Day Four at Hope Community School – January 26, 2017

Student Home Visits, Final Centers with Preschool and Goodbye Ceremony

Our day began with visiting the home of a Hope Community School student. We broke up into small groups and we walked through the neighborhood of Twapia. Red soil streets, some fences pieced together with found wood remnants would keep in the crops growing in the front yard, while their neighbors land would be surrounded by cement walls with broken glass pieces pushed into the cement on top. Some homes had a tarp and branches for a roof, others had corrugated tin. We arrived at Ivory’s home, accompanied by Teacher Judy, who was able to translate as we were greeted by Ivory’s mother, two sisters, older brother, and nephews. Their father was out working, he repairs shoes in the neighborhood. The walls of their home were created by hand. It’s common in this neighborhood for families to begin by packing the soil pulled from deep in the earth by termites in to molds, and let them dry for several months. The large red bricks are the same on the inside of the home as they are on the outside, a curtain hangs in the door frame. We are welcomed into their sitting room, where a small love seat, two chairs and curtains define the small room, and a low table sit in the middle. A book shelf sits beside the open doorway, holds small trinkets, a little stuffed dog, some hand made plastic flowers, a book. I look up: they have a tin roof, I look through the doorway, food is cooking outside on a small burner. I know this home is the exception not the rule, Ivory’s family is able to make ends meet. We talk, through Teacher Judy, about what our life is like at home, asking Ivory’s mother about her children, her grandchildren, how they feed 10 people everyday. The family works together on their land to farm a small portion of corn, they have a beautiful, fruitful avocado tree, an apple tree and chickens. They are able to sell, trade or eat what they can, and when they are in need, additional funds come from the father’s work fixing shoes for their nearby neighbors. We ooo and ahhh over the avocado tree as we walk out into the yard with the whole family. I turn around, and one of Ivory’s older sister’s emerges from their home with an arm full of fleece blankets, my heart jumped… a newborn baby had been peacefully sleeping on the other side of the curtain while we spoke just moments earlier. The sight of a three week old is universal, we are all captivated. It’s time for us to say good bye, and we walk back to school. Many children, most children, at Hope have far less, live much farther away, and have to do far more to get by. Our student home visit is far different from the other groups, who left feeling desperate to help, at a loss, or unable to connect. It was by far the closest I’ve ever been in my life to poverty, however I still felt sheltered by the positive nature of the experience; knowing it could have been far more heartbreaking.

We returned to school through the back gate. We were followed by many village children, children who held our hands and chased us through the neighborhood with bare feet and shining smiles. They came through the gates with us, totally fearless. We walked up to the preschool classroom, and the sight through the open window was one of my core memories from the trip: the children were so naturally immersed in centers time, with the materials we provided the days before, totally engaged and engrossed in play. We looked at each other and our hearts felt such a win. We saw in action what we know to be true: Children learn through play, a child’s work is play, and play is the avenue to curiosity, discovery and creativity. We dove into more incredible, creative centers, making bracelets with the children with foam beads, they used such focus and care to create. We did a painting center with primary color mixing and saw some of the most thoughtful, beautiful color mixing from children who had never painted before. The walkway leading into the classroom was covered with countless paintings, waiting to dry and go home with eager artists. The day ended triumphantly, in hysterical laughter, after having the most incredible parachute play / gross motor experience ever lead by Miss Alyson.

Play. Fun. Joy. Excitement for school. It was so alive in that little room in Zambia, just as alive as it is at home in Lincoln Park. We did what we had set out to do.