An ending……and a beginning.

December 29, 2015

We are thankful to those of you who have been such a part of the solid support to the school in Zambia from its inception and through the 2015 school year.

 The school year in Africa drew to a close on December 4th, and we are happy to report that our Grade Nine girls wrote the state-wide exams throughout the month of November. A Pass in these exams is the ticket to high school in Zambia. The girls will receive their results in early January.

 Their teachers, who accompanied them on the hour long walk to and from the exam site daily are confident that the majority will be successful. In a country where the pass rate for these exams is quite low, please know that it is your support that has made this possible.

 Unfortunately, in spite of a host of positive experiences while we provided three years of quality education to girls in the community, we find that political and financial issues have put us in the position of having to suspend funding to the school. This was an exceedingly difficult decision and we have spent many months seeking alternatives. Lack of strong and skilled leadership on-site, as well as not being able to achieve community school status in a timely manner has left us no alternative.

 Although we are disappointed that we cannot continue to build the school, we are determined to carry on our support for education of the girls we have come to know in the community. We are presently investigating the establishment of a Scholarship Fund for past students of Same World Same Chance and the children of employees. We feel that in freeing ourselves of the overhead costs for a school we can better support girls we know personally from the school who will require finances to continue their education.

In fact, today, in Lusaka, five former students from SWSC wrote the entrance exam for Pestalozzi Education Centre, an excellent boarding school. We await results and hope to fund the top two girls as our first scholarship recipients.

 As we restructure here in Canada, we are hoping to achieve charitable status in the coming year and work out the details for administration of the proposed Scholarship Fund. In the interim, please be aware that AGO, the organization which currently receives online donations to Same World Same Chance will not do so after the end of December 2015. We ask that you be patient with us through this process. Please check our Facebook Page for further updates.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season with friends and family. We thank you again for your generous support and we will be in touch in the New Year. All best wishes for 2016.

Same World Same Chance Canada

The simple act of writing…and reading.

I recently sent this note to our sponsors….people ranging in age from 8 to, well, even older than me, which is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine. These folks send $50/month and are linked to one of our girls who writes a letter at the end of each term to them. This exchange of letters has reaped the rewards I had envisioned, and more.

When I gathered the first several whom I had selected to be sponsored, they exchanged looks as I explained the concept and smiled. Being too recently connected to North American adolescent cynicism which does exist, people, I assumed they were trashing the whole concept in their minds as a waste of time. On further discussion they explained that they were just excited…and could they start writing now. Not the first time recipients of my detailed explanations have expressed impatience.

I wanted the sponsors to know how valuable this exchange has been for the girls:

Dear Sponsors,

We cannot overemphasize enough the effect your monthly contributions have here at Same World Same Chance.

Obviously, the regular financial commitments help us to manage our monthly overhead which pays teacher salaries, learning material costs and the hundreds of other obligations incurred when running a school which charges no monthly fees to its very fortunate students.

However, as the Education Coordinator and person who manages the letter writing efforts of our sponsored students, I must impress upon you the educational benefits in general and the literacy ones in particular which accrue to our girls. The other night I had six girls in the living room excitedly reading their letters to one another and crowding around my laptop as I read your responses to them and they all viewed photographs sent by you from Canada, invariably involving snow in one form or another or pictures of yourselves. In their eyes, everyone and everything is beautiful and exciting. This communication across thousands of miles is opening up a world to these girls many of whom have never been further than they can walk, or than the bus trips they have taken as students here to Solwezi which is about 60 km. away.

I applaud your generosity and the excitement I see in your own responses to the girls. 

These are the true rewards for all of us.

With thanks,

Deb Gibson

Education Coordinator

Time Marches On….although, in Zambia, not always with company.

March 2, 2015

TIME MARCHES ON

Last year, when my responsibility was to improve the girls’ English skills, I was gloriously sheltered from the stress and endless work of running an emerging NGO project. I stuck to my anchor charts and flash cards and recorded the successes that come from the luxury of a single focus assignment. From time to time, I poked my nose into other issues, but my comfort zone was the classroom and improving literacy.

I can’t say my stint as site manager this year while SWSC goes through some growing pains and transitions from a site with 4-5 key people to one with a Board of Trustees in Zambia and 10-12 key people has been enjoyable. In fact, I can proffer that being the person all the problems come to is close to root canal work on the scale of general crappiness. My hat goes off to Marissa Izma who has been doing this for a few years now.

From 6:30 a.m. until bedtime, the job is never boring. I make porridge for the small children now living on site as a result of new employees…a little breakfast programme Don and I are sponsoring, pass storage and van keys out, quickly dress, grab a coffee, a few spoonfuls of porridge before it goes in the warming pan on the front steps to be picked up by young Howard who spirits it over to his family’s cooking hut where the seven small children, their mothers (one of whom is expecting) have gathered to enjoy oats, apple, cinnamon, sugar and powdered milk. I am hoping the distended bellies of the security guard’s children and the custodian’s children subside somewhat by the time I leave.

Then it is off down the road to the dorm to check on the morning’s casualties: malaria, period cramps, or more vague “my head is paining” complaints. Admonition to keep hydrated, take Panadol, continue with Coartem and exhortations to the girls to hurry up, and off further down the road to make sure Joseph, the driver, has breakfast cooking on the brazier and ready by 7:15 for the girls to eat before 7:45 announcements at the flag pole (about 6 mornings out of 10). The breakfast programme is sponsored by Sea Basket here in town and consists of rice or samp. There is no dining hall, so the girls stand about eating out of their bowls quickly then head for the “parade”. The older girls have caught on to this strange obsession with time we have, but the new Grade 8s are still pretty mystified by our insistence that they be aware of time. All they know is that every time Ms. Gibson comes striding toward the dorm they should be scuttling quickly off somewhere, just not often sure where.

I am sure my own children often felt the same way.

This casual treatment of time extends to the adults. A PTA meeting can be scheduled for 9:00, but we should only expect the non-Zambian parents, the ones from Congo, to be there on time….up to two hours later is not unusual for everyone else. I struggle with this, but I keep repeating my new mantra….deadlines are fluid.

Last Saturday we had 50 students visit from Trident Prep school, a private school in Solwezi. They are potential tutors for a Saturday morning Tutoring programme for some of our girls to start in Term 2. They cycled through four different activities, played netball and finished with a full on nshima lunch. Half of these students are Zambian and the rest are South African and most of their dads work for the mine. Our girls welcomed them by singing, making all the accompanying parents and teachers cry. Then there was a tour, picture taking, question answering and jewellery demonstration classes. All left happy and amazed, and I gloried in a very clean dormitory and classrooms, the like of which I will never see again….until the next visitors.

Malaria, Sanitation, Food, Retirement and being Disconnected, damn you E.M. Forster

February 21, 2015

Fastest five weeks on record

The pace has not abated. The past five weeks have been a blur. The area has been heavily hit with malaria. At least half to two-thirds of the girls have had malaria once or twice since arriving.

Malaria is only caused by one thing – the bite of a specific type of mosquito. Symptoms include fever, chills, loss of appetite, joint pain, headaches and exhaustion. Treatment is Coatem which is 8 pills a day for three days, or, in cases where Coatem does not do the trick, quinine which is a stronger drug with side-effects including issues with hearing. The girls need to be kept hydrated, which is an effort. Water bottles and hydrating are a North American obsession that has yet to penetrate here. We keep a pitcher of water with Oral Rehydration Salts premixed in the dorm and partners are responsible for encouraging drinking and bringing food when patients are ready to eat again. The Matrons administer medication and update us on the latest cases. Until last week, when our Peace Corps volunteer Danielle managed to score 50 free new mosquito nets from the Health Clinic as well as a box of the necessary meds, we were daily ferrying girls 5 and 6 at a time to one of the two clinics in our area. One is 22 km away and the other 24 km. This is a half hour trip on a very bumpy road. Half an hour there , half an hour in the clinic, and half an hour back. Some days Joseph, the driver would get back at noon and we would have a few more who needed to go in the afternoon.

Now we are working on eliminating the standing water issues created by 50 girls washing dishes outside in the cooking area and 50 doing their hand washing (and it is all hand washing) in front of the dorm. And, it is the rainy season…frequently, although, as rainy seasons go, this one has been on the dry side. I worry about the farmers and enough rain, and selfishly celebrate each day that there is no rain while we are living our lives outside. It can rain as much as it wants at night. Of course sleeping under a tin roof in a rain storm is another experience entirely.

Continuing on the sanitation front, we have several people volunteering their free time working on 6 new toilets and a bathing house with 10 stalls which will relieve some of the congestion in the mornings as 50 girls attempt to use very modest and now inadequate facilities. The toilets are finished and so should the bathing house be by week’s end. The girls will need a new excuse to be late for announcements at the flagpole or, as they say, the parade.

Our other major issue has been mealtime. Because we charge no school fees, the girls are expected to essentially bring and cook their own food. Through the kindness of a donor here in Zambia, we have a breakfast programme so they need not cook in the morning.

For those fearing that retirement may bring on a kind of stasis that leaves us one short step from needing to be fed by an impatient aide, I heartily recommend a volunteer position in a third world country.

I have lost about 15 pounds. This has happened magically, and not because I have picked up a tapeworm, I hope. Hmmm. No junk food, miles every day hiking all over the property multiple times, fetching water from the well (or bore hole as they call it here) in jerry cans I am now able to lift into the wheel barrow have all contributed. A vegetarian diet, pretty much, except for the first day back from the weekly grocery trip, when fish (usually tilapia or bream) is enjoyed. The no refrigeration aspect brings a special challenge and I have had some success wrapping things in aluminum foil (cabbage) and keeping carrots and green beans in water to preserve crunchiness, although, eventually, the fruit flies win. Success is eating everything before the fruit flies win. It is avocado season here right now and I think Zambia makes the best ones in the world. Coleslaw and avocado with balsamic vinegar is my favourite meal.

Teacher Harriet, who shares the house with me, is a great cook and I have even converted to some things I found less than satisfying last year. Probably just hunger. Rape, a green here a bit like wilted kale is a new favourite. Pity about the name.

Only Connect

E.M. Forster, had he been as addicted to constant connection to the Internet and the incredible convenience of wifi as I and many like me are, would not have been happy and might have had to modify his famous statement to “Only connect…occasionally and with a weak signal”.

Most online communication here is conducted on cell phones. Last year I came with my trusty iPhone. However, there is no monthly unlimited plan for iDdicts, so I ended up spending a lot of kwacha topping up my iPhone with TalkTime which had to be purchased in Solwezi, and once your time runs out you are disconnected, so to speak, until the next visit into town.

This year, courtesy of the Blackberry faction of the family, I arrived with a Blackberry, which I had to learn how to operate on the fly. I expected that I would be using it for local phone calls and texts, and occasionally to communicate back home with family and friends during the wee hours, my “office hours”, when after five hours of sleep which start at 8ish when solar power runs out and exhaustion kicks in, I write emails and communicate on What’s App, an application that allows free text messaging with anyone anywhere. My cell number here is ….for anyone who wants to be bothered by a communication-starved Canadian at about 1:00 a.m. Zambian time.

Laptops can connect to the Internet here using a dongle, which looks like a thumb drive, but allows for satellite connection to the Internet. Last year, I had no laptop, so this year I treated myself to a new Mac book. Bought the dongle in Lusaka, loaded it with data for a month, and set off convinced I would be blogging, emailing and Skyping to my little heart’s content.

Not so much. After multiple frustrating visits every week to Airtel, where young 20 somethings with acrylic nails which had to be worked around as they inserted and removed a variety of SIM cards would take an hour to tell me things that were inaccurate or not helpful, the final consensus was that my laptop was Apple and too new for their network. Shoot me.

So, that little Blackberry has become my lifeline as I try to pay bills, edit copy, send Sponsored Student emails to sponsors, submit proposals to potential sponsors here, send photos for newsletters there, calendar speaking engagements for my return to Canada, keep up with family news and generally come to realize that the amount of connection I/we have come to expect is frightening.

Meanwhile, like planes coming into Heathrow, I am queuing up copy and photos to upload to my blog, email, etc. for the next wifi opportunity, which is tomorrow. I have photos on the iPad, emails from the girls on the portable word processors, and copy on the laptop, all of which I can only send when in a wifi environment. E.M. Forster, I blame you. And that Turing guy. And maybe the guy who conceived of the Internet.

On the Ground…..rather muddy!

Sunday, January 11 – Arrival on site at 3:30

Lordy, what a day! As I write about this day (4 days later), when I have just come up for air, I still shake my head at the challenges of the day and the first night, and at the fact that they are behind us now, but with the full understanding that more challenges are simply lining up to replace them.

Monday, January 12

Sorted out dorms today. Jettisoned idea of mixing Grade 9s and 8s, they now have their own half of the dorm. The 9s are sharing very used double and queen sized beds donated by the mine, and sleeping resplendently like princesses two and three to a bed, and the 8s have the bunk beds, for which I am still short 4 mattresses. Hoping at least four Grade 8s bring mattresses so that we will not have to buy any.

Interviewed two new applicants for spaces and accepted both. Spoke with PTA about why there are no new uniform shirts and how to make that happen. That one is bumped way up on the priority list. Message, and 100k per girl received. Another student can only come if she is supported for the first term, until the harvest comes in.

Discussed all the reasons the Grade 9s had for why cooking in groups would not work. When I announced that, even so, we could not have 50 girls cooking separately, Wana walked by with her new more womanly body moving very well indeed saying, “Well, Ms. Gibby, there’s going to be a lot of quarrelling. I’m just telling you that”. Oh, the attitude of a teenage girl, regardless of nationality when they know they are right.

I have a plan which addresses their concerns. There WILL be cooking teams. The draft begins on Friday.

Tuesday, January 13

Big cleaning and moving day, Met the troops in the morning and issued marching orders. Two home classrooms emptied, swept, scrubbed, desks and chairs washed with Ms. Gibson’s famous spray bottles of vinegar and water, desks and chairs from up the hill brought down by a line of students. Another caravan of girls carried new school supplies down, yes, on their heads, from our house to the Teachers Office. Unpacked and organized by some. New library books incorporated into tidied older collection by Nancy K, Sipora (the book worms).

Then, lunch, bathing, uniforms and back for afternoon classes with yours truly and two of the three teachers who are here. I think Teacher Alfred is going to be exactly what our feisty Grade 9s need. He loves to teach, comes with loads of experience and a quiet but commanding presence.

Wednesday, January 14

Best day yet. No rain, lots of sun. Girls did schoolwork in the morning, cleaned the science room and the Nursery class plus a variety of other as yet untouched areas in the afternoon, and shared the two watermelon I bought roadside from Lusaka. There was also enough to give watermelon to the several little children currently living onsite because their parents work here. Then, Teacher Alfred had the girls help him erect the fallen net ball pole and they had their first sports afternoon. Much leaping and screaming.

Laura, our Peace Corps volunteer, who will be helping with the farming classes, came by to print out grant application forms which will hopefully bring in some funding and also was able to finally help me print out the timetables. Starting to feel like we might be ready for the first day of classes.

Finished the day walking down to the school to take pictures of the beautiful dahlias which currently grace the front of the classrooms and met two fathers on bikes who had accompanied their two Grade 8 girls in to the school. The place, in the sun at the end of the day, with the flag up, and everything clean, seemed like heaven. I felt proud to be meeting their dads and I could tell that they are happy for their daughters.

Lots of singing at the fire last night, and in my heart, as I fell into bed.

Thursday, January 15

Went to Solwezi today with Mr. Mukimba and Joseph, the driver. Left late due to rain (9ish) and returned at 5:30. Very long day. Stopped at Michele and Jaco’s to have quick look at van (needs brakes on the left at the back within the next two weeks), and so that I could use wifi because i am still having connectivity issues with laptops and dongle onsite.

Bought a variety of school, dorm related requirements, none of which I believe we have a budget for, but all of which are necessary. I was too exhausted to do the forensic examination of the ball of receipts and collapsed financial organization of my purse when we got home. In the end I was madly pulling money from envelopes and pockets to buy what was needed and get out of there. Of course, no one in the market gives receipts, so that will be fun sorting out. Waited an hour and a half in front of Shoprite fending off assertive taxi drivers while waiting for our English teacher Harriet who, finally, due to malaria was not able to join us for the ride back to the site but will come tomorrow on her own.

The trick on these visits, is to buy as little as possible at Shoprite, which is the local grocery store plus some hardware and housewares, terribly overpriced and absolute madness in the parking lot with aggressive taxi drivers and 7 year old boys requesting 5 kwacha for being cute whom I tell to go home and study, and a network of young men selling armloads of jeans, religious posters, Talktime and a variety of other merch, as well as forlorn young women with babies on their backs and trays of fruit on their heads.

Alternatives to Shoprite mean visiting a number of vendors in the local market: hardware wholesaler, Chinese store, PEP (think Giant Tiger, but more Small Tiger), three different school suppliers of overpriced supplies, although I did discover a new supplier in the market, Legacy World Trade, who supply receipts, excellent service and are reasonably priced), grain wholesaler for rice and mealimeal, and MTEC, another market on the way out of town for more dry goods, as well as the gas station where they smiled at my Credit Card. It is a cash society, baby….except for Shoprite.

Discussed with Mr. Mukimba all the reasons why building two teacher houses, and a dorm, and a science lab are great ideas but must be temporarily put in abeyance until spirited fundraising and astonishing results make this construction possible. I remain optimistic.

I did not get everything on the lists….by the end of the day I was ready to go with what we had, consequently missing the matron’s requested Ventalin. She has bronchitis and I feel terrible that this was missed.

However, a floor mat means nursery can start before the new chairs are finished. Three brooms, bought from a lovely member of the parking lot syndicate while being the sitting duck muzungu at the front of the store waiting for Harriet and my driver, mean the classroom floors and dorm floors can be washed other than by on knees on gritty concrete floors. Nails and wood glue mean Kennedy will be one step closer to finishing the chairs and desks. Rice, a pot and brazier mean Joseph can start cooking breakfast for the girls at 6;00 a.m. tomorrow. Teacher Alfred now has a pair of flip-flops so that he can save wear and tear on his one pair of school shoes, salt which he has been doing without, and mealimeal to get him through to payday. The student, who asked for support, so that she could return to SWSC, now has mealimeal, cooking oil, fish, relish, soap and detergent. Her arrival will be delayed because of a funeral for her father, whose beer was according to crazy rumours in the dorm, poisoned. (Later determined to have no basis in fact, only imaginations). It does take a village!!!!

Day finished with Charity, Precious and Tiba doing math with Kennedy at the kitchen table. Trying to do questions about time. They pronounce 60 as skixty. We had a little pronunciation lesson. another good day.

I am just now publishing this as it has taken me almost three weeks to get into a wifi environment to do so. More to follow.

January 2015 – Rainy Season??

Since we will be taking on a new class of Grade 8s in the next school year which begins in January, I will return to be there for Term 1 in 2015. Our school population will double from 25 girls to 50. There are many changes afoot and I am hoping to help the new girls adapt, quickly assess their English skills, and begin remediation ASAP. As well, I want to work with our Grade 9s as they transition from the only class to the senior class and help them emerge as mentors for the new girls.

Same World Same Chance is growing, both in Zambia and back home in Canada where new volunteers are coming on board to help with fundraising, branding and infrastructure concerns which make the school in Zambia possible.

The weather during my 2014 stay in second term (May-July) was perfect for me. Now I will see Zambia during the rainy season. The colour red will be replaced by green.

Tiba and some words about education.

Tiba and some words about education.