We had a much more relaxed day today and I think we all appreciated that! Instead of starting at 8 or 8:30 am we left the lodge at 9:30am! So although the running group went for their run at 7am, the “walking” group unanimously decided to be the “sleep-in” group instead! 🙂
Even before the later start though, we also had a treat at breakfast. So, the “continental” breakfast at the lodge has included only toast and coffee and tea, so though we bought fruit juice for the group, today we cut the watermelon that we had bought during our grocery shopping last week, and all of us enjoyed the tasty fresh fruit at breakfast! Thanks to Jenn for the super slices! 🙂
Our morning activity was to visit the campus of the University of Zambia (UNZA) and meet with the Special Education undergraduate students who have been e-mail buddies with our students for the past two months or so. And although we had missed them at the mall yesterday, we got off the bus to see two students ready to receive us!! Turned out it was Muchanga and Peter, two of the students in the e-mail partnership! They were waiting for us and had arranged for us to meet all together in a conference room in the Special Education building. Partnered “buddies” had a great time meeting each other and we had a really nice discussion with the Zambian students asking some really thoughtful questions, including what might be done to improve audiology services in Zambia, given that the country has only one audiologist; talking about advocacy and accessibility for children with special needs and some also asking about how to apply for graduate studies at Purdue! It was really a wonderful cultural exchange between the two student groups!
Our students gave them the Purdue t-shirts we had brought for them, and a couple of them put the shirts on right away for pictures!! We then asked for a campus tour – so the group took us around their campus. We had a really nice time and took longer than expected, so it was lunch on the bus – hurriedly eating our PBJ sandwiches and chips and fruit as we drove to our afternoon activity.
Before we left we asked to use the restrooms and it led to a treat – we were taken to the girls hostel and got to see Priscillar’s room and meet her roommate. It was interesting and brought back memories for me to see an immersion water heater sitting in a plastic bucket heating water for someone’s bath!
We spent the afternoon in the “compounds” – which are densely populated, mostly low-income areas in Lusaka. Our community partner for this activity is Special Hope Network (SHN), a small non-profit dedicated to serving children with intellectual disabilities. We did get a little lost along the way, and my local cell phone ran out of talk time right when the bus driver Emmie was talking to Beth Bailey, the Chief Operating Officer of SHN! But she called right back and we found each other. SO – Eric Nelson (SHN founder) and Beth came into the bus and gave us a brief talk about SHNs goals and also had us all sign release forms. Their mission is to serve children with intellectual disabilities and provide them and their family with support and training right within their own community in the compound (since transportation is a big challenge in Lusaka).
We followed their vehicle into N’Gombe compound, and when we reached their facility we could see that it has changed since last year: the building was painted and stepping inside we saw the group of children, parents and staff members in circle time singing a song. Half our students stayed at N’Gombe with Jenn and the rest of us wen to the Garden compound with me. At Garden, we were instructed where to set-up by one of the SHN staff members, Spiwe, and told there were about 30 children to be screened, who would come in two groups.
So off we started with a routine. Two students in the screening room: one to run the test and the other to record the results. The other 4 students were outside with the children observing and participating in the ongoing activities provided by SHN staff including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, as well as nutrition (food sent home to families). We rotated students around so that they all had a turn at the screening and once again the team effort was great! And I can see the students growing in their confidence and skill before my eyes. And the undergraduate students’ level of participation in all the activities has been just superb!! We screened 27 children, ranging from moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, including hydrocephalus, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. Spiwe, the SHN staff member helping us was extremely organized and ran a really tight ship and kept us going at a steady pace!! We finished screening all the kids around 4:45 – right about when our bus arrived.
Consultation with the N’Gombe group revealed that they had screened more than 50 people including kids and all the parents/staff members because they had 2 screeners while we only had one . They also had more kids with severe disability than we did.
During our screenings we heard the group singing a fair bit and although I did not have time to observe the actual therapy activities, I could see that the entire organization and all the Zambian staff members were dedicated, organized and the whole program was so impressive to me. I was in tears as I thanked Spiwe and the other staff members for allowing us the honor and privilege of working with their organization. What dedication and emotional strength and endurance it takes to work day in and day out with these kids and their families in the compounds. It truly is a remarkable team of individuals and we are extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity. Thanks to Chisomo for setting up a meeting with them when we visited Zambia last summer, because that is what made this happen!
To the lodge by 5pm and then we went to the Arcades for dinner and ATM use for students to get kwacha. They are all excited about the weekend trip to Livingstone! Back to the lodge for our nightly ritual in the “presidential suite” – de-briefing and planning and packing lunches for tomorrow. Today’s discussion included:
- They really enjoyed the meeting with the UNZA students. They felt the students were so motivated and passionate about helping people with disabilities in Zambia
- They also felt that although they feel they have done a lot these past few days, it is not enough
- Indeed, it is just a drop in the ocean of need in Zambia
- They appreciated the disparity in the area with the fancy restaurants where we are having dinners literally being 5-10 minutes by bus from the compounds we were at today
- It was an eye-opening experience for the students to see the way of life in the compounds for the majority of Zambians (64% of Zambians are below the poverty line)
- Although they also recognized that there are worse places like slums, because the compounds are concrete permanent structures and not makeshift structures that are filthy as most slums are
- They talked about the kids at SHN – how young children had responsibilities that robbed them of their childhood (a few of the disabled kids were accompanied by an older sibling); how some of the kids were so thin; how the routines were probably helpful to the kids; how it created a support group for the families right there in the compound so they knew they were not alone in having a child with a disability
- They also talked about how impressed they were with the staff: how well organized they were; how they were excited to have us; how they had therapy materials for the kids that were so clean and appropriate, and similar to what might be used in the US like blocks, Lincoln logs etc.; how they thought SHN was an incredible organization run by people who gave up their comfortable world to come work with these kids; how they worked so well with the kids without just pitying them
- They talked about how they are getting more comfortable performing the clinical tasks
- And one most salient comment: that because of how SHN involves parents to participate in the care of their own children with disabilities and provides that in a supportive environment, that maybe gradually over time they may help change the stigma against children with disabilities in Zambia….
Tomorrow we have a fun morning planned – play rather than work….but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read that!