By Alia Hammerstone
Returning from our two week trip to Zambia, I had a little over a day to reflect, recuperate, and reenergize prior to beginning the school year here in the States. However, not a day goes by where I don’t take a moment to reminisce about my travels. Through my conversations with friends, family, and colleagues I am often asked what my takeaways were from my time in Zambia. While I am sure that this list of takeaways will continue to morph and change as the days go on, here are some of the main lessons I learned-
- The importance of building a classroom community.
What struck me most about each classroom I was warmly welcomed into was the sense of belonging and community. So much of what makes a successful classroom is the ability of an educator to connect with students, and the ability for students to have ownership of their learning, their classroom, and their community. This is a lesson I re-learned abroad, and something I have made a conscious effort to address at home. While the amount of content and curriculum grows each year, so do the needs of our students. So periodically, I ask myself, “what’s more important?” And then I give myself permission to slow down and focus on what is always more important- the students.
- Taking time each day to enjoy the moment.
There were so many of these “moments” in Zambia; the morning walk to school, the songs which began each day, afternoons on the porch sipping coffee, and evenings spent reminiscing and journaling. Here in the States, things move more quickly- and without consciously slowing down and living in the moment, I am apt to miss out. I try to take time to spend intentionally- truly being present in the moment. From savoring a dinner (sans conversation at times- very Zambian!) to putting school work to the side and enjoying an evening with family, I am more intentional with my time.
- Being thankful, for everything.
In Zambia, nearly 77% live “extreme poverty”, earning less than $1.25 a day. Despite lacking crucial resources, the people in Zambia consistently demonstrate appreciation for everything. I was struck by how many times people would mention being thankful, and reflect on the idea that it could always be worse. Back in the states, there are moments when I feel frustrated. My iPhone broke. We were without air conditioning at school for a day. I forgot my coffee on the kitchen counter. When I have these moments, I am more quick to reflect on the privileges I do possess. I have so many things to be thankful for and having spent time in a culture of gratitude, I am more apt to adopt a mentality of appreciation over one of frustration.
- Spending time with loved ones.
This one seems rather self-explanatory, and something I have always done “well”. Now, however, I spend my time with a renewed purpose- I know that time is fleeting and these moments with loved ones ought to be cherished. Zambians are faced with death on a near-daily basis- shortly after we left a student from the School of Hope passed away. Life has taught me that time is fleeting, and Zambia was the trip that reiterated this lesson.
- Committing to doing the work, and making a difference.
I have always known that volunteering and serving the community is my calling- it is a large part of why I chose to go into teaching, and how I ended up with A to Z. Now, more than ever, I have a renewed focus to do the work. I once heard someone rephrase, “I don’t have the time” to “It just isn’t a priority” and it has reframed how I approach so many things. What are my priorities? Serving. Making a difference. Living intentionally. And having had the opportunity to do so in Zambia only renews my focusing for continuing to work with A to Z in promoting literacy.