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Sarah Grant: working in Zambia

Sarah Grant from Maine, graduated in biology and after having worked for an NGO in Portland, Oregon, decided to join the Peace Corps in Zambia.

I travelled to Zambia in 2005 and was assigned to a village in the Eastern Province, working mostly with subsistence farmers and encouraging individuals and groups to invest in conservation farming methods. I then heard of an opportunity in the North Province where FAO was opening a new Junior Farmer and Field Life School (JFFLS) and was looking for a Peace Corps volunteer to live in the village area and assist with the starting up the project. I had had several conversations with the FAO country coordinator and was impressed with both their work and vision of the JFFLS. In 2007 I moved to Kananda village to begin my new job with FAO.

The JFFLS is a community-based programme meant to assist groups of teenagers who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS or are otherwise considered vulnerable. The students meet twice a week with a team of local volunteer facilitators including village leaders and district professionals working with agriculture, community, social services and education. Together with the pupils, facilitators work to transfer knowledge about agricultural practices and life skills such as animal husbandry, fish farming, conservation farming, natural pest management, bee keeping, HIV/AIDS, relationship skills, decision making skills and group work. All lessons are practical and students learn by doing, so they look after the bees, gardens, chickens and fields. The aim is to instil a sense of purpose and confidence in those vulnerable children and transmit the social and practical skills needed to become productive and healthy leaders in their communities. In Kananda, we have an excellent, dedicated group of community-based facilitators bringing their knowledge and expertise to the programme. My role this first year is to serve as a coordinator at the ground level, and assist in communication, organization, scheduling. I also occasionally work with the pupils as a social animator and leading games which is great fun.

Community life at the missions

The local community has accepted me whole-heartedly. From the day I moved into my hut, neighbours and villagers have gone above and beyond to make me feel welcome and help me to get to know the area. Children who know that I have lived in an area of the country speaking Nyanja (as opposed the Bemba, the local language up here), greet me in my old language, even though they can only say “Hello.” I am constantly moved by people who are living in absolute poverty and yet are willing to share all they have with a guest. The generosity of the community is humbling.

I live in a village in a small, three-room mud brick house with a grass thatched roof built for me by the community before my arrival. The floor is cemented and I painted the walls with coloured oils to brighten it up a bit. Meals that need to be cooked are prepared over charcoal and at night I get by with candles and a headlamp. The nearest town with a grocery store and internet is 30km away and takes me an hour and a half by bike, which isn’t bad compared to other Peace Corps volunteers. We see each other every few weeks by visiting each other’s villages or gathering in town for a few days.

My Daily Routine

I wake at sunrise and go jogging much to the locals’ amusement. On the days that we meet as a school, facilitators and pupils arrive around 8 am and we have lessons and activities until around noon, when pupils are given a lunch of local staples provided by the school as an incentive for attendance. Afternoons are spent reading, writing letters, listening to music and domestic chores such as walking to the market (5km away), washing clothes, cooking etc. On the days I do not have the school I work on preparing materials and meeting with those other facilitators involved to discuss select issues and move along with our chosen actions.

Lessons Learnt

I have learned a lot from my time here in Zambia, both about myself and about the way that the world operates. I find so much fulfilment in my life and work because I am able to see with my own eyes the small differences made by the school’s efforts. Stories of far away tragedy and poverty always invoke sympathy from those abroad, but it hits so much closer to home when I have faces and names and friendships to attach to those situations.

The Highlights

I love Zambia. It is a peaceful country and the people are incredibly generous. The weather is quite extreme, but the seasonal mangos, papayas and various other fruits available are enough to make up for it. Zambia has many beautiful and breathtaking natural landmarks such as the Victoria Falls and is home to a breadth of wildlife formerly known to me only from the National Geographic channel.

Work wise, the moments that have been the most fulfilling have been when I felt that I wasn’t needed, and things proceeded according to plan in my absence. I know it sounds odd to state that the best times are those when you feel that are not indispensable, but when the local facilitators manage to lead without my assistance that is the best for me, because it means that there is a good chance this programme will stand on its own once I leave.






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