Already one month since I arrived in Zambia and started volunteering at Chikumbuso!
This past week, some days, I feel like I’ve been here for ages and two more months seem a long time to stay at Chikumbuso, and some other days, I feel like time flies and I wouldn’t have enough of the remaining 2 months. But for sure, a routine had been settled within 4 weeks, and I am feeling more the highs and lows. In all cases, I confirmed that being a teacher should definitely be a vocation and not simply a day job. The people teaching the children are one of the key populations to shape the future.
Monday started with an unusual strong wind. Christine was back to teach the kids at kindergarten. Amos and Aya, both 4 years old, seem unstoppable and decided to not listen at all their teacher, roaming and jumping all over the classroom. The whole class seemed agitated and Christine had a bit more difficulty with the discipline this day, which reassured me haha!
But the “close your eyes” game helped bringing back calm. I bought some erasers and pen sharpeners on the week-end, as I saw how unequipped most of the kids were, and one of the major little disruptions in all the classes were that the kids are fighting over an eraser. Mission for the kindergarten class: cutting 2 erasers and sharpening all the colors pencils. My thumb remembered…
At 10:30am, I arrived in Grade 2 Faggie’s class. She seemed a bit out today and didn’t lead the class with energy as the previous weeks. Again, I guess that it happened to all teachers to have highs and lows, and it translated directly into the mood of the class. Faggie was teaching the multiplication table of 6, and I spotted 2 kids that didn’t know how to count after 30 so we sat together and wrote the numbers from 1 to 100 in their notebook.
When lunch break arrived, I went to see Marry, the head of products (mainly the plastic bags), to ensure I can finalize the products catalogue I was building for her during the past weeks. And at last, after spending the whole afternoon at Digiprint (the local equivalent of Negatif+ in Paris I would say), located in Eastpark Mall, I was very happy to get the 2 laminated catalogues at the end of the day. I still have to write this article about the amazing work done here by the ladies to produce their bags… even though I discovered that they are not using recycled plastic, and were probably having high negative NPV… we’ll try to use fabric instead by the end of the year.
On Tuesday, I was very excited to share the catalogues to Marry and Gertrude, but they were not arrived yet, it would have to wait lunch time. Still, I left one on Marry’s desk and went straight to Finety’s Grade 7 class. So last week, I didn’t understand correctly and of course, she didn’t finish the yearly program for her class! Which seemed obvious when the country had not yet finished the 3rd term out of 4. I guess she meant that she finalized a cycle when we were revising the graphs. So today, she asked me to teach the symmetrical shapes, which was a first for the classroom. Still in my area of expertise… but try to draw a pentagon on a blackboard without showing the lines of symmetry… yep, I struggled a bit!
Did I mention before that most (all?) the classes seemed to follow this “Oxford university press” edition for mathematics? Probably half of the kids were able to follow and do properly the exercises in Finety’s class. I guessed that even so, most of them wouldn’t be able to continue their education outside Chikumbuso (this school structure stopped at Grade 7), and only 12 kids out of 32 were sponsored. It meant that most children stopped their education at the equivalent of 5e in French high school. I was wondering when the Zambian State would be able to finance its own children education, instead of some Western sponsors. Of course, I know it is already great to have a bit of school education, always better than nothing. But still…
Then I went to Howard’s class, Grade 6. He asked me to teach Physics today, with the notion of pressure and how it is measured. We laughed with the class when I gave the example from the teaching book, with flat shoes vs heels!
Arrived Wednesday and Adelaïde’s Grade 4 to start the day. Like last week, I was feeling hopeless seeing her so disheartened and icy. After 30 minutes, I excused myself telling her I had to go and would catch up with her later. I then went to Mercy’s reading class in advance, but they were having a test that was supposed to take 2 hours.
I tried to go for the first time in the library, the latest “building/room” created, as I saw Angela the librarian reading with small kids there. She welcomed me as I asked if I could help her. Believe it or not, I never came to this library before. It seemed it was the latest construction done, and it was very airy, lot of light entering the room full of books. I was a bit surprised to see a dozen of teenagers called the ‘gap year’, who studied till Grade 12 outside Chikumbuso thanks to sponsoring, chatting, reading, and mostly on their smartphones. It seemed they were using the library to prepare for their graduation ceremony at the end of the month, as they didn’t have elsewhere to go. Nevertheless, Angela the librarian continued teaching the Grade 3 kids how to read on a little whiteboard.
Then I came back to Mercy’s class at 10:30, and before she started the test, we played Faggie’s game with the multiplication tables. We all laughed very loud when Mercy herself got wrong in the multiple of 8…
Like all Thursdays, I started the day with Maria’s Grade 5 class. Maria joined Chikumbuso in 2005 in Grade 4/5 she didn’t remember, with Trudy being her teacher at the time, and she got sponsored to study and graduate from Fairview University. She taught 8th and 9th grade in the provinces as assistant teacher before coming back to Chikumbuso 3 years ago. She taught Grade 4, Grade 6 and now Grade 5. At only 27 years old, she was one of the best teachers I’d seen in Chikumbuso. She was radiating positive energy, even though she lost her uncle last week.
After the multiplication tables, it was English session. She got 5 students standing up, and they all read alternatively different chapters of a very heavy text on rape, HIV and AIDS. The story was from a Zambian education book. I knew that African kids were taught very early the risks of STDs and sexuality, but the youngest was only 8 years old… None of the kids laughed or made weird remarks though, like I had seen in my biology classes as soon as sexuality was mentioned. Maria asked me if I could share some messages with the class, which was not as easy as mathematics. Maria already reminded that sex should be with protection only (and the whole class repeated it loudly, like a multiplication table). I didn’t know what more to say as I didn’t want any religion involved, so I said that in France, we were considered as an adult at 18 years old (like in Zambia actually), and it was generally easier to wait till then to be sure that we were mature enough to engage into sex. And that you should have this kind of relations because both parties really really want to, and not to copy your friends or anyone. I was rather relieved when few kids spontaneously said “Thank you Madam for your message”. So difficult to pass objective messages not tinted by your religion and culture…
This Thursday was particular, as instead of going to Angela’s Grade 3, I left school at 10:30 to follow Marry the head of Chikumbuso products and Rosy the head seamstress, as agreed the day before. The idea was to see where they were buying the raw material for the bags and mostly if we could find secondhand fabric to replace the brand new plastic used for the bags (ah yes, I discovered it was not recycled plastic at all… only at the beginning of Chikumbuso!) Rosy was a 48 year old mother of 6 with her youngest being 21. Marry would celebrate her 50 in November. Both were living with their husbands.
Marry was driving her good old car, till we arrived at the 2nd hand clothes market (Mandevu market). It was rather disappointing, with bedsheets of very bad quality and costs that were almost as much as brand new shitenge (local Zambian wax… still made in China though). So we bought nothing and we went to the shitenge shops. It seemed that Indians were leading this business segment, they were in all the shops. There, Marry bought few decorations for the celebrations of the week-end. Then I selected a dozen of meters of shitenge with different patterns in 2 different boutiques. After that, Marry drove us to the leather shop Zamleather in the industrial area. Even if Marry chose rapidly the leather sheets she wanted to buy, we had to wait for 2 hours the payment… and after that, she still had to buy some beef for the school, and this is where I left Marry and Rosy, as my taxi arrived to take me back home.
All the above was written before Friday arrived.
And Friday arrived.
And I was dismissed from Chikumbuso school!
It’s true that this Friday didn’t start well. I forgot to set my alarm clock and didn’t wake up on time before Caroline came by 7:30. 15 minutes later, I was in the taxi and arrived 15 minutes late at Monica’s class, Grade 1. Again, it was a test day. The little Emmanuel got a nosebleed. And I told Monica that I had a meeting at 10:30 with Gertrude, who asked me the day before. I thought: “At last, she got the director, and we are going to progress with the students’ database.”
Around 11:00 Gertrude came, and we went to her office. We sat, and I was a bit surprised when were arriving in addition to the director, 4 teachers, Rosy, Marry and Beauty (the “lead” widow for the bags) also taking a seat. Gertrude told me coldly that I cannot continue the classes as she got complaints from some teachers 2 days ago and she had to act. I didn’t see this coming at all. The main reason given to me was that I was confusing the children by not strictly following the teacher’s notebook during the 2 hours per week I had with each class…
I just told the teachers that I thought this structure was incredible, they were the ones doing great anyway and I was very sorry to have extrapolated their lessons and disrupted their classes. And that they shouldn’t be afraid next time to say as soon as they think anything’s going the wrong way directly in their classroom.
I went straight home to cry the whole afternoon.
Aaahhh… I didn’t think I would live such a drama during my chosen break. All this Chikumbuso experience was pretty intense, from the beginning to the end. And now that few days had passed, I’m laughing at myself to be so naïve still, at my age. But it reminds me that whether work or private environment, I just am very bad at politics. I don’t regret a single moment spent with the kids though, I believe that for those who will remember me, it won’t be a bad memory, and I made plenty of good ones from my side. How much condescending that would sound I don’t know, but I think that misery and lack of education are acceptable excuses for unfairness and misjudgment towards the lucky ones like me. I just feel very sad for those children who can only grow within the capacity of their surroundings. I could have been one of them.
As for the overall structure, it remains incredible to have built such a school environment in the past 15 years. But how sustainable will this be when all this structure relies solely on faraway Westerners sponsors, for food, teachers, products…?
Farewell to Chikumbuso, I wish them the best!
And no worries, week 5 will come this Sunday… already found my next volunteering ☺️