Stories from Zambia
Recently, Sara Blumenshine returned from spending six months with Spark’s partner in Zambia. Sara had visited Hope Ministries before through a Spark Ventures Partnership Trip with North Park University, and she returned as a Global Intern to work directly with the children and serve in the classrooms of Hope School. From her first day, she was touched by the incredible Zambian hospitality: “the instant you get there you become family.”
Recalling her favorite day of teaching, Sara describes a particular afternoon when the seventh grade classes were all busy with testing, using a number of the classrooms in the school. Her sixth grade class was moved outside, where she held a reading lesson under a tree. It was a gorgeous afternoon and as the school day drew to a close and the other students funneled out into the schoolyard to play, she gave her students three options: “They could stay and listen to me read, they could take a nap here in the shade of the tree, or they could go run and play. Not one kid left their seat.” Sara was stunned and impressed at her student’s desire to learn. Throughout her six months in Zambia, they constantly impressed her with their enthusiasm.
The incredible and immediate respect Sara received from her students was different from any classroom she has experienced in Chicago, but Sara says there are still some universal truths in classrooms no matter where you are: “they’re still sixth graders, so the boys are still chasing the girls.” She also became very fond of George, one of her students who had endless questions for her. One day, he began doing an “I’ll be back” Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. It took Sara a fair amount of time to have any idea what he was referencing, but once she figured it out, George wanted to know if she had ever met the California governor. She’s not sure how he learned about Schwarzenegger, or how he knew that he was a governor, but she found herself smiling as she explained to George that no, she hadn’t met him though she had seen him in movies.
In addition to the students she taught directly, Sara left a lasting impact at Hope School with an afterschool reading program she and her fellow Global Intern, Stacey Ernvall, helped implement. The original intent of the reading program was to focus on remedial reading, but many more of the children from the school attended their afterschool classes. She and Stacey focused their efforts on teaching phonics skills as they found that, while many of the children could recite the alphabet perfectly, they still had trouble identifying the sound a specific letter makes – a critical skill if you are working to sound out the letters in a word. Consistent with Spark’s mission of strengthening the organization as well as serving individual children, before Sara and Stacey left they worked with the teachers at Hope School to teach them the basics of the curriculum they had created, so the afterschool reading program can benefit many more children in the future.
Sara will never forget her time at Hope School. “It was just amazing. You go there, expecting to teach them and give them your input, but you go there and you just become so taught by them.”
George, we’re betting someday she’ll be back.