Finding God Each Day in Zambia

Student with children in Zambia

April 01, 2010
Students teach – and learn – many things in GU’s Zambia programs.
They teach Power Point – and learn the power of Africa.
They teach literacy skills – and learn about giving. They teach hop-scotch – and learn to become more truly human.

Photos by Josh Armstrong, Lauren Mills, Nolan Grady and Mark Bodamer

This summer Gonzaga students spilled into Africa, the largest classroom imaginable. Fifty-nine students, 10 faculty and staff, and a handful of Gonzaga-in-Zambia alumni spent several weeks in Zambia, the southern nation with the shape of a butterfly.

Students learned by living in community – a core Gonzaga value. They sang and danced as they moved concrete blocks. They rode an oxcart, taught English and computer skills, and gingerly crossed the longest man-made bridge in Africa.

Josh Armstrong, director of the Comprehensive Leadership Program, found his students integrating leadership skills and service learning more fully than ever. Armstrong dreams of expanding Gonzaga’s program in Zambezi.

At Chimfunshi, an unusual chimpanzee refuge, students earned biology and psychology credits and hope to publish their research. Students also learned from Mary Jeannot, director of Gonzaga’s English Language Center, who taught the women and children.

The summer also brought two firsts: a new School of Education program to teach Zambian teachers, and a reconnaissance trip by a team from Gonzaga’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Swimming in Milk

By Josh Armstrong, Director, Comprehensive Leadership Program

The Gonzaga-in-Zambezi curriculum provides an opportunity for students to develop leadership skills and immerse themselves in another culture. Students return home with a deeper understanding of culturally aware leadership, a greater sense of self-awareness, and a passion for service-learning. Essential to this learning is student involvement in community development projects. The essence of the program, however, is rooted in accompaniment: While in Zambezi, students generate opportunities to become mutually indebted to the community and to develop meaningful relationships, so that they can operate at eye-level within this community. We spend time each evening reflecting on leadership articles and making meaning from the day.

The student blog ( has been an unexpected outcome. We read each blog posting and comments at the breakfast table. It is our community mailbag. This experience, to the depth of reflection and insight that goes into the writing, and the touching response from family, friends and Zambezi alumni has become an important aspect of the program.

In my farewell speech to the Zambezi parish, I spoke about the pride we held in the projects that we sponsored this summer. But more than that, I spoke about the lessons that we learned. During his visit from Zambezi to Gonzaga in February, Father Dominic Sandu told our Gonzaga students that we were “swimming in milk.” He meant that we live with abundance and many of us weren’t seeing the responsibility that comes with that privilege. I spoke about how we had been challenged in our swimming in milk and would return to the United States to make sense of this challenge.

Growth for Gonzaga-in-Zambezi will not come with more students visiting this town each year. We are nearing the capacity of our teams at about 30 each summer – two groups of about 15 students. Instead this growth will come from deepening our relationships with the community, discovering new ventures with interdisciplinary faculty from around Gonzaga’s campus, and dreaming about longer-term connections with Zambezi. Each year brings us closer to this vision and dream.

Seeing God in Their Faces

By Mark Bodamer, associate professor, Psychology

This summer, three researchers from other institutions joined our Gonzaga team of students and faculty at Chimfunshi, providing our students extra opportunities to discuss methodology, to collect daily data and aid in preliminary analysis. This was a highly successful addition to students’ research experience.

While the daily chance to observe the chimpanzees and to learn about the amazing biological diversity of this protected ecosystem are wonderful, students usually reported in nightly reflections that the most moving piece of their experience was the opportunity to get to know the local people.

Chimfunshi staff families met students regularly for fun and games in the dambo (flood plane): soccer, tickle and chase, singing and sharing time. Here occurred the interactions that truly allowed us to see God
in the face of others.

Staff wives also braided students’ hair and this provided another opportunity to be in community with people who know very little or no English. For the first time, thanks to Associate Professor Mary Jeannot we were able to offer English classes to staff wives almost on a daily basis. Jeannot loves what she does and her style and passion is contagious for everyone in the room. Not only did the women respond, but so did GU students, who kept up the daily class after Mary left. By far, this year’s students made the greatest efforts to learn Bemba, the local language. It was uplifting to see GU students and Chimfunshi staff teaching each other. You could see the excitement – God – in the faces of everyone as they got to know each other.

To Learn to Teach, Help Others Teach

By Autumn Jones (‘10)

Six students from GU’s School of Education and two faculty helped to educate Zambian teachers this summer.  Professors at the Charles Lwanga College of Education “wanted two things from us,” said Deborah Booth, associate professor. “One, to learn how to be more Jesuit; and two, to improve their teaching. I knew we could do what they wanted.”

Raymond Reyes, Gonzaga’s associate academic vice president, provided instruction on the Ignatian mission. Booth focused on teaching methods. The Gonzaga students teamed with their Zambian peers to create a literacy tutoring program.

“I was most proud of our students,” said Booth. “There were 10 to 20 African children on our porch constantly wanting to read, play and talk with our students. They played soccer, taught all kinds of recess games, showed how to make friendship bracelets – all on their ‘free time’ when they were done teaching. They modeled the kind of teachers we want them to be and they did so at their will.” The Gonzaga group created a library with donated materials. So impressed was the national minister of education, he dedicated it as the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Resource Library.

“We planted the seeds. We went with good faith, good hearts and a desire to help,” said Booth. “And we’re excited to go back,” she said with a smile.

Slow Down

By Claire Anderson (‘12)

I was surprised by the pure graciousness within the heart of Zambia. While the American lifestyle can be fast-paced and concentrated on efficiency, the Zambian culture showed the importance of forming relationships. Their traditional welcoming consisted of bending at the knees to show respect in addition to a handshake with subsequent clapping, and it was common courtesy to ask how the other person was feeling or where they were traveling. Memories of those long greetings in the middle of sandy roads have helped me to slow down when life becomes unnecessarily hectic.

The biggest surprise was the people’s eagerness to offer gifts. I recall one of the young girls, Wendy, placing her small hand in my palm to leave a pair of flowery gold earrings, or Timas presenting an unripe guava after his little legs ran toward me. As our group traveled to villages around Zambezi, we were stunned by the food they gave us. One of the communities we visited for just 10 minutes. This village had about 15 mud huts with thatched roofs. Illiteracy rates were high among the adults, the elder was suffering from a recent stroke, and the children were beginning agricultural work instead of attending school. Despite the adverse conditions, they brought us bamboo mats so we could sit and bowls of shelled peanuts. We did not bring any resources to these people; our only form of communication was through simple phrases in their language. I learned a valuable lesson about selflessness.


By Jillian Cadwell, Assistant Professor, Engineering

After a month evaluating engineering opportunities at two long-standing Zambia sites, I can envision an engineering faculty member in either location teaching a three-credit course on water quality, supply and treatment; energy generation; or building infrastructure.

Our engineering team conducted community surveys, recorded GPS points and took water quality and solar energy measurements at each of the sites. The water quality data in particular has given us a regional snapshot of water-related issues and needs in these communities.

One day in Chimfunshi, the engineering team took water samples and measured the flow-rate in a tributary of the Kafue River. Children who had joined us (they were going to fetch drinking water directly from the stream) helped me to measure the stream cross-section and velocities. As I stepped toward the deepest area of the channel, I tripped and fell. Laughter ensued from the children.

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