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Global Education

Lending a hand in Zambia; Building a health facility

By Denebola
Published: September 2007

By Becky Crowder

30 women greeted us, dancing and singing and smiling, as we stepped into Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. They had come from scattered compounds on the outskirts of Lusaka to meet my group of 18 students.

I went to Zambia, a country in southern Africa, for two weeks this summer with the organization Communities Without Borders . I witnessed what life is like there, taught in schools, and helped build a health clinic.

A loud clapping handshake, combined with an upward sliding motion, locking thumbs, was at first unfamiliar to us as foreigners but later became second nature. That first meeting with the women was delightful. They shared their songs and family stories, while we reciprocated with songs like the Macarena and the hokey pokey (a big hit with the little ones).

The next day I visited the Kanyama compound. Compounds are small, poor isolated villages within the city of Lusaka. People live and work there, and kids go to school there. The center of town is a bustling marketplace.

The schools, packed full of students, are about half the size of a Newton South classroom. They are dark, lit only by tiny windows strategically placed high up to avoid thievery. Their supplies are minimal: just plastic chairs and a few posters. Despite this, however, the students manage to keep high spirits and start off the day by belting out English songs and phrases that they have learned.

Though English is the official language because of British imperialism, most Zambians speak Nyanja.

For four straight days, two of us traveled down a bumpy road bringing bags full of apples, construction paper, books, and soccer balls to Kanyama. Somewhere during the experience of teaching and being taught, I bonded with about thirty children between the ages of three and eight.

The salary for the teachers is only $5 per month in Zambia. The school system is divided into community schools and government schools. Community schools are local in the compounds and cost little to nothing for the students. whereas the government schools are more expensive and farther away. For most of these kids, going to college is impossible.

One high point of the trip was meeting with 20 high school students from the Garden compound. Their interests and problems were not that different than here in America. The conversation, however, kept coming back to HIV/AIDS (17% of Zambians have HIV/AIDS). Dealing with and living with the epidemic is always on their minds, for this reason.

While all the kids took sexual education, only one had ever been to a doctor. “If condoms don’t work 100% of the time, then why do they keep selling them?” one asked.

Part of Communities Without Borders ‘ work is to fund the construction of a health clinic there. Women I spoke with said one woman had recently died from childbirth, riding in an ox-cart heading for the nearest health clinic in Choma.

We also worked along side the men to build the clinic. We witnessed the long process, where almost everything is done by hand.

At sundown, the workers started walking home. This turned out to be the most beautiful way to see an African sunset. With nothing but dry grass and the occasional tree in the surrounding area, the sinking sun stood out in a sky of orange, pink, and purple.

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