It’s Been a Busy Few Days in Zambia

It’s Been a Busy Few Days in Zambia

16-19 April

During day one of training I met with lay counselors I trained in 2012. Each had led a Strengthening Children group. I heard their perspectives on progress made in the groups and positive outcomes, including those who participated began to demonstrate improved school achievement. Sadly, pre/post data were not collected. I believe data collection will require the dedication of one or more individuals devoted to this task. I reviewed updates in the curriculum and we discussed how best to teach the curriculum to the community schoolteachers. Prior to this session of “train the trainers,” I relied heavily upon two lay counselors (also community schoolteachers), a male and female, I trained in April of 2013. Sadly, the male lay counselor took ill in January and passed away soon afterward. Zeddy was a friend and much loved by students and community members alike. His absence was obvious…so sad. As of this day, we now have 7 trainers total. We divided up sections of the curriculum to present during the training. Several of my trainers were nervous as we said goodbye that afternoon.

Day two began early with a ~10 Km bike ride. A professor at the college where I’m staying lent me a mountain bike made in Zambia, a Zambike. It was a true pleasure to ride early in the morning and see the sunrise. Yes, I wore a helmet.  No gloves, no chamois, no functional front derailleur and only one toe clip but still a bike and still fun.

The training began promptly at 0830 (“promptly” isn’t always the case) with singing and clapping.  The pace was slow as the trainers are new to teaching the material to adults. The schoolteachers were also hesitant to speak in the group setting. Small group discussions facilitated by the trainers worked better. We covered basic counseling skills as well as emotion recognition and understanding. The form of counseling familiar to many here is to give advice, “encourage” the client to be happy and say it will get better. One schoolteacher commented showing empathy would only “demoralize” the client. I read a transcript from a session I had with a young girl in 2011. Through the re-telling of that encounter the schoolteachers were able to experience the positive results of rapport building, expressing empathy, listening to understand, displaying sensitivity/respect to the child, offering specific praise, and building upon strengths in the child which all led to a positive outcome.  Unlike previous groups though, this group grasped quickly it is not “wrong or bad” to feel anger. Rather, the key is in how one manages his or her anger. I also taught Child Directed Play which always turns riotous. Too few adults here play with children. The training day ended after a quick debrief with my trainers.  We resolved to spend more time the next day with some large group instruction and more time in small groups.

In day two, our final day, we covered changing negative emotions (changing how and of what one is thinking and changing one’s actions), problem-solving, and telling one’s life story. I wondered a number of times if we would cover the material. We did finish, however, I believe another day of practice would have been nice. I take comfort in knowing this group is literate and teachers with some familiarity in working with a curriculum. The group was far more interactive this day and spoke with minimal prompting. The trainers each contributed well and the schoolteachers demonstrated a capacity to grasp the concepts taught. Gains were made despite room temperatures ~33 Celsius (91 F), children crying (of course one brings one’s children to the training), and numerous other interruptions. I taught relaxation (diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation) which about put the group to sleep—timing is everything as this is always a touchy thing to do during a seminar. We did this right before lunch. Speaking of lunch, we had ~4 cooks who prepared large amounts of nshima (a maize based thick/sticky staple) along with chicken, vegetables (mostly cabbage and greens), and rice. I passed on the nshima this time. The chicken is fresh. One hears them clucking in the early morning, mid-morning is quiet, and then right before lunch one begins to smell the chicken cooking. We ended the day with a celebration during which each participant received a certificate of completion and a piece of Almond Roca, “a sweet from our village.” My host, Nancy Collins, returned from Malawi and Zambia’s Eastern Province this day. It is nice to catch up with her.

Today, Friday, began with another bike ride, this time ~10 miles. Afterward a group of us visited the Paediatric Centre of Excellence at the University Teaching Hospital.  With the help of the US CDC this centre was built and includes the One Stop Centre for responding to child sexual abuse (or as they say, “defilement”). It is a comprehensive program that involves forensic interview and examination, counseling, starting the children immediately on antiretroviral therapy regardless of HIV status (this prevents development of HIV in HIV- children), and placement in a safe environment if necessary. The Centre of Excellence also has comprehensive pediatric services including a Developmental Specialist, access to psychological assessment (cognitive, neuropsychological and autism-spectrum evaluations), speech therapy, occupational therapy, and access to psychiatry. The Developmental Specialist, April, is very well spoken with near a perfect American English accent. We learned she was educated in the US. I asked where? Harvard, oh, that’s nice. The Physician/Medical Director voiced our collective opinion; how nice Zambians who are educated abroad will return to serve the children in their country.

The balance of the day has been relaxing. I was able to repair a lamp for Nancy. While typing this I received 4 young visitors, girls who wanted to pick the one remaining guava off Nancy’s guava tree. I lifted one up high so she could pluck it off. They graciously allowed me to take their “snap.”

Tomorrow Rev. Kondwani and I travel to Eastern Province. On the ~9 hour drive I hope to read through the evaluations from the training and score the lay counselors’ pre/post-test questionnaires. Our driver will be Kaunda, a fellow Machelle and I met in 2011 when he also drove us to Eastern Province.  He likes to listen to Christmas music. Too bad I removed the Christmas music from my iphone after Christmas.