In Zambia, all schools opened their doors on Monday, January 22nd, whether private or government schools. Although the cholera scare has lessened, there are still buckets with spigots and bleachy water everywhere. The kids get it. There is less hand shaking than usual.
The upper school (grades 8-12) start a 7:00 am. The primary grades and preschool start at eight. The upper school had a longish orientation from 7 – 9:30 or so to review the rules and expectations and other necessary explanations to changes in the setup. There is a school building about halfway done which puts at least 2 classes outdoors. (One small blessing from no rain.)
There is a phenomenon apparently with many 3rd world countries and Zambia is no different, that “equality” and “fairness to all” are important guides. In some ways, this doesn’t play out fairly at all, but the basic idea is that in times of severe need, all share in what is available. Whenever possible, an effort is made to level the playing field. (Of course, that is not to say that there is corruption and some people are getting way more than what is “fair,” but usually they don’t flaunt it.) Anyway, at the school, this is reflected in some pretty rigid uniform requirements: upper school is white shirts with blue pants or skirts (below the knee), black ties (for both boys and girls), black shoes, and white socks for the girls and black socks for the boys. For the lower school, it’s red shirts and blue shorts or skirts or pants, white socks for girls, black socks for boys and black shoes. For both sides, no ornamentation of any kind and no additional hairpieces for the girls that fall below the shoulder – nothing that would fall in a student’s face. The boys must have what we might call a military cut or buzz. No extra colors in the hair and no fancy designs.
I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed with trying to recognize the 80 +/- kids at the Village, but picking them out of an array of 600 was too much. Thankfully, they seemed extra friendly, but rarely did a name attach to a face. But the main point is that many of these children have far less than the kids at the Village. The uniforms are a source of pride for many, particularly if they are new. The School of Hope provides uniforms to grades PK to 4th grade for free, it’s part of the ministry, but they also have a team of ladies who sew the red shirts and blue pants/skirts for the kids up through 7th grade.
Despite the soaring temps into the 80’s, with no air conditioning or fans in the rooms, business goes on as usual. This is their norm and to my amazement, some of the kids also wore sweaters. An addition to the uniform for the colder months in June-August.
Kathleen, my host and friend, spent most of the first day seeing parent after parent, either to explain the necessity for their child to repeat a grade, or how sorry she is that there is not enough of a scholarship fund for their son/daughter/grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin, or simply to explain that the classes were full and better luck next year or the Village is full or the children are too young or too old and on and on and on it went all day. But my sister/friend is a woman of great patience and compassion. They do what they can to help. Her assistant, Mary, was also handling problems throughout the day. Both women had long waiting lines outside their meager offices.
But the kids were like kids on the first day of school, a little hesitant and unsure if it was their first time at the school, the older kids, cocky, and a sense of excitement everywhere, particularly during recess.
One teacher reminded me, for her and for many of the teachers at the school, it’s a calling to be there. They are there to spread the message of hope. On the first day, the results of the 12th grade exam were announced (an exam that takes about a month to complete at the end of the school year and determines whether the student can go on to college). College is the dream for many and both Hope School and the Village want to give each child that can, the opportunity to go on. They didn’t all pass, but the ones who did were ecstatic. They were one step closer to leaving the cycle that had dominated most of their lives. Hope is their rain.