Lasting Impressions

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.

A Favorite Author…Robert Michael Pyle

By Betty Trummel


I love knowing more about authors of the books I read…their background, where they get their ideas for books, how they approach the writing process, and just discovering the personality of an author.

Throughout my years as an educator, I’ve had opportunities to meet quite a few authors… school assemblies, at National Geographic “Live” lectures, teacher workshops or conventions, and even randomly in bookshops.


Any book takes on a whole new meaning when you can hear the author read their own words aloud.  I love hearing an author’s unique interpretation and expression…the inflection of their voice, and what is chosen to share in a reading.

Today was a wonderful opportunity to listen to author Robert “Bob” Michael Pyle read from his first fiction novel, “Magdalena Mountain.” Let me explain that this is not the first book written by Bob, in fact twenty-one nonfiction books have come before this one, but Magdalena Mountain is the first fiction novel Bob has ever published and it’s taken 44 years to  bring this project to fruition.


He began writing Magdalena Mountain while a grad student at Yale, and much of the novel was written and revised right here on the balcony of the Meeker Park Lodge! In fact, Bob calls Mount Meeker “Magdalena Mountain,” after the Magdalena alpine butterfly found on the talus slopes of the mountain, and it’s where this novel gets its name.


It’s inspirational to know that Bob never gave up on telling this story. Many drafts and revisions took place as Magdalena Mountain wound its way to being published. This is a good reminder to all writers out there…never give up!


It was an absolute delight to be in Bob’s company, and even more so because we’ve been friends for about 30 years! His amazing skills as a naturalist and writer have long had a profound impact on me as an educator, naturalist, and writer. His vivid details about the natural world inspire and entertain readers of all ages. I’ve often quoted Bob when leading nature rambles, and as always I’m proud to call this incredible man my friend.


What author would you most like to meet? Is it someone in the past or a person still with us? Actually, authors are always with us because they leave their mark with words…an indelible impression in our minds and hearts. Enjoy whatever book you’re currently reading…as for me, I’ve got a new one to read…


A Month Onward…

By Betty Trummel

Exactly one month ago, the A to Z Literacy team left Zambia and headed for home.  I felt this was my best experience yet in Zambia with A to Z, for a variety of reasons.  Reflecting back on my experiences, here are some key moments/points:

I met so many new inspirational people of all ages.  I felt like I had more time to develop deeper connections with the teachers, our older students, and other members of the local community.  One young man, Perrykent Nkole, truly wowed me with his articulate and gentle voice, and his recently published book…Birds of Different Feathers.


The Zonal Inset at the School of Hope in the rural region north of Lusaka was another fantastic learning experience for everyone involved.  Hearing what teachers in Zambia had to tell about their challenging teaching situations; and witnessing their enthusiasm for education despite these challenges, was highly motivational.  There were opportunities to share great lessons as well as learn from our Zambian partners.


One of the most memorable highlights for me, was working on writing with students and teachers at Shine Zambia Reading Academy.  Our “community walks” through the compounds surrounding Shine Zambia and the conversations that took place before, during and after these walks were key drivers in helping the students tell their story, resulting in the first personal narratives these children had ever written.  I’ve gathered two snippets of writing to share with you.  These children are learning to tell their own story through pictures and words.  I was so proud of the level 2 students at Shine!


“My name is Blessing.  I am ten years old.  I live with my mother’s sister.  I have two brothers and four sisters.  I eat good food.  In the morning I eat bread and drink tea.  In the afternoons I eat nshima and fish but sometimes we eat rice, and I drink clean water.  If we want to fetch water we fetch it from the tap.  But if we want to buy charcoal we buy it from the market.  If we want to buy mealie meal and eggs we buy them from the shops. 

 This community is very dirty because people throw them (trash) everywhere.  They think that when cholera comes and when rain rains that cholera will not kill them, it will just pass and go to their neighbors.”


(Students were using the photos they took on our community walks to give them ideas for their writing.  This has been a great way to get the students started on telling their own story.)

“Hi, my name is Faith.” I live in Kalikiliki. I am twelve years old. I like our community.  We help each other with fetching water, with working and cooking.  We buy vegetables at the market, sometimes at the shops.  We like eating together and I live with my mother.  We buy mealie meal at the shops and we sometimes work together to make money. We wash clothes together.”

Black Panther

By Alia Hammerstone

What, you might be asking yourself, does the phenomenally successful superhero movie Black Panther have to do with literacy? Well… maybe not much in terms of getting books into the hands of impoverished children across the world. But more than you might guess in terms of the importance of representation for these children across the world, in both films and in literature.

As I walked down the aisle on the plane to stretch my legs mid-flight, I noticed something- dozens of children on the plane were avidly fixed to the same film: Black Panther. Even the Nigerian doctor I sat next to was engrossed in the film. I had seen the movie, and from the perspective of a social science teacher, loved the plot- a society untouched by colonization having cultivated a powerful natural resource.

Traveling to Zambia, I gained a new perspective and appreciation for the film. The film represented an African superhero- instead of providing children with a window to look through at characters who often didn’t look like or sound like themselves, the characters in this film provided children with a mirror to see themselves in.

Speaking to a young author, Perrykent Nkole, I was struck yet again by how important the film is. He spoke of growing up and seeing the only character to look and speak like him in Shaka Zulu- a villain. Black Panther, he said, gave him and millions of others a character to see themselves in- a superhero. He related this film to his own writing, stressing the importance of having stories about Africa told by Africans- and stressed the importance of representation in not only film but in literature as well.

Thinking about my own work as an educator and a volunteer, I am moved again by the belief that it is imperative for our students, both at home and abroad, to be represented and reflected in the books that they read. More diverse characters are needed, and more diverse authors need to be promoted. We owe our students both the opportunity to step outside of themselves and open up new worlds through literature; but we also, above all else, owe our students the ability to see themselves in the books they read. Reading, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop writes, is a “means of self-affirmation”.

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop


Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Teaching in Zambia

By Mal Keenan

1. Building community. All students gather together in grade level groups for morning meetings to start the day off right and set the tone for learning.img_8083

2. Caring for the environment. Whether its watering plants around the school or sweeping classroom floors, students take pride and ownership of their learning space.


3. Walking to school. There’s something about traveling down a dirt road on foot that creates space to take a few breaths and prepare for the day ahead.


4. Attending to needs. Girls and boys overcome hardships every day and the teachers are responsive to children’s academic and social/emotional needs.

5. Building capacity. Teachers are curious and want to generate new ideas together to best meet the needs of their students.

The Science of Happiness, An Experiment in Gratitude

By Alia Hammerstone

While I sit and reflect on my time in Zambia, what I am struck most by is a deep sense of gratitude for the entire experience. There are countless things to be thankful for- the people, schools, sights and sounds, smells and emotions. So this is my own experiment in gratitude.

Thank you, Zambia.

Thank you for the warm welcome from the moment we stepped off of the plane. From your warm hellos, accompanied by a hearty handshake, to your thoughtful goodbyes, I am so appreciative to have been hosted with such hospitality. You made my stay feel like a home away from home. I loved the way you invited us into your homes, classrooms, and lives with a humbling hospitality.

Alia blog post pic 1

Thank you for the inspirational teachers- those that work hard to better the lives of their students with little more than a passion for education and an inspiring amount of creativity. I so loved sitting in your classrooms, watching students excitedly engage in the lessons that included more than just content; they included life lessons that will help your developing nation continue to grow and improve the lives of Zambians.

alia blog image2

Thank you for the sights and sounds. Every. Single. Day. From waking up to the chorus of roosters, chickens, turkey and Guinea hens, to the days at school spent enjoying the laughter and constant songs of your students, I loved the perpetual melody of your nation. Waking up to the gorgeous sunrises over the bush and sitting on the porch while the sunset in fiery hues of pinks and oranges, the views were as breathtaking as the sounds.


Thank you for the meals- and not just for the delicious nshima and soya chunks- but for the sense of community and togetherness they provided. From sitting and reflecting mid-day at school, watching students congregate and discuss their lives, to the daily dinners at the Schwartz’s home full of reflection and conversation, I enjoyed the camaraderie that each meal brought.

And most of all, thank you for the lessons you have taught me. It is not, in fact, what we have that makes us who we are. It is, rather, how we use what we have that makes us the phenomenally unique individuals that we all are. Someone told me that while the currency of Zambia may be kwacha, the currency of the Zambian people are relationships.

To quote the gentleman on the tarmac of Kenneth Kaunda International Airport just before departure, “I’ll see you when you see me next.”


A Little Free Library and More!

By Betty Trummel

4EFDC65D-0988-4443-8CE5-E452A9FEBEC4.jpegI’m back home now on Cape Cod in Massachusetts but the pull and impact of our work in Zambia is still strong, and the people we just left behind are on my mind.

I went to the beach yesterday and as always, stopped at our local “little free library” and looked for a book to read. As I straightened up the books and browsed the current collection, my mind drifted immediately to Zambia.

In so many places in the world, people cannot just walk up to a library and borrow a book. Whether it’s a little free library or a public library, bookstore or online purchase, so many children and adults do not have access to books.


I’m enormously proud of the efforts of A to Z Literacy Movement. We provide books locally for at-risk children and students with special needs, and we send four separate shipments of books (each shipment contains 6 boxes of books) to impoverished communities/schools. We hold book drives, take donations of books, and use monetary donations to achieve our goal of shipping books.


We help create libraries where none have existed before.


We send possibilities to communities of learners…young and old alike.

EF03303D-ED40-4608-BA18-EE5EEF2FDF47.jpegWe build partnerships in literacy and learning.

To help us reach our goals, visit our home page at and explore ways you can help us make a difference.

I never take for granted the great privilege I’ve had to surround myself, my family, and students in my class with BOOKS! The gift of books is the gift of hope.