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College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2010 > Lee Works with Missionaries to Help Build Zambia’s Infrastructure through Education

Lee Works with Missionaries to Help Build Zambia’s Infrastructure through Education

Article about David Lee's humanitarian work in Zambia

Teacher_Training.jpgby Joe Savrock (July 2010)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - David Lee is pleased and willing to have an opportunity to share his educational expertise with those who need it the most: new teachers in Zambia.

Lee, associate professor of special education, has visited the poverty-stricken nation of Zambia twice in the past three years to offer weeklong seminars to train teachers how to be better instructors. “Education is the first step to rebuilding the country,” Lee believes. “If the educational system can be brought back, then there is hope that Zambia will rebound in other areas.”

Lee’s experience in teacher training and research on instructional strategies has provided a foundation for his humanitarian work. Other special education faculty members have generously shared books and materials with the teachers. “Getting through the airports can be a little crazy with all of the extra luggage, “ Lee comments. “All materials need to be carried in.”

Lee has visited Zambia in both 2008 and 2009 with a group from State College Christian Church. He plans to make a third visit next spring.

Located in sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia is at an economic low point—the country’s unemployment rate is near 50 percent. Worse, because of a sweeping HIV/AIDS epidemic during the past several decades, one out of every six Zambian adults today is living with the virus. Some 600,000 of the country’s children, or 20 percent, are AIDS orphans.

AIDS has killed large chunks of the workforce in essential utilities and industries, adversely affecting the country’s infrastructure. For example, an understaffed force of electrical specialists is trying, with limited success, to keep up with the numerous power outages that frequently disrupt the country’s electric grid. Just having adequate lighting in schools is seen as a luxury.

First_group_trainees.jpgThe AIDS virus has undercut the country’s education system as well, claiming the lives of a large percentage of teachers and leaving many of Zambia’s schools severely shorthanded. Lee notes that, literally, “a whole generation of teachers has been wiped out.”

What’s more, the student dropout rate is high. Most families can’t afford to pay the tuition fees to attend the public schools. Fortunately, there are some private schools, backed by humanitarian organizations, that generally charge no tuition fees, giving children an affordable opportunity to complete their education.

State College Christian Church opened Haven of Hope School in the Nkwazi Compound in the copper-belt town of Ndola. The compound is a refuge for the poorest of local families. Unemployment within the compound stands at 75 percent.

The first school opened in 2007 and quickly filled to capacity. The goal is to open four more schools over the next several years. Students at the school receive two meals each day and health care, in addition to their education.

Lee’s role is to train teachers to work at Haven of Hope and similar schools that are located in the compounds. He notes that some of the basics of instruction are similar between teachers in Zambia and those in the U.S.

“The key is to use effective teaching practices,” he says. “The teachers there, as well as here, must focus on the things they can change. It is very easy to throw up your hands and say that a child can’t learn for a variety or reasons. Teachers in Zambia can’t immediately change the country’s overriding societal issues, such as the increasing number of orphans, poverty, and health issues. But they can change what goes on in their classroom during the day. The kids must be inspired to learn so they can be prepared to improve the situation in their country. They won’t learn unless you teach effectively.”

Lee adds, “These teachers are hungry for new knowledge. There’s just no infrastructure to support their learning efforts. They’re very, very appreciative of our time and support.”

John Banda, the head master of Haven of Hope, has made several reciprocal visits to State College. He has spoken to students at local elementary schools and held question-and-answer sessions with them. “He usually starts the presentations by dispelling myths about living in Zambia,” says Lee. “Lions and giraffes are generally not found roaming the streets of Ndola! The kids hear about how the children of Zambia like to play and spend time with their friends, just like the children in State College. The students benefit from these exchanges by hearing first hand how others live.”

Lee described a recent visit to Ndola by another team from State College. “Several of the volunteers visited the home of two children--Justin and Isaac--that our family happens to sponsor at the school,” says Lee. “The team members told us that a picture of our family was framed and hanging on the wall in this small home in the Nkwazi compound. Justin and Isaac went on to tell the visitors the names of my children as they pointed them out in the photo. Such instances help you realize the importance of establishing relationships. That little extra time you spend may change a life forever.”

Lee is looking forward to returning to Zambia next spring. “It sometimes feels as though we are pushing uphill with the entire project,” he comments. “Changes come slowly. However, we have a very committed team that brings a variety of talents to the table.”