It’s been an awesome couple weeks. Last Friday our president/ co-founder arrived with his fiance from Ghana. They are currently living in Ghana because our president is on a medical fellowship there. They also brought along one of our sponsors, a man from California who has been sponsoring three of our students from the beginning. I picked them up from the hotel and we went to Ibex Hill, one of our schools, for a big ceremony and presentation in front of the entire school. A local bank, Stanbick, donated a ton of money to KF for grade 11 tuition and book costs, so there was a celebration to honor the donation and the arrival of our president. The kids did a traditional dance and a play that they had been practicing all week, and even included dozens of other Ibex students. Everyone was clapping and hooting, and Oliver (yes, my roommate and president have the same name), the head of Stanbick in Zambia, and one of our grade 11 students all gave speeches. It was an awesome day, and everyone was happy to see the Oliver again.
Later on I went to play soccer with a Zambian guy Bob I had met at a cafe. The way he described it to me was vastly different than what it ended up being (he invited me along to play some “amateur soccer with his friends"). So we pulled up to this new Olympic stadium that was built in order to train athletes in Southern Africa, where there were two professional-looking teams in uniforms warming up. He threw me a jersey, ran out, and told me to sub in later in the game. I was definitely the only mzungu there, and everyone was laughing and giving me the thumbs up. I finally got into the game at the end and they threw me on defense guarding the one fat guy on the field (who also happened to be a former Zambian national team coach). I actually didn't play all that poorly, mostly trying to stay out of the way (these guys were GOOD). After the game we went to the park social club, where people gather after sporting events. Both teams were hang out and relaxing, having drinks. I was introduced to the group as the "house mzungu, imported all the way from America.” Everyone there was so friendly and welcoming, and even my soccer skills have been steadily declining since high school, they invited me to come along again whenever I want.
On Saturday I had a very productive meeting with Oliver. It was great to discuss the job and some of the challenges I have faced here in person. Later in the day we had a lunch at the Mexican restaurant with all of the grade 11 students. It's a really cool place because the owner uses it to fund a nonprofit on the side (Teach to Fish, which trains young Zambians in entrepreneurial and business skills). They gave us a tour and a pep talk, and we spent the afternoon explaining to the kids what Mexican food is and just talking and having a good time. After that I drove one of the grade 11 students to visit his sister. This student is amazing. He's very religious, unbelievably mature and intelligent. He has had a horrific upbringing (his dad used to abuse his mom and sister), but he has grown through it all somehow. He’s a deep thinker and also writes poetry and draws. We had an awesome conversation about life and love and all sorts of things. Each one of these students is so unique and each has a story, and I have really loved learning about them over time.
Last week I spent a lot of time bringing our president and his crew to see the kids and the different schools, including one of the basic schools we partner with. One of our high schools is considering adopting a scholarship program, inspired by KF, to bring needy kids to their school. Of course, the ultimate goal of this program would be to have the schools be doing this without our help, or at least with a minimal amount of our assistance. I think that it’s very encouraging, and I am excited to see how these partnerships continue to develop. I wonder if it would be easier to get local support if scholarship efforts were spearheaded by Zambian schools instead of NGOs. We then went to visit two of our mentors, one American and one Zambian, which everyone seemed to enjoy. Once Oliver left for Ghana, I took our sponsor to visit the three students he funds…he seemed to have great conversations with them about school and their career plans. We also went to visit one of the student’s homes. It was a busy, busy week!
Another important event of last week was delivering the letters to partner basic schools about who we selected for interviews. Many of the administrators were unbelievably happy and proud that their students made it to the final round. One school in particular, however, stood out. N’gombe Presbyterian School is a community school, one of two that we drew from during this application process. We only very recently started accepting applications from these schools, which is already a big step for us. Community schools are the most poorly-founded schools in the city. They often get support from churches or international donors, and are also often for the poorest of the poor. They are different from government schools, which on the whole still have poor quality, but still are quite different from community schools. As far as I know, government schools do charge a small yearly fee, and the a lot of the time the poorest individuals cannot afford even this. So community schools fill that gap…often, they are staffed with volunteer teachers, have one or two classrooms, and have students from very troubled backgrounds (many are orphans). The facilities are often crumbling. It sometimes takes students 3-4 years to pass from grade 7 to 8 due to poor teaching.
One student from N’gombe scored exceptionally well on our test, which means he was selected for an interview. This is the first time someone from a community school made it to the final round, so delivering this letter was particularly special. The school was dirty, the buildings were bare, and all of the students seemed to be lumped into big classrooms. We got plenty of stares, Harrison in his suit, me with my skin color, walking into the office, and the head teacher was truly shocked to see us there. We even had the chance to meet the young man who we will soon be interviewing, a shy, polite, scrawny young man with a huge cross necklace around his neck. This seems to prove already that students with natural intelligence and/or an exceptionally strong work ethic can do well at these schools, despite the desperate conditions they often find themselves in. It’s very exciting.
It’s been a fun week and weekend as well. On Wednesday I joined my friend Chileya (she offered me a free ticket, so it was hard to pass up) for a concert at the Alliance Francaise, a local French cultural center. Aly Keita is from the Ivory Coast, and he plays this enormous xylophone instrument that he constructed himself. He put on quite a show, all by himself. Some of the sounds that came out of that instrument were stunning. The perfect example of someone who has long ago mastered an instrument. I even had the chance to meet him afterward and utlilize my long outdated French skills. I somehow got across to him that I play the drums, and his face lit up as he started playing the air drums, saying “you better keep playing!” in French. It was an awesome night. This weekend I played some ultimate Frisbee at the American School, went to a traditional and prize-giving day at one of our schools (three of our students won academic awards, and all of them were involved in the songs and dances), and on Sunday went to the Reptile Park for a huge birthday celebration for Maxime where we went swimming, looked at some crocs, and grilled crocodile burgers and impala. The weather is starting to get unbelievably hot…definitely not what I’m used to in October. Luckily the heat is all dry, but still, midday is brutal here.
This week I have been working on a community service manual for our students service projects, putting finishing touches on a parent survey for my long-term research project, and scheduling application interviews for next week. Then it’s off to Malawi this weekend for the Lake of Stars concert (20+ artists are performing from all over Africa, and I’m going with a group of about 20 people). So exciting.