What an adventure we have had so far in Nyangwena! We have had three great days here at the Esther School, the Basic School, and the local health clinic. At the health clinic, Abby experienced a birth, weighing babies, updating databases, and other minor health issues. We have encountered many new cultural practices including eating nshima (with our right hand only because the left hand is used for other personal care!), being bowed to, and visiting the market and orphanage. Before I jump into our experiences at the Esther School, I want to comment about the awe we have experienced watching the stars at night. Last night the oldest DeKam son gave us an astronomy lesson and pointed out many different constellations in the southern sky. The Milky Way stretched clearly across the sky, we gasped at shooting stars, and all marveled at God’s vast creation. Words can’t even begin to describe the breathtaking experience of being out in the rural area without city lights to cloud the night sky!
The Esther School is a school started by the GEMS Program and includes Preschool through grade one. Every classroom has a North American Teacher and a Zambian Teacher with 25 students. Those of us who were at the Esther School all three days were overwhelmed with the amount of joy and laughter the students have and are willing to share with us. This week was their last week of school before they break for holiday (not summer because this is their winter), and so the teachers were all wrapping their lessons and finishing final portfolios with their students. Today (Friday) the students participated in an end of the year program. We all were able to see the program (even those at the Basic school came up to the Esther School to see the program). Each grade had their own program in their classroom for their moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and then the whole school came together for a time of praise with the parents outside. One thing that was really cool to see was during the time of worship at the end of the program some of the village kids and kids from the Basic School came over to worship with us and did the motions along with us.
I think some of our highlights from the Esther school include all the hugs, constant singing, and the amazing integration of faith into the education. Seeing the students sing and belt out worship songs touched all of our hearts, and we were all struck by their genuine faith. It has been awesome to see the blend of the Zambian culture with the North American culture present in the school. The kids have been kind enough to teach us some Nyanja, and it has been really neat using our little Nyanja to talk to the kids and village residents!
These past three days of our trip here in Zambia, a few of us have been spending our time at the Nyangwena Basic School. The Basic School is about a five-minute walk down the path from where we are staying here in the homes that service the volunteers who teach and work at the Esther School. Down the red dirt road, under the never changing blue skies, past the health clinic and an old Roman-Catholic church, you come upon four buildings (and one that is under construction) that make up the Nyangwena Basic School.
The Basic School was opened up in 1946 and is now a government funded primary (1st-7th) and junior secondary (8th-9th) school. There is a village very close by to the school where many of the students live, but some students walk as far as six km on a daily basis to get to school at their 7 am starting time. On the school grounds there are a soccer field, a volleyball court, and a netball court that the students spend lunch breaks on, have PE class on, and often spend their afternoons after school playing too. The buildings are blue and white, which signifies a government building, with metal roofs and blown-out windows. There have been anywhere from 30-80 students in the classes that I have been in, squeezed into desks set up in three columns and seven or eight rows. They all have a chalkboard and a clock at the front of the room; some elementary classrooms have visual aids on the walls while others are empty. From our first meeting with the superintendent of the Basic School I could tell that there was a struggle here between the passion of the faculty, the desire of the students to learn, and the lack of finances and resources available for the school. In one sense the teachers want to include as many students as possible, but at the same time, the more students there are, the less individual attention each student can receive.
During my time at the Nyangwena Basic School I have observed and experienced some negatives with a bit of confusion and miscommunication between us Calvin students and the teachers/administrators (as well as the inevitable confusion resulting from language barriers and cultural differences), and there have been moments where I felt awkward because of how much I stand out and the constant stares from the students.
The negatives, however, do not necessarily translate to negative experiences. I have gained amazing insight into this culture, heard humbling words of wisdom from the teacher with whom I have been spending the majority of my time with, and seen the true beauty of children who are yearning to learn.
The lesson today in the Social and Development Studies class of my 7th grade class was focused on corruption; something that affects the whole world, but especially this area of the world. The teacher talked about the effects of corruption, specifically mentioning how if there was corruption in their government then they wouldn’t be able to have these nice classrooms, chalkboards, and desks. It rolled off his tongue and no one thought that he was saying anything radical, but I felt so embarrassed and humbled. During my whole time at the school I couldn’t help but observe all of the things that were wrong with the school and think about what should be done to change them. And then I hear this teacher talk about how blessed they are to have all of the opportunities and resources that they have. Amazing!
I mention this story because it seems to be a reoccurring attitude that we have witnessed in the people of Zambia. Their ability to see the good in everything, to be thankful for what they have instead of wishing for what they don’t, and their unbelievable talent to express their genuine love and joy on a day to day basis is truly inspiring. I shouldn’t be surprised, but the learning during this trip has gone well beyond what I ever anticipated, and there is still so much more to experience!