In the last post about our volunteering experience in Zambia, we left off somewhere in the middle of the story. Almost half our time there was gone and me (Carmen) and Jan, we were very hopeful about the months to come. Here’s what we did next in our time at DNS Mkushi College of Education.
First, let me introduce you better to this college. DNS Mkushi trains future primary school teachers. More specific, the students here are prepared to teach in the rural areas of Zambia. That is to say, exactly in the areas where the need is greater and the challenges match the size of the need. In their third year of studies, the students go and teach in these rural communities for a few months, as part of their study program.
The students finished their exams, packed their things, and left us almost alone in the campus for the end-of-the-year holiday. During this time, we had hopes of getting involved in the community around Mkushi. That never happened. We realized there’s a way of helping the students and the lecturers of the college even if they were away.
In January – that’s when the new school year starts in Zambia – the first generation of third year students from DNS Mkushi were to go for their internship in various rural schools. During these internship months, the student-teachers are supposed to teach primary school children, help the community, and at the same time, study for their own exams. But there was one tiny issue: the academic materials that the third year students needed for studying while being away from the college, were non-existent. And that’s what Jan and I did during holidays: we created study materials with the content they needed. Two modules, we wrote on our own: Integrated Science and Educational and Professional Studies. This took quite a lot of time and effort – in order to write them, we first had to research on topics we were not so familiar with.
Apart from creating these two modules from scratch, we also helped the other lecturers with theirs. We typed their handwritten notes into electronic form and formatted the modules uniformly. Apart from that, we were also in charge of producing them. We printed all modules in multiple copies on a very basic printer turning the pages manually. It was not an easy job thanks to the frequent power cuts and broken ink cartridges. After printing the modules we bound them together as best as we could to give them at least some sort of academic looks.
All in all, DNS Mkushi has now modules for 9 subjects for the first time. Everybody was extremely happy with our involvement in this particular project as we undoubtedly speeded up the process.
We accompanied some of the third year students into their new homes and schools. It was quite an adventurous, almost 20 hours trip, with trucks loaded with students and their luggage, with sun burning us unnoticed, rain, mud, stuck cars, horribly bumping roads… well, you get the picture. At least we got to see more of what is called ‘the bush’ – amazing nature that I cannot really find words to describe.
With the third year gone from campus, when the new school year began, we had the second year students and a fresh batch – the first year students – to focus on. I took over the Integrated Science lessons of the first year students, and Jan continued with volleyball practice and Computer classes.
Preparing lessons and written materials for the students at DNS College was a huge challenge for me. I know chemistry, as this was my field of study back home, but the students here are studying Integrated Science, a subject which contains many more science disciplines, such as biology, ecology, physics, environmental science, and so on. Preparing and teaching these lessons to a class of future teachers was an extremely important learning experience. I learnt by doing, and I learnt together with my students. If I were to do this again, I’m sure I would do it much better!
Furthermore, I tried to teach the students how to use more sources for their assignments. This resulted in a virtual collection of materials following their course syllabus for Integrated Science. This collection of scientific materials contains books in pdf format, documents which I wrote myself for certain chapters in the syllabus, video lessons downloaded from the internet, and representative pictures for certain scientific concepts. Together with Jan, we added these materials to all the computers in the school. In the meantime, Jan was inspired to create a virtual library with materials for many other subjects, and trained the students how to use them. This project came as a complement to the library.
And this brings us to the library which went through two different systems in our 6 months there. Jan implemented a first system of lending books, and then both of us encouraged students to use the library for their research. In the meantime, Jan was observing how things worked. Not so well in the beginning. However, after adding tags to each of the 1300 books, it became easier to keep the books organized. We only hope things stay the same even after we won’t be there to play the librarians anymore.
Having advanced user knowledge of computers, Jan quickly took on the duty of local ‘IT expert’. He repaired most of the computers in the computer lab of the college – they were not working at the time we arrived. To prevent other damages to these computers, he blocked most of the features, making them usable only for studies. Then, as soon as he repaired the first laptop of a student, his fame went wild! Everybody in the campus who had an issue with their personal laptop or phone, or even the ones who just wanted some movies, would come knocking on our door to ask for help. Sometimes it was difficult to work with these devices in conditions of almost no internet, spiced with frequent power cuts, and lack of proper tools. But thrown in this situation, he wouldn’t say ‘no’, and would just get creative with the possibilities he had at that moment. And so he fixed even issues he never dreamt of fixing, such as recovering data from failed hard drives. Jan, as well, learnt by doing.
There were many other things we did during our Project Period. But it’s hard to contain in a few written pages all that we’ve experienced by volunteering 6 months at DNS Mkushi in Zambia. At the good-bye party that the students threw for us, everyone thanked us for our contribution there.
I don’t know to what extent our contribution was truly helpful, but I know one thing for sure: more, much more than helping them, by being there we’ve helped ourselves learn and grow in unexpected ways.
Read the first part of Jan and Carmen’s volunteer in Zambia here.
Carmen & Jan – September Team 2014