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.
This whole thing started on Oct 23, 2017 on International Peace Day. Colleagues at the Havre de Grace Library presented the idea of having some activities to commemorate the day and one of the ideas was to make 1000 cranes, a long time symbol for peace, health, and well-being. I heard about the cranes a long time ago but forgotten about them in the rush of life. My most memorable encounter was some years ago at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. They touched my soul. And so, at the library, we agreed, we would learn how to fold paper cranes as a gesture of peace.
This project took on a life of its own. Customers and staff alike got into the spirit of the thing and before we knew it, we had not just 1000 but over 2000 cranes. We all experienced the meditative calm they brought. And soon, some of us were learning how to make them smaller and smaller and smaller. At my retirement party, I was given a glass jar full of the smallest of cranes, a full 1000, full of love and peace. Then I decided to leave some peace and hope at home before leaving for Africa. And here too, there now hang 1000.
Inevitably, it landed on my heart to bring the crane story to Zambia’s Village and School of Hope. Yesterday, I introduced the cranes to the teachers and several took on the challenge with great joy. Interestingly, the men were the most intrigued and even took home paper to make more. We already have over a hundred.
Tonight, I took the paper and the crane story to one of the houses in the Village where the older girls live. Some gave up at the demand for tight folds and clean corners, while several others persisted. There we sat on the dusty cement floor, with a single light bulb to illuminate the room, folding and making mistakes and folding again. We laughed at each others’ efforts. Who was there? Sharon, Charity, Mary M, Lina, Linus, Jo something, and a few others who wandered in and out to see our progress. It was hot as blazes.
The girls asked, how long are you staying? And when I told them til the end of February, they cheered. We are new friends, sharing in the peace and hope of a folded piece of paper.
It’s a farm. I mean, there’s a lot of other things, but ultimately, it’s a farm. This is a rural area. And no, there are no elephants or giraffe or hippos or lions. It’s a farm.
And there are plenty of paths to walk about, listening to the birds (I saw a Yellow-Mantled Whydah), and buzzing insects and people working in the fields and on the buildings.
There are a lot of buildings: 10 Village buildings house the children & teens, and there are buildings where some of the workers live, and there is Elizabeth House (for young women in crisis), and of course the school (both lower & upper schools), and of course, the library. But there are more buildings in construction as well.
None of these buildings existed 10 years ago. That’s just one of the amazing things. But now, not only are there lots of buildings, but there are eleven deep water wells, electricity for every building, and at least at the Schwartz home, Internet access. Unbelievable really.
Next week, the school will open and now begins the planning for receiving over 700 children (including the 84 from the Village). Lots of trips to Lusaka for school supplies and food for lunches. They feed every child and teacher lunch every day.
It’s a simple life, but for the kids, it’s a good life. They have plenty of food to eat, a roof over their heads, adults who care about them, and most of all, love.
For Westerners, who don’t know better, it may look like nothing, but for many of the 130 employees it’s a livelihood and for the kids, a true hope for the future.