deputy Headmistress at Dwankhozi Primary School. Spoiler: she is a rockstar.

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.
DSC05614

The new community Health Clinic, complete with a maternity wing inside and a walk-up prescription window.

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.
IMG_0984

An older student who is boarding at the school.

IMG_0985

Another older student, who was gracious enough to allow us to take her picture.

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.
IMG_5689

Some class notes, getting a glimpse at just how big our universe is.

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.
IMG_0915

Dwankhozi is still sorting through some of the challenges that come with expanding to a secondary school, as handfuls of children hope to board and stay overnight at the school during the week. More on this later.

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.
IMG_0966

Getting goofy.

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.
IMG_5667

Construction continues on the new secondary school classroom blocks.

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.   IMG_0979

Hello Zambia.

I have to start this trip blog with a confession: I forgot. I forgot just how special this place is. I forgot the smell when you walk off the plane in Lilongwe, Malawi and onto the tarmac. The deep inhale of fresh, Africa air after hours and hours (46 hours, to be exact) of flights, layovers, security checks, car rides, customs and border crossings. At times during our globe-crossing trek, I think I may have even forgot we had a destination, petered out by yet another three hour chunk to kill at an airport (“didn’t we already kill 4 hours here?”). I forgot how dark it is on the roads outside of Chipata, Zambia, as we zipped away from the airport around 7pm on Sunday night – where there are no streetlights, just sporadic forks of lightening tonight in the distance, lighting up the horizon for a split second at a time. I forgot how the vast and expansive blanket of stars covers the skies here every night, making you wonder if the sky is simply bigger on this side of the world. I forgot the endless foot and bike traffic on the sides of the road. Kids walking home together, men and women pushing bikes that carry overloaded bags of crops, hitchhiker thumbs extended on every side – hoping for a flash of brake lights to help quicken their evening commute. I forgot about the miles and miles of faded pavement we drove on, where rules of the road are more like suggestions as you weave, dodge, brake and accelerate at your own risk. I forgot these roads are filled with stray dogs, bare feet, rogue motorcycles and the words ‘navigate’ and ‘hope for the best’ at times seemed interchangeable. I forgot they drive on the left side of the road here. And I was glad to have a friend take the wheel tonight instead of Mark or myself. And that friend, I didn’t forget him. Moses Masala. Our fearless leader. The captain of our expedition. Our faithful Zambian Project Manager for Dwankhozi Hope, who does so much more than a title could ever convey. Who picked us up from Lilongwe, ushered us through border crossings and will be with us all week. Never mind that he is a husband and a father and a full-time engineer and came to travel with us. He is one of the most gracious and giving individuals I’ve met – with his time, his energy and his spirit. But I admit I may have forgotten the full richness of his laugh. Or how willingly he shares it with others. Or his never-ceasing sense of humor. Or how he manages to keep such a pulse of what is going on in the communities that surround him. And I think I forgot the depth of his connection and commitment to his home, the Dwankhozi community. As our car conversation covered topics from families to politics to the week’s agenda, he mentioned that many individuals in Zambia can have alternative motives when they decide to pour back into their community. Often that giving back is tied to a public image or it is setting them up for a run at a government position or office. And Moses has been asked if he would ever consider such a choice. My personal opinion is that Moses is about as qualified as they come and is the exact person you would like steering the direction of your city, region or country. Some may have even speculated that his immense involvement in Dwankhozi Hope is tied to such a possibility. But with a shake of his head in the car tonight, Moses did away with any such talk. The change he has seen in Dwankhozi, he said, over the last ten years. That is enough. That is what he’s after. Playing a part in transforming the rural community that raised him. It’s a place he cares deeply for and chooses to invest in. It is out of love, not politics. It is out of hope, not personal gain. And my admiration only grows deeper. So to sum up: we made it. Bags in hand, health intact. And tomorrow we visit Dwankhozi. Pictures are in the forecast for tomorrow’s blog. Stay tuned. Goodnight, from Zambia.

Hope Revisited

    Kids play soccer until the very last drop of light disappears. Deep down I hoped I would get to return someday. But it was one of those hopes you hold loosely, because nothing like that is certain and life unexpectedly rises up and rewrites any sort 3-5 year plans we have for ourselves. In the summer of 2013 I traveled to Zambia with Dwankhozi Hope, one of the very first things I did after moving back to Seattle and agreeing to fill a Communications role with the organization. It was a surprise to be invited and of course I blindly said ‘yes,’ with only an elementary knowledge of DH and not one foot set on the continent of Africa. Traveling with a group of Queen Anne Elementary teachers and DH program staff, I stepped off the plane with a camera and a computer, tasked with capturing our trip in words, pictures and videos. What came out in a blog post at the end of each day were raw, wide-eyed musings that tried to churn through everything that had happened over the last 12 hours. It was a sensory dump at my computer every night, fighting back yawns to try and communicate the day’s activities on behalf of our group while processing my own experiences and emotions. I was thrilled to learn it resonated with many readers back on this side of the Atlantic and included many in our trip. We went to introduce Queen Anne Elementary School to Dwankhozi Primary School and begin building relationships and connections that have endured since. Now I find myself eagerly clutching at that once loosely-held hope, because three years later I get to return to Zambia – this Friday. It’s a dream to revisit such a place, specifically the people who fill that place. The focus of this trip is different: to see the progress being made on the construction of a new secondary school and hear from students, teachers and parents about what it means for their community. Last year we hosted our Building Hope Dinner in Seattle to raise funds for this project, and (shameless plug alert!) on April 28th we are gathering again to help our friends in Zambia finish this incredible project. On this trip there are just two of us traveling to the Dwankhozi community – myself and Mark Russo, Dwankhozi Hope’s Board Chair. Mark was one of the original founders of DH and last visited in 2010. We will be graciously welcomed and accompanied by our Zambia Project Manager, Moses Masala. Our agenda while visiting is fairly simple: listen to stories and deepen relationships. There are countless stories being lived out in this Zambian community – and the construction of a local secondary school impacts just about all of them. Education is a basic tenet of our existence, and one that every child in every country deserves – to expand their worldview, to grow and mature, to step closer toward their dreams. We want to hear those stories. And Dwankhozi Hope was founded on relationships. Relationships are what have kept two communities so closely tied together, on opposite ends of the world, for more than a decade. Relationships are what drive the foundation of our mission – that our interconnectedness is far deeper than any sort of differences. So Mark and I are going to learn, listen, share and pour into new and old friendships. So if you plan to follow along during our trip, I will do my best to bring you onto the construction site, into neighboring partner schools and into conversations and moments with the Dwankhozi community (pending internet reliability). My reflections will certainly be different than three years ago, having been a part of DH since then, but I will bring open ears and fresh eyes so this trip can reach broadly. On the right-hand side of this page you can make sure you're subscribed to our blog. Or just check back on this page each day to read. And to make sure you don’t miss out on any stories that come back with us, reserve your seat at our Building Hope Dinner on April 28th 🙂 See you soon, Nick

Third Time’s the Charm!

  photo 1 If you remember, a few weeks ago we shared about Chris Kenessey...avid mountain climber and Dwankhozi Hope supporter. Chris had a mission to climb Mt. Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe at 18,510 feet, and raise money for DH. Crazy, right? photo 2   Well, do you want the good news or the great news first? The good news: Chris successfully summitted! The cherry on top: Chris raised over $11,000 for Dwankhozi Hope, just from this climb! With this being his third mountain climb fundraising expedition, he's raised over $20,000 total for Dwankhozi! WOW!!! So please join us in congratulating, celebrating, and thanking Chris Kenessey for his incredible climb and generous spirit! photo 3

Climbing for Dwankhozi…AGAIN!

Need some inspiration today? Let us introduce you to Chris Kenessey. Chris is just days away from embarking on a climb to summit the tallest mountain in Europe, Mt. Elbrus. Not impressed yet? Mt. Elbrus towers 18,510 feet above the earth, which is over 4,000 feet higher than our own Mt. Rainier. chris Still need some convincing? How about this: Chris is climbing to raise money for Dwankhozi Hope. This is the THIRD mountain he has climbed to support DH. His first two expeditions raised  $11,000 to help construct school buildings, and this latest fundraiser has already reached nearly $7,000! Check out Chris' crowdrise page here to learn more about his passion for the Dwankhozi Community, and if you're as inspired as we are, help him get closer to his goal! And watch his video below...we're cheering you on Chris! Thanks for your incredible efforts to support the Dwankhozi community!