Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hanging out with Politicians...sort of

It’s been a very unpredictable couple of weeks…I began my assessment project several weeks ago, the long term program review that I will complete by the end of my fellowship. What I am doing is attempting to gauge the impact the program has had on families, communities, and students, using students who were not selected as a control group. The first step is interviewing the parents of our students…it has already been rather difficult to schedule these interviews, considering the fact that most of our parents work during the day, usually late into the evening. I’ve done four so far (which is not good, considering we have 31 families in total and I wanted to finish this by the end of the month). It has been really interesting to hear what people have said about how KF has affected their lives, how they have watched their child grow and mature throughout the years. Several of the parents I interviewed told me that they have been able to make significant improvements to their lives with the money that they would have spent on the education and care of their child. People have been able to put other siblings through school, improve their living situation, buy more food and water, and more. One set of parents even told me that they have been able to go back to school themselves in order to advance their education. I spent a lot of time at this one house; this is a warm, hardworking family that always makes me feel welcome when I come around. My student’s sister showed me her artwork, and when I left I was handed an enormous bag of fresh onions. They told me on the way out that the most important thing KF has done for them is to push them to continue improving their lives, to not sit still and accept their condition. Interestingly, every single parent noticed significant changes in his or her child…confidence, cleanliness, behavior, and more. I began to notice some trends, even throughout just four interviews. KF students were exposing their families to new experiences and ideas (university, the internet, etc), pushing their siblings and cousins to work hard, and even inspiring children in the community to focus on their schoolwork so that they might someday earn a similar scholarship.

My birthday was on November 7th, and I had a pretty awesome weekend. Five people decided to combine their birthdays together, so everyone decided rent out a club/restaurant. It was an incredibly fun night. The next day I got a call from young girl who had been recruited by the Leopards Hill students to deliver me a cake and card. It took a while, but my friend Jen and I finally tracked her down near my house. It was a vanilla frosted heart-shape cake with my name on it from a local grocery store. Wooo! It ended up being an awesome birthday weekend. My first birthday outside of the States…and that didn’t even strike me until later on in the night.

Last week was interesting…we have been assisting two of our students with a research project about TB that is suppose to culminate in an article posted to the UN website. Two of our students are supposed to be working in conjunction with two from a local international school. On Monday we were invited by CIDRZ to watch a performance by a local dance/theater group. They go into communities, begin drumming and dancing until a huge crowd gathers around, and then put on a skit that is meant to education people about HIV and TB. It was all spoken in Nyanja, but I still got the point for the most part. The performance was very interesting…a lot of people in these communities simply lack information—they might have the symptoms of TB but will not be able to recognize what they mean. So creative approaches like this to spreading information could play a huge role in combating disease in the future. Obviously, behavior change is not something that will happen overnight, but these small, grassroots efforts are an important step on the way.

On Wednesday I attended a library opening for the Lubutu Library Project, an organization that has been contracted by the government to build hundreds of libraries across the country. The rains put a bit of a damper on the event, but I did get to shake Kenneth Kaunda’s hand and get a glimpse of the American Ambassador to Zambia. On Thursday we continued with the research project, taking the students to a clinic and a home-based care center for TB. The woman who was guiding us took the students to interview a current TB patient, who was in the middle of treatment. The students learned that TB is an opportunistic infection, which explains why 70% of people that are diagnosed with TB in Lusaka are also HIV positive. The two are a deadly combination.

On Saturday I went to an award ceremony at Leopards Hill. I had tried to make sure all of our parents and mentors were aware of the event, and I think that KF had a pretty good turnout. The guest of honor was the U.S Ambassador, and he gave an incredible speech about education and leadership in Zambia, and about the partnership he hoped to form with the Zambian people. The new U.S embassy (it looks more like a fortress) is right nearby, so the two will be neighbors for decades. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the award ceremony…most Zambian schools have a prize-giving day that is usually coupled with a grade 12 graduation, and students win awards for subjects, athletics, and more. KF literally took over the ceremony. Three of our students (one in grade 8, one in 9, and one in 10) won probably 90% of their grade’s prizes for best in various subjects. The emcee would read off the award, and then say “guess who?” and call the same name again and again. It was just amazing. I was so proud of them. Our students took the first position in grade 8, 9, 10, and 11, and also won awards in sports and behavior. KF is clearly having an impact on these schools. I hope that days like this can be a wake up call to all high quality schools in the area to consider bringing in students from different backgrounds.

It’s been a strange week so far…my car is in the shop for some major repairs, so I haven’t been able to continue with my interviews. I also had a little tough of the flu in the middle of the week, so I’ve missed a bit of work. This just means that the next several weeks are going to be unbelievably busy. And I can’t believe it’s almost December already…

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