Friday, September 9, 2011

Blessings and Burdens of Being a Teacher

Every teacher hopes her students will use what she has taught. This is especially true of teachers in the professions, since the knowledge imparted is intended to be practical. So it pleases me when graduates come back to discuss how they are trying to develop projects in the community or programs at agencies.

Sometimes they come just to let me know what they are doing. More often, they come for consultation as they struggle to make what they learned work in the real world of human and organizational complexities. Usually they are looking for ideas about resources for collaboration and support.

Here in Zambia, jobs are scarce in any field. Official unemployment figures are reported to be over 40%. So some of the more enterprising social work graduates try to start a social service endeavor by themselves or in partnership with a church.

Menard came to see me a few weeks ago and took me to visit the community school he is assisting. It is located in a poor shanty town off the main road. He is helping them to find teachers, enroll students, and finish building a permanent facility. Right now they are meeting inside a building that looks about to fall apart. It certainly will not survive heavy rains, which are due to start in October. He had a budget for the materials they need to complete a new, sturdy structure. The community can donate the labor, but they need cement and bricks and other building supplies. I helped him think about some natural connections they could make with international church partners, since the school originated as a church project.

When Kabutu came with an organizational design for Heart of Care Services for the Aged in Mulenga Compound, I helped him amplify his idea. We created a three-fold brochure with the basic information: vision, mission, auspices, how they got started, what they do, how people can help by volunteering, making referrals, or supporting the program, and the basic contact information. I'm not as skilled at producing such brochures as my children are, but we thought it looked pretty good. We even found a graphic for the cover and will try to incorporate a photo on the back. Now I am consulting with him as he shapes up a formal proposal and seeks funding and a permanent location.

Kabutu, too, wanted me to see the community and meet with some of the leaders and participants in his project. Mulenga Compound is far off the main highway, down dirt roads that twist and turn, full of bumps and ruts. We got out at a clearing next to the tiny donated one-room office of Heart of Care. It was filled with elders, sitting on benches and the dirt floor. They decided it was more pleasant outside under the trees, so we held our meeting there. About a dozen or more elderly women and one old man were in attendance, along with a half-dozen community leaders. One woman was blind, another showed me the support bandages around her knees to help keep her steady, the man used a walking stick, and others showed evidence of various mild disabilities. The program was to hear a bit about the plans and activities of Heart of Care, and for me to offer some words of encouragement. They wanted me to know that many of the elderly were helping raise orphans. Some lacked food security, most had health problems, shelter was inadequate, and they needed to find ways to earn a little money to care for themselves or their families. I commended their resilience and commitment and their spirit of unity in working together for self-help. I was thinking about the many needs this group represented and the few resources they could easily access. In a place of deep poverty, the elderly and children suffer most.

The church and the wider community group Kabutu is working with in Mulenga Compound have also established Tiyezye Community School. They meet in a building with brick walls and a cement floor, and openings where doors and windows will someday be installed. It needs a roof before rainy season. It also needs desks and benches. Children in one classroom are squatting or sitting on bricks, one per child, arranged in rows. The teachers are volunteers; most of them are still in training and combine their teaching with attending classes at the local education college. I think community schools could be considered a movement, since they spring up in compounds and shanty towns all around the urban areas, providing the free primary school education that the government should be guaranteeing to all children. Without them, thousands of children, mostly orphans and desperately poor, would be growing up illiterate.

One of the students still in the program, Enala, wants to establish an orphanage after she graduates. I have asked Kathe Padilla to share her experience creating Chishawasha Children's Home with the student. I won't be here to see her progress, but I am trying to help her as much as possible now so that she can work effectively in the future.

My title for this blog is the blessings and burdens of being a teacher. One of the joys of teaching is to see students creating programs based on what they have learned. The student or graduate is doing the work, but you helped him or her develop the knowledge and skill needed to establish the project or organization. That's the blessing part. The burden is struggling to help them find resources in these difficult economic times. It is hard to visit the compounds and see the deprivation and desperation these programs are trying to alleviate. But I feel honored that my students want me to see what they are doing with their education. I am proud of how they are trying to make a difference. It may be small, as they are starting from scratch, and it may be fragile, nourished by hope and prayer. But they are patient, persistent, and passionate, and those qualities will carry them far.

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