Chelsi knew of two schools in the area that was now her home. The first she came to know about was the Mitukutuku Primary School which had been pointed out to her when she first came down the road off the tarmac about two weeks ago, the second was in her home village of Kamijiji. The school it’s self is decently sized building, compared to the village huts, tucked off the road on a sandy path behind a small evangelical church and some tall grass. The building was painted blue and white, like all building under the government’s domain, with a large fading stamp marking the wooden door to the schools one class room: UNICEF.
This afternoon she was just here to meet the teacher and learn a little more about the school. He was waiting on the schools porch for her, a young looking man, about her height with a round face.
“Yes, yes, come in, come in.” He ushered her through a door to a small room just beside the main class room, the office. “My name is Gilbert Mush… [something, she did not hear the rest]. But please, Gilbert is fine.” Daisy pawed at a spider in the corner of the room. “This is the office,” he clarified.
On the one wall there was a rack with stacks of textbooks and workbooks with titles like Primary Math and Introduction to English, on the other a simple desk sticking out in the center of the room. The floor and walls were all plastered in concrete giving the room an ambiance of strict austerity. But she supposed ambiance fit the means.
“There is me and one other teacher. And we are interested in any kind of program you have for the school.”
“Well, I wanted to know if it is okay if I hold meeting here for fish farming programs after school.”
“Sure, sure, sure. You are free to come whenever you like, the door does not lock.”
“And there is a demonstration I would like to do about making charcoal out of bipukutu, like the things that are left over after harvesting the maize. And if it’s okay I would like to build the kiln near the school so it’s on neutral ground.”
“Sure, of course, that would be great.”
Chelsi looked up at some small photographs on the wall. “What are the ages of the students that come here?”
“We teach 1st through 6th grade.” She only had one program for schools so far called Grassroots Soccer; an HIV/AIDs intervention program, for which these students were probably too young. “These are some snaps Mike took.” Ba Gilbert joined her in looking up at the photographs. “You can see him in here somewhere…” They both looked hard.
“You think he’d be easier to spot being a 20 something white male in a group of African school children.” But Ba Gilbert was not listening.
“Ah! There he is.” crouched down in the front row was in fact the face of a 20 something white male.
“I’ll have to bring my camera when I come next, so we can get some new pictures up on the wall.” She followed him through a different door leading in to the class room.
This room was painted blue on bottom and white on top just like outside of the building. In three rows of six long benched desks faced a wall painted with chalk board paint. There was a tin roof with no lights, but large windows lined both walls. Most of the glass panes were still in tacked, but others were cracked or missing. Among all of this however, the first thing Chelsi noticed was 8×11 pieces of paper taped high on the walls. On the papers where letter, written in English, in what had to be the hand writing of 3rd and 4th graders. Crayon drawings of little houses, school, flowers and smiling people accompanied the messages.
“They are letters from a class in America,” Ba Gilbert explained. “I think. Then the children wrote letters back.” This was a program Chelsi had heard of, and although it has existed under a multitude of names its current rendition was call SchoolWISE. On one of the many forms she had filled out before coming to Zambia Peace Corps had asked her if she wanted to be paired up with a an school class in the States. Then over the course of her service she would provide stories and lessons about her experience for children in the States to learn more about Zambia, and the children of schools on either side of the ocean would correspond and she would act as the intermediary. She had opted out. It sounded like a lot of extra work and not practical since she did not envision herself working in a school at all. It looked like Mike had opted in, but seeing that all the letters on the wall were sporting the same date it did not look like he kept up with program.
“It would be nice if we could do it again.”
“I’ll see what I can do…” but even if she wanted to opt in to the program now she had since learned that the SchoolWISE program had more interest from volunteers than it did with classrooms in the States and the majority of the volunteers that opted in are never paired up.
She looked back down at the rows of desks. “How many students are there?”
“When we are at full attendance there are about 135 students.”
“They can’t all fit in here?.”
“When we have that many students we split the class and use the church for the older students. We are working on building a second building.”
“Oh, so that’s what the large poles sticking out to the ground are for.” Walking in to the school she had seen six large beams sticking out of the ground, but because the grass around them was so thick she could not imagine what they were being used for. Now she was around the class room roofing structures and other building material for the new building.
“Yes, but the community is still working on making the bricks.”
Looking back up to the wall they started read the letters out loud. Sometime passed. Daisy sniffed between the rows of desk and eventually settled for chewing on one of the beams for the new building lying around the room.
When they had read through every letter Chelsi said, “Well I don’t have any programs for the school right now, but I would like to come on a day that class is in session and meet the students and see how they learn.”
“Sure, sure, sure, you are always welcome.”
“Monday then? What time does school start?”
“School starts at 8 hours.” They started outside.
“Okay, I’ll be here.” She looked at the one large pole that was not sticking up with the rest. “How about this one?” She gestured to it. “What is this one for?”
“On school days the students come out and hang the Zambian flag.”
“Oh,” She smiled. “We do the same thing in the States, but with the American flag of course.”
**Note from the Narrator: If you are a teacher, or you know a teacher who might be interested in become unofficial SchoolWISE partners please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or comment below. I/we can create a program that is as involved as the teacher wants it to be. Thank you for reading and all the best