Grade 7 is a very important year in the education system in Zambia. National exams for this grade are given in October. The scores on this exam determine if the students are eligible to move on to grade 8 and if they qualify for one of the few spots in Zambian secondary schools. Our 7th grade teachers and students strove throughout the first two terms to improve reading skills as well as learn content that needed to be covered before exams began. At the end of term 2 the grade 7 students at the LCAs took a mock exam, and the teachers of those classes met at the Family Legacy office in Lusaka to score and analyze the tests. The 18 grade 7 teachers from the LCAs and FCA worked long hours pouring over the mock exams. They were able to see which subjects and topics needed to be emphasized during tuitions this week.
We didn't want these students to miss out on this opportunity to learn more and get extra help, so Mr. Sakana, Tawanda, and I came up with a plan. We left the gate of the school and began to walk through the compound toward the market. Tawanda led us from one place to another. We walked to stands at the market where grade 7 students often sell goods. We stepped between market stalls onto the main street where one of our boys sat alone in a stand selling machine parts. The Chainda market has rows of lean-tos offering shoes, pipes, vegetables, bags of coal, and a variety of other materials for sale to those who pass by. I drive by these market stalls often but until that day had never walked down this road. Standing there with this boy made the reality of his everyday life more clear. After talking with him for a few minutes, we went back through a narrow gap between structures and were back on the pathways between houses. Ducking under clothes lines strung between small cinder block houses we greeted caretakers and students along the way. We stopped and watched one of our younger students working in his family business pounding a sheet of metal into a brazier that is used to burn coal for cooking. He was skilled at his craft and I wondered just how young he was when he first learned this type of work.
We walked far and near for about 2 hours. My shoes were coated inside and out from the dusty walkways and the soot where trash had been burned beside the paths. When I got dressed that day I hadn't planned to spend my morning walking through the compound. I hadn't prepared to do it. Sometimes though sitting aside our plans and participating in the unexpected gives us our best and most memorable experiences.
Every time we stopped the students were very surprised to see their teacher and me at their homes and family places of business. I told them we missed them at school this week and that we love them so much we had come to find them. There were hugs and handshakes and smiles. I asked them where they had been. Some just cast their eyes down because they did not have a reason for not attending tuitions. One boy's eyes welled up with tears as he talked about attending an uncle's funeral. All promised they would be at the school for the afternoon session or first thing in the morning.
Recently I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen:
"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them." Henri Nouwen
How do we bring hope to a generation who society has left behind? How do we reach the NEXT 50 of Zambia? We do it one child at a time through our presence. We let them know through our words and actions that they are truly loved right in the midst of their everyday lives.