Dream Livingstone Zambia, the non-profit we are working with, started as a non-profit effort to supply five community schools in Livingstone with stationary for their lessons.
I say “community schools” because they are different than the government run schools here in Zambia.
In the past, government organized schooling was free for all children – but several years ago that changed. I am sure there were reasons why the government began to implement a fee structure for children to attend school, but I don’t know the reasons why. What we did learn from our placement coordinators is that many families simply could not afford to pay the fees, and so a huge number of children were no longer able to attend school. Many of them became street children, put on the path of a really hard life.
When members of the community acknowledged the need for all children to be educated – even if their families and guardians could not afford the fees at the government run schools – they began schools of their own. These “community schools” welcome all students to study without the crazy high school fees.
Community schools are EVERYWHERE, but despite the number of schools, they all seem to have a LOT of students. They are under the care of teachers and volunteers from the communities. The student to teacher ratio is off the charts.
The schools are often developed with donations. Some of the schools in the area started without a building at all, meeting in an open area of land, sitting down on the ground and learning outside. The schools are developed slowly, building one classroom at a time.
Dream Livingstone Zambia has grown from providing stationary to just a few schools, to not only developing a community school in the Highlands area, but also partnering with 30+ schools throughout the community to provide volunteers to help teach ALL children who want to learn.
Elicecy Baby Care and Pre-School
When Luke and I woke up on Tuesday this week (the first official day at our placement), we knew we were headed to a school called “Elicecy Baby Care and Pre-School.”
On Tuesday, one of our volunteer coordinators drove us to our placement in a van and highlighted the route we’d be walking on our own the next day. The school is about an hour walk from where we are staying, past markets, a bunch of other community schools, churches and residential areas.
A lot of people in Zambia walk as their main mode of transportation, so in the morning the streets are busy and full of life.
Elicecy is a smaller school in neighborhoods outlying the town center, so Luke, myself and a girl from New Zealand named Jess are the three volunteers at our placement.
Writing this, I sat here for a minute to try to figure out the best word to use describe the children’s reaction to seeing the van. I finally asked Luke what word he would use:
The kids were out in the yard for morning playtime, and when the van came into view, they FLOODED out of the front gate, tripping over each other and screaming and waving and smiling and jumping up and down! It was a little joyful BURST of kids. We opened the door of the van and we were MOBBED, but in the best way. So many hugs! They want to touch your skin, your hair, your jewelry and your clothes. They are fascinated by tattoos and they love to be picked up. They have a huge curiosity for everything that was different about us. One of them even motioned for me to stay still so he could look at the back of my earlobes.
My long curly hair?
I took it down, and it was solid entertainment for over 20-minutes in our playtime with them on the first day. I shook it out to shrieks of laughter! They petted my head and took handfuls of hair to braid it, getting frustrated only at the end that the braid immediately began to unravel when they finished. I was finding tiny braids and twists in my hair all day, the hair tied into several knots at the end as an attempt to hold it in place. Slick kids – the knots were working!
There are two teachers at Elicecy – Elizabeth and Cecelia.
The school name “Elicecy” is their two names combined. The two of them began the community school together to provide a place for children in their neighborhoods outside of town with a place to be educated. They also have a small nursery area where they help look after babies.
They have been running the school for about 8 or 9 years — three different classrooms between the two of them, while also managing the small nursery for babies. Amazing women, right!?
The school is pretty small compared to the other schools around Livingstone. In the information we received, it says that there are 90-some kids at the school. But in our time there so far, the group has been around 40-50 students and a few babies.
Luke is working with children between 8-13 years old. He has just four students. We asked why there are so many younger kids, and we learned that when the kids get older a lot of them go to help with the family business or to find some kind of work.
Jess also has 4 students, in the same age range as Luke.
The classrooms for the older students are very small, about the size of a large walk-in closet. There is one desk that the kids sit at together, and just enough room for a teacher to stand and write on a rolling white board.
I am working with children between 2-5 years old, and my class is pretty big. Around 30-35 kids the first few days, though I’ve already noticed that many kids don’t make it to school everyday. Cecelia commented that attendance will go up when word gets around that there are mzungu’s at the school.
The classroom for younger kids is quite a bit bigger and they have two long tables where the kids sit. It is a nice place for them to learn despite the close quarters. There is a toilet that you flush by throwing a scoop of water in the bowl from a bucket next to the toilet. There is a hand wash station which is a big container of water and a bar of soap.
We’ve been at the school for a few days now, and I’m loving working with these kids. I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying their little enthusiastic faces and small voices calling “Teacher! Teacher!” as they show you progress on their assignment.
I’ve never really liked kids that much, aside from my own nieces an nephews.
But the kids are very different here.
Watching how happy they are by the smallest and most simple thing, it’s hard to have anything but a smile and a huge drive to help them feel special and unique.
In my class, they are learning the alphabet and numbers. A lot of the learning is in song.
The class is greeted each morning with a short song sung by Cecelia or Elizabeth, whichever of them will be teaching that day. “Good Morning Children!” is sung to the kids, and “Good morning teacher!” is sung back by the students. After that, they say the Lord’s Prayer. Zambia is very religious and many of the community schools are Christian schools.
I think my favorite part of their morning routine is when the kids sing the national anthem of Zambia. They put their arms straight down by their sides and ball up their fists, they stand TALL and lift their chin a little bit. It’s freakin adorable. Once they have their stance, they sing it out and they sing it LOUD. “Praise be to Gooooodddddddd! Praise be! Praise be! Bless our nation! Zambia! Zambia! Free men we stand!”
Then they sit down and wait to start their lesson.
Mind you, these kids are 2-5 years old and they are like…insanely well behaved. A lot of them walk themselves to school, and choose to be there.
Punching or hitting or kicking isn’t really a problem I’ve seen at all. They are kids and they get distracted so things still get a little crazy, but the most intense moment is when I pass out the pencils.
Let me explain that one.
The students learn using small workbooks that Elizabeth and Cecelia make themselves. They are small packs of paper stapled together, many of them have a recycled cover. There aren’t enough enough pencils for all the students, so half of the students receive activities in their lesson books that involve coloring with crayons and half receive lessons that involve writing with a pencil.
Learning letters and numbers, they do one of three activities. One is called “joining” (complete with a song – “Join! Join! Join!”). For joining, the teacher has prepared a sheet with dotted lines of the letter they are learning. “V” is for van, for example. They trace the dotted letters to learn the shape of the letter.
Some of them do simple repetition, writing the letter many times and then drawing a picture of something that starts with the letter.
The last activity involves coloring in bubble letters of the letter “V” and learning how to color inside the lines while learning the shape of the letter.
There is a small bowl of very old crayons, enough for each student to have a few colors, even if it’s just a little nub of a crayon. But there are not that many pencils, and their pencil sharpener doesn’t really work.
There is one pencil that still has an eraser … and it is a BIG deal.
ALL THE KIDS WANT THAT PENCIL.
When they get it, their eyes LIGHT UP and all the kids around the student who received it get jealous. I remind them that we need to share the eraser, but when I turn my back, they pretty much always fight over the pencil.
I’ll definitely chat with Cecelia and Elizabeth on Monday to see if its okay for me to bring in a few new packs of pencils and crayons for the kids. And maybe a few spare erasers!
Moving on in the typical day at the school, the kids eat at about 10:30. They line up to wash their hands, sit in their seat until everyone has their small lunch from home and then they pray together. Only after they pray do the kids open up their food and start to eat. A lot of them eat rice or shima, little bags of air puffed Corn Pops in different flavors. Some of them have meat, or bread with butter on it. Sometimes they have a sucker for a treat, or a bottle of juice. Some of them definitely have more than others, but everyone always has something.
After lunch, we get to go outside and play together. The FAVORITE playtime activity is pictures on an iPhone. They LOVE to see pictures of themselves, and when I accidentally took a video in slow motion, that became the ultimate favorite. The kids fake epic battles and slow falls, and then watch the play back in extra slow motion and laugh their heads off. They want to see the videos over and over and over again, until you remind them that the phone will die and then we won’t be able to take more pictures later.
We have also been asking them to teach us their games.
They love to hold their fists out and hide a rock in one of their hands. You guess which hand the rock is in, and then they show you if you got it right. If you did, both their hands fly up over their heads — “YAY!” — if not they mix the rock back up behind their backs and they do it again. If you get it wrong too many times, they’ll start giving you hints by nudging the right hand forward and giving you a sly look like you are “in the know.” I think they’d play this game for the entire hour of playtime if you were willing to play it non-stop.
They also love to draw pictures in the sand and we worked on our letters and numbers a bit more in this way yesterday. I drew a number three and admired it, asking if they could show me their best number threes. Soon they were all carefully drawing their best threes in the sand. Two days in I was feeling pretty good — maybe I can get the hang of this teaching thing!
They have some toys – a soccer ball, though it’s a bit flat, and those Velcro paddles with the fuzzy ball that you throw back and forth between two people. We have these back home, too! The paddles they have aren’t too sticky anymore, but if you angle it just right mot of the paddles will still work. They have a metal swing set without swings, so they just climb on the bars and hang upside down.
They also love to play ANY games that involve clapping your hands, especially games like “Patty Cake” that involve two people. I now have a super awesome handshake with one of the girls from Luke’s class, which we came up with during lunch playtime on Wednesday. It ends with us wiggling our fingers at each other and going “yeahhhhhh” in a low pitched and quiet voice that can only really be described by the sunglasses emoji of “cool.”
Many of the students have seen white people before, when past volunteers have been to the school. But that wasn’t the case for one of the baby girls in the baby care. This little girl was SO scared of us that she screamed and had a total meltdown every time we were in view. Cecilia, could NOT stop laughing about this! Cecilia would swing the baby girl toward us, she would scream, and then Cecelia would cradle the baby while the baby looked at us and caught her breath, slowly calming down. Then Cecilia would hold her toward us a bit and she’d scream, then Cecilia would cradle her back and coo. I have to admit it was pretty funny! All very lighthearted, and I totally get it. On our hour long walk, we didn’t see any other white people. Even in town it’s unusual to see a white person, unless its someone from our group (or the occasional tourist who wandered out from their resort).
We have been here since Sunday, and I am feeling myself fall into comfort with how different it is than home.
The mornings are the coolest (weather) of the day, and I love the long walk to the school. At first I was a little nervous about it. Walking through residential areas with narrow walking streets, where women are out doing laundry, locals are going about their business… we are so obviously not locals, and I wasn’t sure if we would be imposing. When we were driven to the school on our first day, our volunteer coordinator shared with us that even though it may feel like we shouldn’t be there, just to feel free to walk through. I’m so glad we did! Everyone is SUPER nice. They know the three of us are going to the school. A lot of the men want to fist bump Luke. Sometimes they want to shake your hand. We receive probably 100 hello’s and smiles a morning, and only a few confused stares. If we greet them with a “Bwanji” or thank them with a “Zikomo” they tend to look surprised, then they laugh and shout it back.
The heat is still intense. I’ve begun to dread nighttime because it is so hard to sleep. In the mosquito net, it feels like you’re baking. I wake up sometimes and my heart is thumping, and any part of my body touching something is sweating. I have been getting up at 2am to stand under the cold water in the shower. Sometimes the water is a trickle like that first day, but at 2am it’s usually pretty nice. I also started sleeping with a wet towel draped over me.
I never thought I’d say that the heat is too much for me. I LOVE THE HEAT. But whew…..it’s intense here.
I could go on and on about these experiences, some of the individual kids that I’m starting to understand a bit better at the school, the culture….all of it.
But this is already a super long entry.
SO – I think I’ll leave it there for now.
Thanks for being a part of the journey, and we will share more soon!