Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Site Report

For those of you that are interested, and don't really get what I did in two years here, I present my site report. It's a detailed summary I had to write for Peace Corps on the demographics, physical and cultural environment, education-related work and secondary activities of my site. It has a lot of detail that I probably never mentioned on here, and gives a more in depth view of what it's really like to be a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural Zambian village.

(Some names and identifying features have been changed for privacy.)

SITE REPORT

MUMANA LUPANDO VILLAGE

KASAMA DISTRICT, NORTHERN PROVINCE

REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA

APRIL 2009 – APRIL 2011



Executive Summary

Nicole Barren arrived in Zambia in February 2009. After two months of intensive technical, cross-cultural, medical, and language training, she was posted to Mumana Lupando village in the Kasama district of Northern Province as a second-generation Peace Corps volunteer. She replaced John Eli (RED ’07).
Ms. Barren worked in Lupando zone under the Rural Education Development (RED) project. She worked extensively with teachers at the Mumana Lupando Pre-school, taught adult literacy classes, and facilitated HIV/AIDS education with pupils as part of her primary work. She also engaged in a plethora of secondary activities including water and sanitation work, soya bean promotion and cooking demonstrations, HIV prevention activities with adults, and implementation of a redistribution programme for condoms and the oral contraceptive pill.

Demographics

Lupando zone is roughly 80 kilometres by 80 kilometres, with an adult population nearing 15,000. Due to its size; the difficulty of traveling to some of the most remote schools; and conflicts between Munkonge Basic School, the zonal centre school, and Mumana Lupando Basic School, the true spatial centre of the zone; there has been discussion about breaking it into two separate zones.
Ms. Barren lived in Mumana Lupando village, 84 kilometres west of Kasama in the Munkonge chiefdom. Mumana Lupando has an adult population of less than 2,000 people. The village proper stretches for one kilometre east and west down Luwingu Road, then extends for up to five kilometers north and south, deeper in the bush. Main landmarks in the village include the basic school, five churches of different denominations, and a handful of small shops stocking very basic supplies.
Ms. Barren lived with her husband, Christopher Audette, a LIFE volunteer, beside the Mwene family. The family consisted of a father (Moses), a mother (Linda), and eight children: Mary (daughter, age 19), Kabwe (son, age 17), Chileshe (daughter, age 15), Mwenya (adopted son, age 12), Patience (daughter, age 10), Musa (daughter, age 7), Juliette (daughter, age 4), and Kandy (daughter, age 7 mos).
Mumana Lupando consists of people from the Bemba and Lungu tribes. Most families have been there for several generations, although some are first or second generation to the village.
Ms. Barren lived in a house that was roughly one kilometre from Luwingu Road, which connects to Kasama. She was able to wait on the roadside and hitchhike to Kasama on canter trucks or private vehicles. Sometimes she had to only wait a few minutes before getting a ride, other times she waited as long as five hours. When Ms. Barren arrived, only 20 kilometres of the road closest to Kasama was paved. The rest of the road was in very poor condition, and traveling time from the village to Kasama took around 3 hours. In February, the road was finally paved and it now takes only an hour to reach the boma.
Ms. Barren’s side of the village did not have cell phone service or radio signal. However, there were a few spots on the road where one could stand to get service, depending on the day. The service was reliable for SMS text messaging, but less reliable for calls.

Physical Environment

Ms. Barren’s house was part of a larger section of Mumana Lupando village housing the Mwene family. It used to house Moses Mwene’s family, but was being used for storage for several years until PCV John Eli arrived in 2007. Moses Mwene was able to save up enough money to buy a pickup truck and build a large house with iron sheet roofing, and lived 30 meters away from Ms. Barren. The rest of the houses, about 50 meters away from each other, belonged to brothers of Moses Mwene, their children, and other relatives.
The closest water source for the majority of Ms. Barren’s service was a small, open spring which served as the headwaters of a small stream about 200 meters from her house. Two boreholes are located in other parts of the village, but were broken for most of Ms. Barren’s service. Concerned both by Mr. Eli’s struggles with water related health problems and the community’s uninspired attitude towards water hygiene, Ms. Barren and her husband boiled their drinking water, cooled it, and then filtered it. After an intensive community sensitization program about the importance of clean water and initiating a project to construct a protected spring box, water quality improved such that straight filtration was sufficient. Ms. Barren and her husband fetched their own water.
Mumana Lupando village is characterized mostly by trees, grasses, and shrubbery; the vegetation typical of miombo forest subjected to years of chitemene agriculture. Luwingu Road, which connects Kasama to Luwingu, cuts right through the middle of the village. The village slopes slightly down on either side of the road. On each side about 1 kilometer from the road are two large streams wich most people utilize for irrigation of gardens. From Luwingu Road, there are many small paths circulating throughout the village. There is a small, seldom used government road leading south from Luwingu Road to another village, Mfuba, which then continues to Kapanda.
The nearest clinic, affiliated with the Catholic church, is 15 kilometers away in Lubushi village. Construction began on a new clinic in Mumana Lupando in December of 2010, but due to the slow pace of the work, it is likely to be a few years before the building is completed and it begins serving the community. Mumana Lupando Basic school is located 1 kilometre from Ms. Barren’s home. There are several churches, the most prominent being the Catholic Church, 2 kilometers away from Ms. Barren’s house. Most meetings and village business take place either at the school or the Catholic Church. The headman’s home is located directly across Luwingu road from the school. Some meetings and dispute hearings take place there.
There are six basic schools and eight community schools within Lupando zone. Mumana Lupando is considered the spatial centre school, as far as meetings are concerned. The farthest school, Chasasha, is located 60 km away. The terrain to some of these schools is quite steep and paths are fairly rocky. Within the zone, only Mumana Lupando and Munkonge offer grades 8 and 9, which results in students from other villages either commuting long distances or boarding.

Cultural Environment


Ms. Barren resided in the Munkonge Chiefdom. The chief’s palace is located 20 kilometres away in Munkonge village. When Ms. Barren arrived, the chief was a young man. A year and a half into her service, he was transferred for disciplinary reasons, and an older chief took his place. This new chief is stern and a big change from the previous one.
CiBemba is the local traditional language spoken in the area. Only a handful of people communicated to Ms. Barren and her husband in English, so they learned ciBemba well out of necessity. It is likely that more people were conversant in English and were just afraid to use the language. The majority, however, spoke only ciBemba and many adults, mostly women, were not even literate in their mother tongue.
The traditional leaders are headmen. Each village in the chiefdom has their own headman, which are appointed by the chief and usually run along family lines. In Mumana Lupando, the headman was a hard of hearing man in his eighties named Michael Mubuka. He had only been schooled up to grade three, but was very friendly with Ms. Barren and her husband and supported them in their development work.
The most common religion in Mumana is Roman Catholicism, while two congregations of Pentecostal Assemblies, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also found. Most people are practicing Christians. In addition, belief in traditional witchcraft is rampant. Witchcraft is attributed to most unexplained illnesses and deaths. There are also a few traditional healers offering medicines made from herbs, plants, and wildlife.
Gender issues are the biggest cultural factor impacting educational practices. The people in Lupando zone, as well as nationwide, have a patriarchal culture which puts girls at a marked disadvantage. From grades 1-7, the number of female students is proportional to males. For grades 8 and 9 however, the number significantly decreases. Some of the female students become pregnant or marry, often through parental pressure, and drop out. Others cannot afford school fees and have to drop out so that their brothers can receive higher education in their place. There is also the problem of male teachers sleeping with their pupils.

Increased Quality of and Access to Education

SCHOOL TYPE DISTANCE HAVE WORKED WITH? TYPE OF WORK
Mumana Lupando Basic 1 km Yes HIV/AIDS education, SHN implementation, co-teaching, academic award ceremonies
Chisamba Community 5 km Yes PTO support, learning materials
Mfuba Community 6 km Yes Teacher training, PTO support
Nsange Community 10 km No
Mubanga Lupiya Community 10 km No
Kapanda Basic 18 km No
Munkonge Basic 18 km Yes Anti-AIDS Club
Johnny Chikula Community 23 km No
Kondamu Community 24 km No
Chanda Katebo Community 25 km No
Malonda Basic 28 km No
Mutale Munkonge Basic 35 km No
Kashinka Basic 43 km No
Chasasha Community 60 km No

During Ms. Barren’s service, enrollment has increased throughout the zone. In 2009, the Kasama DEBS Office mandated that only Mumana Lupando and Munkonge could offer grades 8 and 9, leading to an increase in enrollment at those schools. In December 2010, Chisamba community school was established, increasing the opportunities for forty pupils to receive access to education.

Capacity Building of Zone

Ms. Barren worked extensively to develop the capacity of the village’s pre-school for orphans and vulnerable children, the only such grade one preparatory school in the Munkonge chiefdom. She attended pre-school classes regularly to help the teachers out, observe instruction to see if they were utilizing concepts they were taught, and to build relationships with the children. She also coached the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) in budgeting and proposal writing. As a result, the Pre-school received $200 through the Small Projects Assistance grant to hold a five-day long training workshop for the volunteer teachers. Two facilitators from the Kasama Pre-school Teacher Training College taught the teachers about important concepts and practices in early childhood education. This workshop inspired the Pre-school Teacher Training College to reach out to other village pre-schools, and the Mumana Lupando teachers increased class frequency and were able to teach more effectively.
She also developed over thirty learning aids using locally available materials and instructed teachers in their usage and replication.
The pre-school PTO, through Ms. Barren’s assistance, also wrote a proposal to receive books and educational materials through the Kasama Rotary club. This resulted in the donation of over 200 new or barely used books.
Ms. Barren taught English literacy classes to six men weekly for about a year. All students showed improvement in both competency and confidence. She did try to initiate CiBemba literacy classes for women in collaboration with a local man, but had problems with her counterpart making false promises and not listening.
Ms. Barren briefly began to co-teach grade 8 and 9 English classes at Mumana Lupando Basic school with help from the School Inset Coordinator, Mr. Malasha. However, she found that the majority of students were lacking even a basic competency in English language, which made it very difficult for her to teach. Ms. Barren did not have the confidence or language ability to lecture proficiently in ciBemba, and felt that translation defeated the purpose, so she stopped.
Ms. Barren also trained six teachers and two community leaders for School Health and
Nutrition (SHN) implementation at Mumana Lupando Basic school. Unfortunately, the teacher in charge of the programme, Mr. Phiri, received a transfer, so it was never implemented to its full potential. However, through this school-community partnership in improving health, a protected spring box was constructed.
Ms. Barren facilitated bi-yearly HIV educational sessions for 82 grade 7-9 pupils and life skills to grade 9 pupils, empowering pupils with the knowledge to prevent HIV and pregnancy and make positive decisions. She also tried to discourage the practice of teaching abstinence as the sole prevention method, as evidence shows this is ineffective and impractical in rural Zambia, where sex is seen as a bartering tool.
Ms. Barren taught the head teacher at Ilibwe community school learner-centred teaching methods, including games. He was very enthusiastic about what he learned. Shortly afterward, in September 2010, the Ilibwe community school shut down because parents weren’t paying school fees. Ms. Barren tried unsuccessfully to negotiate between the teachers and parents so that the children could learn. John Eli, Ms. Barren’s predecessor, reported similar problems with school fees at Ilibwe in 2008. This is likely to be an ongoing problem unless the village realizes what an asset the school is.
Ms. Barren had difficulties with the head teacher at Lusasa school, so she did not spend much time there. She did, however, work with the anti-AIDS club there. She helped them develop a skit which was performed for over 250 people.
Shortly after Ms. Barren was posted, the head teacher at Mumana, Mr. Kanya, received the transfer he had requested as the result of an explosive disagreement with parents in June 2008. Mr. Kanya was replaced by Mr. Muli, who lacked Mr. Kanya’s ambition for the community, although he was an agreeable counterpart when Ms. Barren took the initiative.
The zone is divided by a hot issue over which school is the true zonal centre school. This did create problems as Ms. Barren was viewed as Mumana Lupando’s volunteer. Mumana Lupando is spatially the true centre of the zone and the venue for many zonal meetings, but Munkonge is the zonal centre school recognized by the DEBS.

Community Investment in Education


Ms. Barren worked closely with the PTO at Mumana Lupando Pre-school to write a proposal, budget, and raise money for a $4000 Peace Corps Partnership Programme grant. This grant covered the cost of construction materials for a classroom building. Previously, students were learning in an ill-suited abandoned tuck shop, and were frequently moved around depending on the shop’s availability during harvest time. She also introduced the concept of and helped plan an Open House to sensitize parents and the community on the importance of early learning and preparation for grade one, and increasing parent support.
Ms. Barren also worked with the PTOs at Mfuba and Chisamba community schools to offer support and encouragement, especially in resolving conflict for the good of the students. The PTO was formed at Chisamba even before the insaka classroom was built, and still had a lot of enthusiasm and hope and obviously dedication, for they established a community school where previously young children had to walk 5 km to Mumana Lupando, the closest school. The organization has not had any training, but they comprehend their roles and were planning Income Generating Activities to support the teacher.
The PTO at Nswaswa Basic school has lost much of its enthusiasm, and often has difficulties in persuading its members to attend meetings. There has also been no trainings, and members understand in theory that they should support the teachers, but have a difficult time putting this into practice. One reason for this is that they are frustrated with the quality of education their children receive; teachers are frequently absent and spend more time in the boma than in the village. Many parents view education as a lost cause; they don’t see the benefits and it costs too much money.

Capacity Building with the DEBS

As a bush volunteer with a half-day’s journey to Kasama boma, Ms. Barren did not do much work with the District Education Board Secretary Office (DEBS), other than to brief them with quarterly reports and ask for occasional support. The DEBS did not do regular monitoring of schools during Ms. Barren’s service; they only visited Mumana Lupando Basic school once in two years, and never got as far as the community schools.
In the cold dry season of 2010, the Kasama DEBS, Mrs. K, unexpectedly died and was succeeded by Mary Kakasu. Mrs. Kakasu, like her predecessor, is very busy but relates well with PCVs.

HIV/AIDS Activities

Ms. Barren worked closely with the Mumana Youth Care and Supporting Group, a community group supporting orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in education and home-based care for HIV+ people and their families. The two primary home-based caregivers in the group, Allan Mwango and Catherine Chisha, attended President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) training with Ms. Barren and her husband. Both got a lot out of the training and would suggest educational programmes or facilitate enthusiastically or add information while Ms. Barren facilitated.
In addition to facilitating sessions on HIV/AIDS with teenagers at the school, Ms. Barren also sought to reach adults in the community. With help from Mrs. Chisha and Mr. Mwango, she did multiple programmes with the Mumana Farming Co-op and Mfuba community members. For World AIDS Day 2010, she worked together with the Mumana Youth Care and Supporting Group to organize activities for over 200 people, including voluntary counseling and testing, a candlelight vigil, and games. During the FIFA World Cup in July 2010, she organized a football match (USA vs. Zambia) to raise awareness for HIV, with dramas and informational sessions during half time and between matches.
In Mumana Lupando, most people who know they are HIV+ are widows. Most children born HIV+ die before they reach school age, but several dozen more without the virus have lost parents to the opportunistic infections accompanying full-blown AIDS. There are two transient high-risk populations which have the potential to infect young women in the village, thereby increasing HIV prevalence in Mumana: bean traders that come during harvest season and road workers. These men typically have more disposable income than the typical man in the village, and have wives far away in their home towns, so they seek village women, who often don’t protest as they’re showered with gifts or money.
In response to this phenomenon and the prevalence of school girls hooking up with sugar daddies, Ms. Barren went to the worker's camp to educate 25 workers on the basics of HIV and prevention. She also supplied many condoms to the workers through her family planning redistribution programme.

Secondary Activities


When Ms. Barren arrived in Mumana Lupando, the closest clinic, 15 km away, was under the jurisdiction of the seminary and the Catholic Church. As a result, clinic officers were prohibited from handing out contraceptives, unless the individual was HIV+. Women in Mumana complained to Ms. Barren that they were “like animals, having baby after baby” and were unable to adequately space births for their and their babies healths, were contributing to household poverty, and were unable to control their own bodies’ reproductive capacity. In response, Ms. Barren stocked SafePlan, the Society for Family Health’s oral contraceptive pill, and resold it along with two counterparts for 200 kwacha for a month’s supply (4 cents). She also stocked free male and female condoms from Northern Health Education Programme. With the condoms, she found they were less likely to be used inappropriately (for bangles or balloons) if people came to her house to get them, rather than handing them out at events. At the first meeting in Mumana to introduce the correct usage of these methods, over one hundred and two dozen men came. Ms. Barren subsequently taught another two hundred women from three other villages about family planning.
Ms. Barren’s counterparts are enthusiastic about the difference they are making in the community and will continue to redistribute family planning for the same price after her departure. They have already made a plan to buy a large box of SafePlan and pick up condoms when they come to Kasama boma, about once every four months. After the completion of Mumana’s clinic, hopefully within a few years, the clinic can take over the programme.
Ms. Barren also taught budgeting skills to 35 individuals in order to prevent economic hardship, seasonal hunger, and to encourage saving for school fees as an additional secondary activity. She conducted these sessions with her host father, the Mumana Farming Co-op, and the Chisamba PTO.
Ms. Barren collaborated with her husband on one project; soya bean seed distribution and cooking demonstrations. Most children are malnourished and don’t receive enough protein. Ironically, some farmers were already growing soya beans, but rather than improving their families’ nutrition, they were feeding it to their animals. This was because no one knew how to cook soya beans or fully understand their importance for food security and nutrition. Ms. Barren encouraged her women’s group to grow soya beans, then held a cooking demonstration for the community in which she prepared several soya bean products using locally available food items. She also printed recipes in ciBemba. As a result, 60 households are implementing these techniques.
Ms. Barren also spoke about nutrition in conjunction with her husband’s permaculture gardening demos.
Upon her arrival at site, 20 households and the basic school were using an open spring contaminated by free range pigs, human feces, and rain water from uphill. The village had two boreholes, but these were not functioning and no one in the village knew how to fix them. Ms. Barren facilitated sensitization on water and sanitation repeatedly to her section of the village, initiated a door to door campaign to reach the whole village, and reached mothers during a monthly United Care International baby weighing. She also redistributed Clorin (water purification chlorine) from the Society for Family Health. This project culminated in a $500 grant from Appropriate Projects to construct a protected spring box so that the community can have a sustainable, safe water source.
When not demonstrating gender roles as she went about her daily life, Ms. Barren also met with a women’s group once a month and taught them about HIV/AIDS, heat retention cooking, IGAs, crafts, and nutrition. She was also a member of a planning committee for a district-wide Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camp. She organized logistics and facilitated sessions on gender equality, sexuality, and goal setting for a five-day sleep-away camp attended by 21 teenage schoolgirls and 10 teachers.

Recommendations

Since the beginning of 2011, transportation on Luwingu Road is no longer the problem it once was, so there is great potential for future sites for PCVs.
There will be a LIFE replacement volunteer in neighboring Kaseke village, and if that volunteer has the interest, a GLOW specific or just a girl’s club could be formed in Mumana Lupando. One community member, Joanna Chanda, attended Camp GLOW as an adult leader, but unfortunately all three girls that attended transferred shortly afterward. Young women in the village could greatly benefit from increased sensitization on life skills.
There is also always the potential for more soya bean promotion in farther flung villages. Lubushi village especially is sensitized to PCVs and has a highly motivated farming co-op.
In Mumana Lupando village, Ms. Barren was hard-pressed to find a more motivated, eager counterpart than Allan Mwango, who often ended up motivating her instead of the other way around. As a jack of all trades, a volunteer can work with him on projects involving the pre-school, HIV prevention, health, or farming. Catherine Chisha was also a great help and a good friend. BanaMaria Kulu attended a Permaculture Gardening workshop as Ms. Barren’s counterpart, and although she doesn’t speak English, she speaks ciBemba in a way easy to understand.
Ms. Barren had one safety and security issue around 6 months after she arrived at site. Her house was broken into while she was away. The youth who did it was apprehended and taken to the Kasama Police, but was later released and proceeded to break into two tuck shops. Since this incident, a guard always slept in her house while she was away, and there were no further problems.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mega Vacation

CAMP GLOW (KASAMA)

Summary from ‘News from Zambia’, a compilation of press coverage. Original Article ran in ‘The Post.’

Official urges more ties in life skills empowerment
- Senior Education Standard Officer Dennis Chisulo said there is need for collaboration to empower youths in the country with life skills.
- During the graduation of 21 youths who participated in the ‘Girls Leading Our World’ sleep-over-camp at Kasama Girls High School organized by Peace Corps volunteers in collaboration with Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, Chisulo said government appreciated the support of stakeholders in gender youth development.
- Peace Corps Project Coordinator Sally-Rose Mwachilenga said this was the fourth camp, others having been held in Chipata, Chongwe and Serenje. Mwachilenga said the other camp was expected to be held in Mpika. Camp Glow is an initiative of Peace Corps volunteers aimed at encouraging girls to become active citizens of society. (The Post)

Camp Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) was created by Peace Corps volunteers in Poland but has since moved all over the world. Camp GLOW Kasama was held from 6 – 10 December and organized by 10 Peace Corps volunteers, each of whom brought two female grade 7 or 8 pupils and one teacher or community leader from their respective villages. Activities included sessions on HIV/AIDS, rape and sexual assault, sugar daddies, confidence and self-esteem, journaling, sewing menstrual pads, and games. The girls were groomed to be peer educators and expected to create GLOW clubs at their schools. In Zambia, girls are less likely to be educated in higher grades than boys owing to familial pressures for the girls to get married, teenage pregnancy, and cultural expectations about the role of women. In poor, rural villages, especially in ours since the Sable road workers have moved in, sex is about economics. Girls expect to be given gifts or money if they hook up with older (often married) men with stable incomes, so this compromises their ability to negotiate condom use or refuse sex. A very high number of girls are sexually assaulted, with the guilty very rarely prosecuted. Girls are very vulnerable, and the purpose of GLOW was to empower them to practice abstinence, stay away from sugar daddies, respect themselves and their bodies, and plan for their futures rather than short-term goals.


SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK
MFUWE, EASTERN PROVINCE OF ZAMBIA

South Luangwa is one of the premier national parks in the region. We stayed at Flatdogs lodge for three nights, camping on a treetop platform amid curious vervet monkeys. Hippos came to graze on the field at night from the nearby river and elephants also wandered through, so we were relieved that our tent was several metres of the ground. We went on a day drive and a night drive, so we saw many different animals. The best sight came when our guide heard a group of baboons making an alarm call. He sped the land cruiser off in their direction, and we found around fifty baboons hovering under a large canopied tree and screaming up at the branches. After a few moments, a leopard leapt to the ground, skulking away. The largest baboons trailed him, chasing him away with their persistent vocalizations and sheer number. The leopard hadn’t made a kill, and was probably only dozing in the tree, but the baboons showed him there is strength in numbers.

We also saw four lionesses sleeping in the shade. That’s the first time we’ve seen more than one solitary lion.


NKHATA BAY
MALAWI

From Eastern Province, we crossed the border into Malawi. Our destination was the northern part of Lake Malawi, around 700 kilometres from the capital city of Lilongwe. We stayed in a bamboo hut right on the beach at Njaya Lodge. The people in Nkhata Bay were very friendly, and there were even three kids that came right up to me and attached themselves around my legs in a hug, and a group of young girls that were swimming and wanted to play, using the few English words they knew. Kids in our village that know me well will crawl all over me, but the ones who I don’t see often are terrified of me and the younger ones will burst into tears at the sight of me. So I was surprised how fearless the Nkhata Bay kids were around white people.

We took a boat trip to the cliff where the fish eagles live. The fish eagle, which closely resembles the majestic American bald eagle, is the national bird of both Malawi and Zambia. These wild eagles have been trained so that when they hear a whistle and see a fish being thrown into the water, they’ll fly down by the boat to retrieve the fish, presenting tourists with a unique photo opportunity. Chris, of course, took full advantage.

We also got to snorkel off the shore around schools of bright, tropical fish. Then we tried paddling the local canoes, made from dugout logs, and jumped off a cliff into the clear water. There was a village nearby, so there was a bunch of young boys also jumping from as high as 5 metres. They were fearless, even scrambling into a nearby mango tree to get even higher from the water, and screaming as they plunged down. I jumped from 3 metres up, but got really nervous jumping from higher because I was blind without my glasses.

The official language is iciChewa, which is closely related to iciNyanja, which we can understand a bit because it’s close to iciBemba. So it probably would have been easy to pick it up if we stayed for a longer period of time, but we mostly stuck to the words we knew because they were the same in iciBemba.

From Nkhata Bay, we took an excursion to Nyika National Park, possibly one of the most beautiful places in Africa. It’s called the Scotland of Africa for its rolling green hills and incredible views to as far away as Zambia. It was even more dramatic with dark blue storm clouds hovering above. We camped there for two nights, and had to pay a significant sum to hire a vehicle as the park is so remote it’s impossible to get there by hitch hiking, but it was well worth it. There are no dangerous animals in the park, so it’s safe to walk, and by walking you can get very close to zebra and roan antelope. Nyika is one of the few places where you can see roan antelope, which have a clumsy almost moose-like brown body and a white mask. Chris got some awesome pictures of the zebra because we were able to get so close to them.

After a wonderful Christmas in Malawi, we crossed back over to spend the New Year in Zambia. Unfortunately, we had a hang up at the border. We had crossed from Zambia on 17 December and were granted a no-fee visa for ten days. We returned to the Mchinji border post on 27 December. The 17th to 27th December is actually eleven days, according to immigration officers. So, we were asked into the office to speak with the in-charge, who turned out to be a corrupt, misogynist. After being in Africa for two years, you know when something is a big deal and when something is insignificant, but played up by officials so they can get a bribe. This guy, who refused to give us his name, said we had to either return to Lilongwe to request an extension (half a day’s journey away and we had very little money) or pay him 5,000 Malawian kwacha each (around USD $66). He had our passports and refused to let us leave the office. Then he said if we refused to pay, he’d cancel our passports so that we’d never be allowed back to Malawi, and hinted that this would effect us at immigration at the entry point in Zambia. I flipped out, which I think was justified and raised my voice. I can’t remember exactly what I said (it was mainly the mefloquine talking, my malaria prophylaxis which makes me somewhat bipolar and anxious), but it was enough so that the guy refused to address me from that point on. He even told Chris that I was acting like an animal and that he would throw me in the cells if I didn’t calm down. Chris took on the good cop role and tried to be respectful, which I couldn’t stomach because he was trying to show us that we were white, and therefore inferior in his office. I left the room in a huff before I said something I’d regret too much, then I marched back in and proclaimed that we were calling the US Embassy and our “boss.” Only Chris’ phone had a Malawian sim card to make outgoing calls, so he phoned Peace Corps’ Safety and Security officer, Allan. I muttered about how our “boss” would solve everything. The guy quietly stamped our entry on our passports and slid them across the desk at us as Chris was on the phone. When he hung up, the guy said we could leave. Then he launched into another obloquy about how Chris had to control me because I was an animal, so I ran out with my passport. Chris relayed what Allan had told him on the phone: The most the immigration officials could do was give us a warning, so the guy was only blowing hot air. He could have canceled our passports from entering Malawi, but it couldn’t be enforced, as we were using temporary no-fee government passports, not our civilian ones, and record-keeping isn’t that great.

Outside immigration, I cried to the sympathetic money-changers, then Chris and I discussed rates with them and quickly changed the small amount of money we had left to Zambian kwacha. Their rates are only slightly higher than a bank’s, but they’re more convenient, especially for small sums. We walked across to the Zambian entry point, and a white woman stopped us in the parking lot. “Did you just exchange money over there?” She asked. We said yes. “Isn’t that illegal?” She wanted to know. I studied the gravel parking lot intently. Chris shifted uneasily. We were both silent for a long time, thinking she was a plainclothes border post cop, then Chris mumbled “I don’t know.” The truth is we hadn’t really thought about it. They’re a conspicuous sight at African border crossings, and they often change currencies just out of view of the police. “I think they are,” the woman finally responded. “Did they give you a good rate? I was also thinking about exchanging some money.”


LAKE KARIBA
SOUTHERN PROVINCE, ZAMBIA

Lake Kariba is the favorite vacation spot for expatriates. It makes up part of Zambia’s border with Zimbabwe, and was created in the 60s after Kariba dam was created for hydroelectric power. Bradt’s guide book warns not to walk in the bush at Lake Kariba, because there are still unexploded land mines from Zim’s independence struggle.

We stayed at the Bush Club. Luckily, there wasn’t much bush. The owners had a herd of zebra, some cows, and a pet goat that roamed the facilities, but they’d also stocked the nearby islands with game and owned a crocodile farm. We wanted to go on a game walk on the island with a guide, but the owner said the scouts had reported that the elephants had swum over that day and the island wasn’t safe to walk on. The scouts had been charged that day. The elephants had emigrated from Zimbabwe, and were quite ferocious around people because Zim’s political problems meant animals weren’t well protected from poachers.

The owner felt bad so he took us on a tour of the crocodile farm for free. We wouldn’t have paid because we’d already been to a croc farm in Livingstone, but this turned out to be much better. They had many more crocs, and were the second largest crocodile farm in the world. Each year, they hatched around 16,000 crocodiles. They also captured and used “problem crocs” from around Lake Kariba; the ones that had killed people. They harvested the crocs at three years of age. Their skin was exported, and 2% of the meat was exported to Holland. The other 98% was fed back to the crocs, as they do practice cannibalism in the wild. Others were kept for breeding. We drove a land cruiser into the breeding area, which was several acres of a scenic pond fenced off with electrical wire, rather than an artificial cement pool that I’ve seen at other places. The crocodiles were so thick that the driver was beating a stick on the road to get the crocs to slide out of the land cruiser’s path. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to crocodiles, being literally just a bit above them sitting in a land cruiser. They threw out chicken innards to the crocs and we saw them feast.

We also ate crocodile curry at the Bush Club. We both love crocodile meat. I don’t know why it’s not more popular in Zambia or even the US. It’s delicious. In Zambia, you can usually only find it at game park lodges or at croc farms.

On New Year’s Eve, we took a sunset boat cruise on Lake Kariba around the islands that were stocked with game. It was the first time Chris had seen wildebeest. Back at the Bush Club, the other guests were mostly families with kids or older people, so most people were in bed by 21 hours. Chris and I sat at the bar drinking overpriced Mosi’s and watching music videos on VH1. Then another couple joined us; Vic and Helen from Lusaka, who’d put their 6-year old to bed. I think all of us were glad there was some companionship. Vic was born in Kasama, then moved to Ireland at age 12 with his
Irish mother when his parents split up. He was educated in Ireland and met his wife there, but they’d decided to move to Zambia ten years prior. At quarter of midnight, the winds began getting strong, and Vic ran back to the chalet to get some champagne. Electricity and thus the music videos went out, and the storm descended with a vengeance. At one point, Helen said “My watch says it’s midnight.” “I have 23:57” Chris responded. Mine and the bartender’s also displayed different times. We drank more Mosi’s and gazed at the storm ushering in 2011. Vic didn’t return. Fifteen minutes later the rain let up a bit so we went to their chalet to drink champagne. Their chalet was absolutely flooded as the windows had only screens. Our tent had a sizeable puddle at the foot. Still, it was 2011 at a lakeside bar in Africa.

Vic and Helen ended up adopting us and not only gave us a ride back to Lusaka (it took 6 hours returning; we spent almost 11 hours getting there on buses and hitch hiking on canter trucks) but let us stay at their house for two nights. We only had to put up with endless replayings of Toy Story 3 (surprisingly not horrible) and their son Aaron, an only child that would talk your ear off. Chris bonded with him, because he said he was the same way growing up as an only kid.

We then traveled to the Peace Corps office on the other side of town for our Close of Service conference. We were rewarded for our two years of service by lodging at the Taj Pamodzi, one of Lusaka’s fanciest hotels, on the US taxpayer’s dime. It was probably a bad idea putting twenty young PCVs accustomed to the bush and harsh conditions in a five star hotel. Or at least a hilarious one, as each of us had five plates a piece at the buffet every meal. They served three kinds of meat at every meal! We eat meat once a month, and that’s because we can buy it at the ShopRite in Kasama when we come in monthly. The Taj also restocked bottles of water and pens at the conference room after every break we had, so we stockpiled everything. I don’t even drink bottled water in Lusaka; I drink tap water.

PCVs usually stay at Chaminuka, a fancy safari lodge 50 km out of Lusaka for COS conference, but we got bumped out because the Vice President of Zambia wanted to hold an emergency meeting there. We ended up getting a free day there on Sunday because Chaminuka felt bad they couldn’t accommodate us. We went on a game drive (they also have stocked game on their property), but got rained out. We did see a giraffe right by the side of the road on the way out though. They had an amazing lunch buffet though and a jacuzzi.


PRE-SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION

We travel back to Kasama tomorrow (13 January) and I’m meeting Ba Allan and Ba Catherine there to buy building materials for the pre-school. I’ve been out of the village on our mega vacation for a month and a half, but I spoke with Ba Allan tonight and the community has been mobilized and is ready to start construction. Hassim, the owner of Sable construction, has agreed to donate and transport the tons of crushed stone we need. The Mumana Youth Care and Supporting Group molded and burned the necessary 12,000 bricks months ago. The parents are very supportive. Stay tuned...

THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE WHO HAS HELPED TO MAKE THE PRE-SCHOOL CLASSROOM A REALITY.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I promise I'll post about our mega vacation and our adventures in South Luangwa National Park, Lake Malawi, Nyika Plateau, and Lake Kariba when I get a chance.

In the meantime, thanks again to Appropriate Projects for making the protected spring box a reality. It's of course hard to measure, but I think safe drinking water can prevent some of the needless deaths of children in our village, and also improve the health of people with HIV or other chronic illnesses.

Here's the completion page:
http://appropriateprojects.com/node/474

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pictures Depicting Everything Mentioned Below (plus village moonshine)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nswaswa/

Caterpillars


Right after the first rains begin, women trek into the bush to collect caterpillars. Armed with a pail and often a child to climb the trees, they collect many different varieties: fat neon green ones, spiky ones, black and white ones. They usually track caterpillars by looking carefully at the ground. If you see droppings, there are caterpillars munching on the fresh new growth on that tree.

Women spend all morning collecting caterpillars and return when the sun is at its peak to cook ubwali for lunch. At home they squeeze the caterpillars starting from the head and moving toward the end, like one squeezes a tube of toothpaste, to rid them of the insides. Then the caterpillars are fried with cooking oil.

Chris enjoys eating them. I see the merit in caterpillars being a protein source where meat and eggs are scarce, but I prefer my texturized vegetable protein pieces.

Not all caterpillars here are benevolent. Chishishi, huge grey caterpillars with bristly hair, are also plentiful at this time. As with snakes, the policy with chishishi is to kill every one you find. If they contact human skin, the bristles will cause you to itch and have a rash, similar to poison ivy.


This Is Our World

A young woman reclines on the clay floor of her parents' cooking shelter. Her breasts hang down nearly to her navel beneath an old red t-shirt, and her arms are thin; the width of an ubwali cooking stick. In a hoarse voice voice she recites her symptoms in monotone Bemba, a change from the tonal inflections that usually accompany the language: a cough, vomiting, body pains, jaundice that turns the whites of her eyes into a sick mustard color. The clinic's diagnosis is yellow fever, an illness similar to malaria in cause and symptom. There's no cure but elapsed time, and already these maladies have persisted for over a week. Where Western medicine has failed her, she turns to the traditional umuti of her ancestors. A thin strip of bark fiber from a mutondo tree is tied around her neck to prevent vomiting and her family dabs water infused with pepa root in her eyes, nose, and fingertips.

The illness has caused her to stop producing breastmilk, so she can't feed her two-month old daughter. In America, the crisis could be averted with store bought formula. But formula here is only available in urban centres and costs $USD 5 for a 1 kg tin, unaffordable for subsistence farmers who survive on $2 a day. Besides, formula mixed with unclean water would ravage the baby's body with diarrhea. A wet nurse, a compassionate neighbor with her own baby, could help. But no nursing mother here will touch this cursed, sickly little girl. People gossip and whisper "AIDS" behind the backs of their hands. The family feeds the baby porridge instead - corn, millet, or cassava flour cooked in boiled water. It is pure carbohydrate with no nutritional value at all. The baby is very thin and cries all the time.

The aspersions that the women whisper to each other, heavy and ominous like the sagging dark clouds that hang in the sky this time of year, may be true. It's got to be either AIDS or witchcraft; no single family can fall so far from God's mercy on their own.

This woman's husband had a first wife in a distant village that died after a long illness. The husband himself is sickly. People warned the woman's parents not to approve of the marriage years ago, but the parents only scoffed, thinking it was jealousy. The couple has since brought five children into the world, two of whom they've already buried. Soon to be three. Young children face enough adversity threatening their fragile lives without being pulled away from their mother's dried up breasts at only two months old and fed only starch.

In the U.S. ("The Promised Land," as we've taken to calling it) this incurable virus ravaging Africa can seem impersonal. Children dying from preventable illnesses is sad, but detached from your reality; your own children have chubby cheeks from baby fat and grow like weeds. This life is our reality.


Kasama Town Cast of Characters


These are the quirky, omnipresent, mentally disturbed people that inhabit Kasama Town. Kasama does in fact have a mental hospital, but its only a place for people to sleep at night. During the day, they're on their own.

Judgment Man: Has long tangled hair, wears a tunic closely resembling a potato sack, a huge cross necklace, and carries a staff. He'll quietly walk into a place of business or to an individual, draw himself up, and begin a tirade in Bemba. I usually don't even try to understand what he's saying, but he repeats "judgment" a lot and asks for 100 kwacha (~2 cents). He's found on Luwingu Rd, and solicits the internet cafe several times a day because the staff there will quickly hand over money so he'll leave.
Inconspicuous Dude: Is found near Shoprite, often sleeping in a shady patch of dirt beside the road. He has unkempt mats of hair and wears ripped clothing the exact shade of the soil. He doesn't harass anyone and often blends into Kasama itself.

Several months ago, an angry, displaced swarm of bees terrorized the centre of town, disrupting business. African bees are fierce even when unprovoked, so the street quickly emptied, except a few tenacious people who ran by. Inconspicuous Dude, however, strolled down the street, completely oblivious to the swarming mass that seethed around his head.
Bernard: A short, stout man with grey hair, untamed nose hairs, and kind eyes. He used to stand in front of Shoprite everyday just hanging out, but the regulars that hawk newspapers and prepaid talk time forced him out. His new haunt is PJT Market, the local supermarket chain on the next street over. He's supposedly a beggar, but in the two years I've known him, he's never asked me for money. He always greets me by name and is completely lucid except for one thing - he thinks I'm his wife. In fact, he thinks every light-skinned woman he meets in Kasama is his wife. He gets upset if you protest, so I play along. Our usual conversation usually goes something like this:
Bernard: Ah, Nicole! How are you?
Me: I'm fine. And you?
B: I'm okay. Last week I did not have much money for food, but it is better now. How are our children?
M: They're doing well. Little Mary is doing very well on her exams and little Bupe had malaria, but he's recovered now and is back to playing football with his friends.
B: You must bring them to see me soon.
M: Sure.

Bernard is fluent in English and well-spoken and spoke once of being educated at Cambridge in the UK, which I believe. Rumor has it that he was once a successful businessman and was married to a white woman. At some point mental illness crept in.


Hot Season and Hot Tempers

BashiAmose told us his schoolteacher from years ago once noted that there are a lot more disagreements and fights during the hot, dry season (September- November) than other times of the year. I'd be willing to concur. I personally was miserable during this period; it's too hot to do anything but lay in your house from 10 am until 15 hours.

About a month ago, some men came to BashiAmose's house while he and BanaAmose were away and pressured their fifteen-year old daughter to sell them home-brewed beer. Soon there was a group of men sitting in the shade and drinking. Tempers started flaring and two men began fighting. One was hitting another with a stick, there was blood flying, and the disagreement went on for a good half an hour, to the great interest of the children, whom no one thought to shoo away. Apparently on this same day, just 400m up the hill, a boy from the village and a Sable worker were also drinking and one was threatening the other with a knife.

Remember Chanda, the teenage boy who broke into our house last Halloween? After he stole from several other houses, tuckshops, and finally us, the village agreed to send him to the police. Because he was a minor, he was sent to live in a orphanage and attend school in Kasama for two years. But a few months ago he ran away and returned to the village. We spoke to his legal guardian at the Department of Social Welfare, but the man kept insisting that Chanda would return after a home leave of a few days and if we didn't like it, we could accompany him back to Kasama ourselves. Four months later, still in the village, Chanda broke into a tuck shop again. He was taken to the headman's house to be punished and people ended up forcing the soles of his feet into the coals of a cooking fire so he couldn't run away. We saw him the next day, supported by two other boys as he was barefoot and limping badly, standing at the tuck shop he broke into while the items he stole were recovered. Kids ran over to jeer at him. Later, he was sent back to live in Kasama.

Recently a man stole 11 million kwacha ($USD 2,000) from a business in Kasama. With uncharacteristic tenacity and accuracy, the Kasama police tracked him to his parents' house in our village. When the police arrived, the man had only enough time to hide in the bathing shelter. As they were questioning his parents, the man tried slipping away. The officers tried to pursue him and one fired his gun, but the man escaped into the bush. They recovered half of the money from his wife, and then took her into custody because they thought she knew more than she was telling them. The next day, the police came again in an unmarked vehicle and found the man on the road, trying to find transport out. Again he escaped into the bush and hasn't been seen since.

They're saying that this man was able to evade capture twice because he has powerful spells and is a known wizard. Apparently if he puts money into the pages of a special book, then closes the cover, he's able to duplicate that money. It hasn't been explained why he had to steal ZMK 11,000,000 when he could have just used his book and avoided involvement with the police.

Traditional Leaders

Most villages are named after the headman. (Ours happens to be named after a nonexistant river, a grandiose nomenclature for an area with only two sinuous streams.) Headmen are hereditary, traditional leaders on the most minute scale; chiefs have jurisdiction over several dozen villages; above them are senior chiefs; and finally one paramount chief for an entire dispersed tribe. The Bemba paramount chief is named Chitemukulu and resides in a palace in Northern Province, the ancestral home of the Bembas.

The headman and his panel of good old boy advisors are the equivalent of an American town mayor, council, and court. Most headmen are fair and don't abuse their power. Our own headman has no schooling past grade 4, but he understands the value of development despite a conservative populace. He's consistently been an advocate for us.

Puppies!

Willow gave birth to 6 puppies fathered by Chankulila in mid-October. They're now 5 weeks old and starting to wean. They were a big strain on her body and she was looking pretty skeletal even though we fed her better than most people and even we, eat. We were covertly feeding her boiled eggs, dried fish, and ubwali fortified with soya bean flour and milk powder so our neighbors wouldn't click their tongues at us and demand that we give them some. All the puppies are fat and healthy except for some unavoidable fleas and chiggers. We're looking into getting Willow spayed and dewormed once she's back up to her normal body weight. Wish us luck; the procedures here are done without respirators or monitors in not sterile environments, but our PC Medical nurse (who's active in Lusaka spay & neuter campaigns) said the benefits still outweigh the risks.

The Protected Spring Box

The protected spring box was completed on 2 November after 2.5 days of labor, supervised by an engineer with Rural Water from Kasama. The total cost was $500 (donated by U.S. based Appropriate Projects) plus the community contribution of 1,000 burnt bricks, 1 ton of crushed stones, and K 2500 (~50 cents) from every household to buy wooden planks.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Before the Rains

Synopsis: It’s the season of bush fires. Bashi Mutale sired – in the village another Nikki has been acquired.

In late August and September, fierce morning winds batter grass roofs, snatching handfuls of dried thatch and strewing it on the sand. Dead leaves snarl and circle angrily in the gusts. Ash from neighbors’ cooking fires is thrown on our freshly washed dishes. The afternoon brings the peak of a glaring sun and stifling heat. Panting dogs laze under shelter of skeletal guava trees, ribcages jutting from under a dull coat with each shallow inhalation. Women sigh and sink under the overhang of their grass roof before placing a baby to their breasts. Only evenings, with a blood red sun sagging wearily and bleeding into the surrounding sky, bring relief.

On the heels of this heat the rains will creep in, replenishing the parched yellow land. But before this happens, the stretches of overgrown dried grasses are scorched.

Campfires are mesmerizing in the way flames flitter about, changing the composition of wood and trapping your eyes in its primordial beauty. Fire can be devastating and dangerous, and part of its appeal is being able to control a force of nature. Bush fires hold the same appeal, but on a much larger scale. Entire fields of dried grasses, shrubbery, and small trees are burnt, the flames spreading ravenously. In theory, it is controlled by creating fire breaks, burning a small strip of land first so that the fire doesn’t have fuel to spread beyond the confines of where you want it to. But wind is a variable, and I’ve seen a defiant fire set at the school devour a teacher’s grass bathing shelter and fence. If fire breaks fail, teenage boys grab leafy branches and begin furiously beating the flames.

Bush fires start with a crackling as loud as a thunderclap, which can be heard for as far as a kilometer away. The black smoke billows out into the sky, drawing birds of prey that circle overhead, dining on the emerging exodus of grasshoppers and song birds.

I don’t know why the bush is burnt. Bush fires are often spoken about in relation to kapanga, the rats that burrow in the bush that people eat. But you can find bush rats without burning an area first. Chief Munkonge decreed that the bush should be burnt early to avoid damaging the rainy season sprouts that caterpillars, another bush food, eat, thus diminishing the caterpillar population. In the end, burning the bush might be as pointless as chitimene, or the slash and burn agriculture that’s also practiced. It might be done because the ancestors practiced it, with no regard for its effect on the environment.



I’m kind of a big deal among the under-five crowd. Malama, Juliet, Charity, and Purity, particularly, the toddlers that live closest to us, openly adore me. If we’re returning home after a short absence from the village, they shout “Ba Nikki! Muli shani?” (How are you?) then enthusiastically cheer “Ba bwela!” (She’s returned) for the next five minutes. If they acknowledge Chris at all, they also call him Ba Nikki.


So in late August when Bana Mutale gave birth at home to a tiny and perfect little girl, older sister Charity immediately declared her name to be Nikki. Her amused parents asked for my approval. So now ka (small) Nikki joins ka Chris and Shaq as a legacy of Peace Corps in our village (The previous volunteer, a basketball enthusiast, was asked to name a newborn boy).













Pre-School Updates

  • From September 13 -18, three volunteer teachers from the village were trained in early childhood education. The workshop was funded locally by the Kasama Pre-School Teacher Training College and also by a USAID grant. Topics included the history of pre-school education, its importance on a child’s development, making teaching aids using locally available materials, first aid, creating lesson plans, sample syllabus, songs and dances, and child developmental stages and development. The teachers seem like they learned a lot and are excited to implement this new knowledge.

Ba Allan Mwango, Ba Catherine Chisha, Ba John Bwalya Kandeke, and I after their graduation.
  • $921 has been donated towards the pre-school construction in just a few weeks. We still need $2872. Pleas e, please spread the word of this project. If you’ve already done so, please continue to do it. It’s pretty difficult raising publicity for what I’m doing when I’m in the village without access to any form of modern communication, so I need help. (Special thanks to Sue and Tim, Rick, Kate, and Sarah). Again the link is https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=611-061

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Videos

video
Project Explanation
Narrated by Nicole Barren and Allan Mwango
Shot at the location of the pre-school, the center of the village often called the station because it's where people hitch rides from. Hopefully it gives you a feel for the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it's very windy on September mornings.


video
Sukulu Yaliwama
Words: Po po umwana wandi
(Po po my child)
sukulu yaliwama
(school is good)
nokulemba nokubelenga
(and to read and write)

A song about the value of education may seem superfluous in the U.S., but in the village, parents are often uneducated themselves and thus the importance of school is not impressed upon children as firmly as it should be. The students' parents and caregivers, however, are supportive of the pre-school. In addition to educating their children, it also gives overworked women, some of whom are also burdened by chronic illness, a small break in caregiving duties.


video
Mango Tree
A lively call and repeat song that teaches English verbs. The kids LOVE it.



Donate to the pre-school construction at https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=611-061
Or www.peacecorps.gov, then click 'Volunteer Projects' and search by my name or country.




Saturday, September 4, 2010

Donate to the Pre-School

The Peace Corps finally put my project up on their website, so we can start accepting donations.
Please, please, please give the blog or that link to everyone you know. I've lived amongst, loved, and laughed with these kids for the past year and a half; they've taught me the Bemba language and accepted me as their friend. I came to Zambia with the intention of helping people, but the biggest change has happened inside of me. Ba Allan introduced us recently to a visiting relative as "These ones aren't Americans anymore. They're real Bembas." That inclusion into our adopted tribe has been repeated by other people too, and as a Peace Corps volunteer whose goal is assimilation, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. But all the credit goes to the people we live with, who've taught me how to be strong and happy no matter how hard life may be, who've taught me Bemba songs, dances, cooking, and work. I've learned a lot from their children, too, my peers as far as language goes. In the beginning, they'd come to our house to stare because, well, not many white Americans jabbering in a foreign language make it to the village. Now they come to ask me to informally teach them, to play soccer and monkey-in-the-middle, or just because they're bored and want to talk. I wish I could take all of them to America with me when I leave. I like that village life is simpler, safe for children to wander by themselves, and close-knit. But I can escape it, I don't have to deal with most of the hardships. I want to save them from their futures; alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy and baby after baby, a 45-year life expectancy. But I can't. What I can do is build them a pre-school, which is sorely needed, to thank them for allowing us to enter their lives for two years. The most critical years of a child's development are ages 1-6. Pre-school gives them a good foundation and prepares them for grade one, gets them used to attending school regularly, fosters in them a love for learning. Pre-school education puts them at an advantage years later; children who attend pre-school are more likely to pursue adult education and adhere to development programmes. They have a head start at basic school, and a better chance at becoming literate. Short-term, they're going to be able to learn more effectively in a better-suited classroom and take even greater pride in it. This can make their lives a little bit better, put them a little bit closer to escaping the lives of their grandparents and parents.

I wish you all could come to the pre-school and see the looks of pride on these kids' faces when they write a number correctly, their smiles when they sing, and their eagerness when their hands shoot into the air to be called on. I hope the pictures can convince you to take an interest in these kids and help me help them. Even if you can only give $10, that's fine. $10 may not seem like a lot to you, but it's a very sizeable sum in the village; it can buy 100 heads of cabbage, piles of tomatoes, or bundles of greens, enough to combat malnutrition in an entire family for a very long time. It can almost buy a 50 kg bag of cement. Please help us out. And continue to check the blog; I'll update on the project's progress regularly.

The website is https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=611-061.

Alternatively, you can go to peacecorps.gov, click on 'Donate to Volunteer Projects' and search for Nicole Barren.

I also made flyers that I can e-mail by request (nicolebarrdette@gmail.com). For further information and pictures, look at earlier posts. Chris posted a whole facebook album of pictures of the pre-school at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=211887&id=713467480&l=94dff03873.