Thursday, April 7, 2011

Three Months Left...Time to Reflect

If the first nine months of my fellowship were centered on getting to know Kucetekela as an organization, the last two have focused on examining the implications of the foundation within the Zambian educational system. One of my primary responsibilities in Lusaka has been to conduct a long-term impact analysis that seeks to assess the actual effect our sponsorship has had on the financially disadvantaged students and families that we support. After meeting with 31 families at their homes, I began to notice some interesting trends—parents were somehow able to put food on the table, siblings were back in school and working extra hard to emulate their older brother or sister, students from these communities were being inspired to believe that they too could someday earn a sponsorship. My student survey showed me that our students at our three partner private boarding schools were improving their IT, public speaking, and leadership skills, getting actively engaged in their studies and in student life at their schools, and growing more and more confident about their futures. After dozens of visits to ministries and government basic and secondary schools and interviews with previous unsuccessful applicants, I began to observe some different, more disheartening trends. Students at these schools were struggling—lack of text books and often desks to study from, classrooms packed full with 60+ students, teachers that were underpaid and overworked and uninspired. And at the end of the day, if one was lucky enough to pass their grade 12 exams with the marks needed for college, they were faced with the pressing reality that tertiary scholarship opportunities for low-income students, due to a monumental failure on the part of the government to invest in the future higher education, were exceedingly difficult to acquire. It was at this point that I believe I fully understood the implications of KF and the opportunity it offers to its students. We are investing in a small group of potential leaders, providing them with the support and guidance that they need to flourish, and supplying them with the tools needed to perform well enough to earn those elusive scholarships that many Zambian students struggle to attain. And it is our hope that these students, having worked their way through countless obstacles, will remember that there are thousands of students like them that need their leadership in paving the way forward.

Among many, many things, my fellowship with Kucetekela Foundation has reaffirmed my belief that education is the foundation, the lifeblood of a healthy society, and if it is not effectively distributed to all members of society than it can’t perform its most vital functions. And the essential power of education does not stop at basic or secondary level. Access to quality higher education is just as important in developing the sorts of leaders who can instigate the changes that countries like Zambia so desperately need. My work in Zambia has put a personal face to this incredible power—the amazing students, their tenacious, resilient families, the mentors who care so deeply about their students and their successes, and the hope that scholarship aid can bring—and a policy face—that developing countries must invest in access to education in order to foster successful development. It may be truly impossible to accurately portray the level of influence this year has had upon my life—the relationships which I will always treasure, the friends I have met, the challenges I have struggled through, the discoveries, both discouraging and enlightening, that I have made. My fellowship has carved for me a new, exciting, and fundamentally real path, one that has been molded by my unique experiences in this tragic yet beautiful country. It has proven to me that changing lives and changing policy can actually be intimately connected and has inspired me to continuing learning about and advocating on behalf of equal access to education, both across Africa and at home, into the future.

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