In June this year, I was a Happy Africa Foundation NGO Volunteer. The projects were facilitated by the African Impact in Livingstone, Zambia. As an experienced teacher and teacher educator, I was very excited to share my knowledge and skills till I read about the community. I realised then how important it was for me to curb my enthusiasm. It was another world…out of this world. It was vital for me to first gain their trust. I needed to get to know the community: seek first to understand and take a genuine interest in their way of life before approaching them with a prescription of skills and knowledge to cure their “ills”. So I left Singapore with an open mind to learn as much as I could from this community in Livingstone, named after David Livingstone, a missionary doctor whose explorations took him into the darkest of Africa.
It was an honour to be invited into the classrooms of Community Schools, Government Schools and some Private Schools. We were received warmly into packed classrooms of 50 to 60 students. Students and teachers were curious and expressed interest in getting to know us. They wanted to know more about where we came from, our families, our schools, our climate, the kind of houses we lived in…the questions were endless, and the smiles and eyes spoke volumes.
It is inspiring how students are just so happy to be a part of a school community, taking turns for instance to water the plants in the school compound during their 15 minute break.
Below is an excerpt from my diary in my second week in Livingstone:
Our day starts typically in the morning at 7.40. A van takes us to community schools in rural areas of Livingstone to teach students or run workshops for teachers in English Language teaching. Community Schools are those that are in poor districts. We have been briefed that they receive very little funding from the local government and depend mostly on NGOs for support. Many of the teachers in Community Schools are volunteers themselves who are paid very little, and do not have the requisite professional qualifications to teach. We do what little we can to help them in our three weeks here.
In the afternoons, we help to run Mental Health and Girl Impact Programmes, Sports, Art and Math Clubs in schools and old folks homes. Yesterday, there was a request from one of the teachers for ideas to start an English Club.
I’m getting used to the pace and rhythm of local life. In spite of what we would consider impoverished circumstances because resources are sorely lacking in the classrooms of these Community schools, there’s so much joy in the children and teachers we meet every day, I watched 3 to 5 children share a textbook because there weren’t enough for everyone. In another class only the teacher had a text book. A student in the class was assigned by the teacher to write the whole chapter on the black board. I watched the other students painstakingly copy down the chapter word for word into their exercise books. I am thinking…we are in the 21 C! Surely we must be able to provide every child with a text book. The NGOs have been around for eons so how could this be happening.
You could easily raise funds to buy books. I did. I wrote to a couple of my friends in Singapore and within a couple of days I got the funds to buy English text books for every child in two graduating classes. I arranged for the books to be bought by African Impact while I was there and delivered them personally to the classes in the Community School I was attached to. It was not difficult and we did not put anyone out of pocket. Your heart just fills watching students glow with pride, holding the newly minted books. But it was not enough to just buy them the books and walk away. There are pedagogical implications. When students have textbooks, they no longer have to spend precious curriculum hours copying chapters from the board. Teaching and learning has to take on a different dimension. It frees up a teacher’s time in class to actually facilitate learning in the classroom. How does one teach? How does one facilitate discussion? How does one ask questions to check for understanding or inspire critical thinking? Where does one start? We took baby steps…we made learning simple to stick…we learnt how to facilitate learning and thinking with limited resources.
It is inspiring how students are just so happy to be a part of a school community, taking turns for instance to water the plants in the school compound during their 15 minute break. It takes little to bring on a smile! All of us from Singapore have learnt to focus on the bright spots, and have fun in our interactions with the local community.
In the weekends, we explore what Zambia and the neighbouring countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe have to offer. We are looking forward to the overnight camp in Chobe National Park in Botswana. It’s going to be a once in a life time experience to sleep in a tent in the middle of the jungle.
Overall, it’s been an uplifting experience…there have been so many moments so far to remember and cherish. Pray for good health to continue in our short stint here!