A Warm Hotchkiss Thank You to KF - August 2008, New York

In July 2008, a group of 11 students and 2 teachers from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut visited the KF program in Lusaka for two weeks of volunteer work with KF partner schools, students, and community service. The students and teachers taught classes at the KF partner schools, tutored individual students, and personally experienced the operations of the KF scholarship program. Additionally, the Hotchkiss group led a community service project with KF students as well as other Zambian secondary students, in which they collectively painted several classrooms at a large government primary school. The letter below was written by Alexa Zeitz, currently a senior at Hotchkiss, and one of the Hotchkiss students who traveled to Zambia.

To all the KF staff, let us begin by saying thank you for your dedication, creativity and continuous helpfulness throughout our trip. Your ingenuity and commitment made the visit successful in so many respects.

We came to Zambia with the intention of seeing firsthand the work of the young man whose inspiring words had thrilled us so many months before. Excited by the idea Oliver Barry presented of enabling education for Zambian students who would otherwise not have the opportunity, we not only fundraised throughout the school year, but also planned a visit.

We were enthralled by what we discovered on our trip and our commitment to KF has been strengthened and invigorated by the lessons we learned.

Our two weeks of volunteer work and discovery were split between the three partner schools of KF – Chalo Trust School, Leopard’s Hill School and Ibex Hill School – and the Basic Schools that many KF scholars had attended prior to receiving a scholarship.

We lived in the hostels of the Chalo Trust School throughout our stay in Lusaka, and could not have asked for a more gracious, genuine and polite welcome. From the first all-school assembly where we were introduced by our kind hosts Mr. and Mrs. Chileshe to the farewell meeting when the Chalo Trust choir sang “Lean on Me” in the dark during a power outage, the Hotchkiss group felt welcomed and included.

Living in the hostels in complete cultural immersion was a once in a lifetime experience which provided unusual insights. We were surprised to find that the Zambian students awoke at four in the morning to shower and study, while we were still having difficulty waking. Coming from a secular school and being a group consisting of great religious diversity, we were impressed by the frequency of and commitment to prayer at our host schools. We learned traditional Zambian dancing from our newfound friends, and were shocked at the skill and talent of almost every student. Never have I been in a place where there was quite as much dancing. In return, a few Hotchkiss students taught swing dancing and waltzing to eager Zambian friends.

A great highlight of living at the schools were the meals in the dining hall, or “DH” as we soon learned it was called, which provided many opportunities for cultural exchange. We learned how to eat “nshima” with our hands, told our newfound friends of the foods we ate in America and enjoyed copious amounts of well-sweetened tea as we discovered similarities and differences in our lives.

Much of our time at the three KF partner schools was spent teaching workshops and sitting in on classes. The classes we observed were different from those we were used to back home and gave us a window into Zambian education. We were impressed by the students’ abilities of memorization, especially when they were often sharing a text book amongst several students. The workshops that we taught ranged from a cultural discussion to a science lesson on the biology of HIV/AIDS. We were flattered by the attention and respect we received from the Zambian students who treated us, their peers, as teachers worthy of attention.

Memorable classes include a public speaking workshop in which students who felt they were too shy to speak in front of the class were asked to stand and read a paragraph about themselves and given assistance until their voices could be heard loud and clear. A workshop on interview skills and resumes drew interactive responses from the class who engaged with the demonstration of good, bad and awful interview skills by Hotchkiss students.

Inevitably all the classes became cultural exchanges as Zambian students rapped and explained local foods and tribal politics while a Hotchkiss student danced ballet and others spoke of their summer jobs, families and schools and explained that America was not always the way one sees it in the movies. These classes were useful to both sides, broadening the horizons of students who may never have encountered someone who lived so differently from them.

Furthermore, Hotchkiss students hoped that they could impart some knowledge to their Zambian hosts, and the thanks we received certainly indicated as much. A sports day hosted by Ibex Hill, and a cultural event hosted by Leopard’s Hill and attended by each of the three schools gave a conclusion to this cultural exchange. This cultural ceremony gave us a chance to sample local delicacies and showcased the talents of theatre, song and dance of each of the three schools.

Many of our afternoons were dedicated to painting the Kaunda Square and Ngwelele Basic Schools. Together with the Ibex Hill and basic school students, Hotchkiss students rolled up their sleeves and painted the school in vibrant colors. Working side by side with the students of these basic schools we were able to appreciate their dedication to their school and their studies. This small gesture of kindness on our part was received with such gracious gratitude by both students and teachers at each school. Particularly memorable was the ceremony held at Ngwelele Basic School where the students assembled to thank us in dance and song. We were honored to be so thanked for work that we did gladly.

KF had been the reason for our journey, and for many Hotchkiss students the most emotional part of our activities was the day of visits to the families of KF scholars. We were inspired by the tales of incredible resilience and perseverance. We had gotten to know many of these students quite well and were honored to meet their families. As believers in the good that KF can do in the lives of the scholarship recipients, it was uplifting to see the gratitude of the families behind the scholars. The love and support in spite of hardships was awe-inspiring. Many of us Hotchkiss students remarked to each other how impressed and touched we were by the sacrifices that many parents had made for their sons or daughters.

Such a story is the one of Juliet, the mother of Elijah who is a student at Chalo Trust School. Juliet runs a small farm on rented land about an hour outside of Lusaka. Every day Juliet carries live chickens on her head to market, so that she may continue to support her two sons. As she showed us around her humble but thriving plots she told us: “I am fighting for my sons”. It was important for Hotchkiss students to see the human impact of KF’s work.

In the process of fundraising for KF, Hotchkiss became committed to sponsoring one KF scholar for the duration of their schooling. It so happens that the student whose education Hotchkiss is financing is Merylin at Chalo Trust school.

Merylin became a quick group favorite after she proved to be open, kind and unabashedly excited to get to know us. All the more meaningful was fact that Merylin had been so eager and friendly about our visit without even knowing that we were her sponsors. In a tearful conversation near the end of our visit, a few Hotchkiss students revealed to Merilyn that we were supporting her education. We assured her that we were glad to help out, and that we would continue to remain friends. Merylin’s simple thanks made those months of fundraising worthwhile and we hope to remain in touch with her.

This trip gave us an unprecedented perspective on our own lives and the work of the Kucetekela Foundation. You have found in us a group committed to the work of KF, and these two weeks only strengthened our resolve to remain convinced and inspired partners of your work and for future generations of Hotchkiss students to continue that relationship.

On behalf of the Hotchkiss delegation to Zambia of 2008
Alexandra Zeitz