I brought a group of twelve undergraduates from Colorado State University to African Impact, Livingstone, Community Education and Health, for a three-week summer education abroad experimental learning program. One of the things educators can do better is to challenge our students, which means putting them in situations where, necessarily, they will sometimes “fail”. Without uncertainty, a lack of requisite knowledge, and a commitment to accepting one’s limitations, no one can learn.
While I’m extraordinarily proud of my students’ accomplishments and successes here, what I find most compelling and moving is their willingness to fail; to try out something new each day, to be a teacher when they are still students, to pick up the pieces and re-group after a morning class that was a shambles, to grapple with the tremendous differences in English among a single cohort of students or with the striking lack of resources in a community school. It’s a real testimony to their strength, maturity, and integrity.
There’s also another dimension to my African Impact experience (besides being the only volunteer over 50). Back home in the States, I’m an English professor, used to teaching literature: how to read and scan poems, analyze the interplay of literary form and content, explore the dynamic pressures of culture upon an author’s works. Here, in Livingstone, I’m not sure who I am. (My “official” title is Community Health volunteer). One day I’m dressing an impressive wound that covers a whole foot; another day I’m learning and sharing information with Zambian teachers about the stages of HIV and the multifaceted nature of Anti-Retroviral Therapy; another day I’m back in Dambwa Community hoping to see that Teddy’s bedsores are continuing to heal or that the daughter of the elderly HIV+ Patricia is cooking for her mother again (she’s largely abandoned her); another day I’m in labour and delivery, catching a baby as it’s born, wiping him off, and recording his birth weight (3.3kg).
Each day I wake up here I’m never sure what the day will hold. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do know that I’ll be helped by a host of good people though: the dedicated community of Zambian nurses, clinic workers, caregivers, our home-based care translators, and, not least, African Impact staff with their record of commitment and the resources that make this work possible.