Sunday, January 23, 2011

School's back in session--almost...

"Tiz, tiz," exclaimed my British neighbor one day recently when I was complaining mildly of losing my whole morning because I went to a "short meeting" scheduled for 9 am that ended up starting at 10 and lasting till 12:30. "Tiz?" I asked. "Yes, tiz, 'This Is Zambia' you see." I did. (Although to be honest, I have had this same meeting issue from time to time in Arizona. It seems to be a universal occurrence.)

What is different in Zambia is the casual attitude toward advance planning and time management. When our MEF students left in December, they were told to report to campus on January 10th to settle into dormitory rooms, pay their fees, and be ready for classes to start on the 17th. I went to work on my course outlines, developing a schedule that started with the week of January 17. (I couldn't be more specific on the dates topics would be covered than "the week of..." since I did not yet know what days of the week each of my classes fell upon.)

Usually the Social Work and Community Development lecturers would have met with our director and agreed on the meeting times and room assignments for our classes in a big meeting at the end of the previous semester. For some reason, that had not happened, and people left for the holiday break. Then the director's wife's illness kept him away until the 14th of January, the last working day before classes were due to begin. But we did meet then and had a plan by the end of the day Friday. We posted it on the bulletin boards for students to see.

Monday January 17th dawned. After chapel I went to the room where my first class was assigned to meet, and found a workshop meeting there. This has happened before, because the Zambezi Room is the most well-equipped classroom with padded chairs, enough tables and both a blackboard and a whiteboard. MEF is a popular venue for workshops, varying in length from one day to two weeks or more. As I was going to find out what other room my class could use, I was met by students telling me they couldn't start classes because the installment plan had been changed and they didn't bring enough of their tuition and had no way to get more. I decided that school would not be starting on Monday the 10th.

Other instructors drew the same conclusion and suggested that we wait until the 17th to begin, foreseeing that there would be a lot of students with tuition issues and that administration would have to see how to modify the policy to meet their needs and student realities. Our loan fund was quickly exhausted, and there is no work-study or other loan possibilities here.

I did go to my assigned rooms at the designated times this week, just in case students appeared, and some did. We used our time together to share information about our holidays and to discuss the challenges of finding funding for tuition and accommodation costs. Many of the students had done some "piece work" during the break or had helped in family farms or businesses. Part of the reason it is so difficult to have the full tuition in January, they told me, is that school fees are due for their younger brothers and sisters in January, and their families are faced with a huge demand, all at one time. (Average family size in Zambia is 7 children.) Many of our students in the social work diploma program (equivalent to community college) are the oldest in their family. Some of them live in smaller families, but then they are usually caring for or supporting orphaned children.

Meanwhile, all the young children from around MEF and nearby who come to visit me for sandwiches and to borrow games and books have started back to school, so I only see them in the afternoons and weekends now. The two orphans in this group who passed their 7th grade exams and were faced with huge school fees as they entered secondary education are settled. One found a sponsor through another missionary and I sponsored one. The government provided her school uniform and shoes, but she had to find a sponsor for her tuition. Her sister had to stop schooling at grade 9 for lack of resources. She brings me her homework to look over. I encourage her to read and ask questions.

Back at the Social Work diploma program at MEF, our courses will finally start tomorrow, January 24, for sure. Tiz!.

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