Secondary Education: Where are they Now?


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Author of “Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture”.

Professor of Sociology

The Zambia Knowledge Bank Libraries: Nkhanga Branch (ZANOBA) in Lundazi in the Eastern Province of rural Zambia was at the very crucial beginning of its construction in March of 2007. A few dollars had been donated by private citizens in Bridgewater in Virginia in the USA toward the construction of the library. A few men in the village had molded bricks and cleared the bush to begin the digging of the foundation. But there was a serious hitch that threatened to derail the project. There was no professional architect to draw the plans for the building. Any professional architect was going to demand an estimated  Ninety million Kwacha. The project was not going to have that kind of money in a million years as it was going to be always at the mercy of small individual community donors and volunteers.

Drawing Building Plans

As I was about to sleep agonizing over the serious problem, it suddenly hit me. I had taken a technical drawing class when I was in Form V (Grade 12) at Chizongwe Secondary School  36 years before in 1971. I could use that skill to plan and make the drawings that the builders could use when constructing the massive library. I got hold of a mathematical set box with 45 and 60 degree set squares, compass, 180 degree protractor,  a stencil, a pencil,  a ruler, and a piece of paper. Once I finished the drawings, I gave them to the foreman on the construction site. As the saying goes, the rest is history. I still cannot believe that I drew the plans of the massive sturdy beautiful building  when it was officially opened as a library with more than three thousand books on December 8, 2012. How could an untrained sociologist make effective technical drawings for a building?

The magnificent library building show that you can use even good secondary or high school knowledge to solve life problems.

The magnificent Nkhanga  library building shows that you can use even good secondary or high school knowledge to solve life problems.

The answers to this question  has to do a lot with not just education but the value of certain forms of secondary school education. All of this came to my mind when I was looking for a family  photograph in an old photo album when two secondary school photos suddenly dropped to the floor. This was very fortuitous as I stared at the old black and white photos from Chizongwe Secondary School.

Photo of the Teachers

One photo had all the 22 teachers most of whom were Europeans. There were only 3 Zambians. This was just 6 years after Zambia’s independence and the Zambian government had a massive program to produce educated citizens to fill skilled jobs. In 1964 at Independence, “Zambia had only 100 Zambians with University degrees, about 1500 Zambians with Form V or Grade 12 school certificates, and only 6,000 with junior or two years secondary education.  There was a critical shortage of manpower which could also be called a crisis for a country that had an urgent need to achieve high levels of development.” (Tembo, 2012: p. 334) The British colonialists had left practically no skilled  man power to run and develop the country. The teachers were kind and did a great job.

Ms. Janet Mvula, the Lundazi District Commissioner cuts the ribbon durinng the official opening of the Nkhanga (ZANOBA) library on December 8, 2012

Ms. Janet Mvula, the Lundazi District Commissioner cuts the ribbon durinng the official opening of the Nkhanga (ZANOBA) library on December 8, 2012

Mr. Hall was my technical drawing teacher who demonstrated how to bring to life all the lines on a piece of paper to a live building. Mr. Africa was the Headmaster. Mr. Benson introduced me to English Literature reading the classics Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” “Julius Caesar”, and “A Man of All Seasons”. I came to love reading so much that I went on to buy and read most of Charles Dickens books. I own an entire Charles Dickens collection. Mr. Sohi from India wore a turban and introduced me to basketball on the dusty school basketball yard court although I was one of the least athletic people in the world.

Mr. Ian Martin was the world history teacher whose ideas about world wars I can still apply to international wars to day. What I gained from his class was very valuable although I has a poor score of 8 in History in my Form Five G.C. E. Exam. We nicknamed him “Mr. Tinadall” after the author of the World History Textbook. Mr. Hordyk from Holland introduced me to Math that I love up to this day. He introduced and reinforced in me the spirit of volunteerism as I worked with him in Chipata Nutrition Group to fight malnutrition. Most of the teachers were from United Kingdom and Canada.

Zambian Teachers Inspirational models

The Zambian teachers were very inspirational models. Mr. Hapunda was a young dashing teacher who had just come out a teachers’ training college. He taught the Ballroom Club that travelled to St. Monica’s Seconadry school and St. Francis Nursing School to dance ballroom.

Teaching Staff at Chizongwe Secondary School in 1971. The teachers did a great job.

Teaching Staff at Chizongwe Secondary School in 1971. The teachers did a great job. Where are they now?

Mr. Chirwa taught me not only spoken but also written Nyanja or Chichewa. Knowing and mastering Chichewa or Nyanja and all Zambian languages is so important as Bantu languages may be the foundation of all human language to day. We Zambians and Africans or Bantus are origins of all human civilization going back two hundred thousand years ago even going back to the Pharaohs about three thousand years ago. Fergus Sharman supports this perspective in “Linguistic Ties between Ancient Egyptian and Bantu: Un covering Symbiotic Affinities and Relationships in Vocabulary.”

The Importance of  Students and Teachers

The photo of the Chizongwe Secondary School Magazine Editorial Board shows many close friends such as Weston Chirwa, Kennedy Ngoma, Simon Soko, Mussadique Kadodia, Dickson Shumba, Richard Kamanya. I have always regretted that I never met the late Charles Kateketa again after July 1975 when were both at University of Zambia as students.

The Editorial Board of the Chizongwe Secondary School Magazine in 1971. Where are they now?

The Editorial Board of the Chizongwe Secondary School Magazine in 1971. Where are they now?

Secondary education may be the foundation of not only education but also the future character of a student. Teachers play a crucial role in gaining the education as well as establishing one’s character and integrity. We all owe our secondary school teachers and friends great appreciation.

St. Monica’s  Secondary School Girls

One positive influence that may not seem obvious is that every young man needs to have positive relationships with girls very early in life. The positive influence that St. Monica’s Girls Secondary School had on most Chizongwe boys cannot be over emphasized. The influence was so powerful that one student wrote a very powerful poem that was published in the student magazine that year serenading the love and dedication Chizongwe Boys had for  St. Monica’s girls even in the boys’ dreams. What would be life without all these influences?  But what I keep wondering is where are all these people now that had such a big influence on my life?


Sharman, Fergus., Linguistic Ties Between Ancient Egyptian and Bantu: Uncovering Symbiotic Affinities and Relationships in Vocabulary, Boca Raton, Florida: Universal-Publishers, 2014.

Tembo, Mwizenge S., Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture,  Xlibris Corporation, 2012.

Should Zambian Languages be Taught in Schools?

January 16, 2014

Who among 13 million Zambians today will land the best job in Lusaka, Kitwe, Johannesburg in South Africa, in London in UK, Tokyo in Japan, or the United Nation in New York because they are fluent in Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, or Lozi and dozens of other Zambian languages? The answer is no one. In introducing compulsory learning of Zambians languages in schools, is  the Ministry of Education wasting time and money? Will this policy encourage and create a resurgence of separatism, disunity,  and tribalism which the founders of Zambia tried hard to eliminate?  After all, a Zambian will communicate with more people in Zambia and the global world if they concentrate on knowing to read and speak English well as the Zambian official language. These arguments have been very common since independence in 1964. This article discusses some of the advantages of learning Zambian languages that many Zambians may not have been previously aware of. Some of the major reasons and advantages of  being bilingual and multilingual are very important in today’s world in spite globalization.

Because of all the knowledge, appreciating history, personal experiences from the village in Zambia to the United States, research, reading so much information and teaching some of it for the last 30 years, I have concluded that we Zambians, from the Ministry of Education Grade One  to grade 12 to all Universities in Zambia, we are teaching the wrong or distorted history to ourselves about ourselves. Our history as Zambians started  a long time ago from two hundred thousand years ago when we were the first humans in East Africa and Ethiopia. We spread all over the world. The evidence of us having been all over the world is all over the world right now. We just need to have the courage and conviction to find it and interpret it to the world. Europeans used to and have successfully blocked this knowledge but the internet will open the flood gate.

After early humans lived and migrated in small bands and communities for thousands of years, We Zambians and Africans created the Egyptian civilization. The arguments as to whether Egypt had white or black people may be irrelevant and it is a deliberate distraction, mifulungenye (Bemba),  msokonezo(Nyanja) kutangwaniska and kujalizgha (Tumbuka), or obfuscation that Europeans cherish which they introduced to justify the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade and later European colonialism in Africa. Europeans love to inject race into everything with whites always being superior somehow. African Egyptians in the north were olive skinned and those further south towards the equator were darker skinned.

The Egyptian civilization occurred for 2,010 or more than two thousand years from 3100 B.C.E to 1090 B.C.E. This was about 760 years before the ancient Greeks. The great Ancient Egyptian Civilization which African established was 2,460 years before the very young European Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s. The 1090 B.C.E to 2013 is 3, 013 years ago. Dr. Chisanga Siame’s article opened my eyes to the fact that using linguistic analysis known as  philology, etymology, and then the morphology, phonology, semantics and syntax of language you can trace “Siame” Namwanga Zambian name to the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt three thousand years ago. Zambian languages are very important as we Africans have used the Niger-Congo Bantu languages going back thousands of years.

Introducing Zambian languages will help us understand our real wider history in the origin of human civilization as our 72 tribes are part of the earlier African civilization going back thousands of years. The deeper meanings in traditional Zambian languages  in  Bemba, Nyanja, ChiChewa, Tonga, and Lozi have buried within them our true history going back perhaps to two hundred thousand years ago.

The learning, knowledge of and deeper proficiency in Zambian languages among Zambians also improves and widens our knowledge or world view which is known as cognition in psychology. For example, among the Nyanja or ChiChewa speaking people in the Eastern Province they have more than a dozen words to describe maize, mealie-meal and nshima-related terms. Because the Lozi in the Zambezi flood plain are a fishing culture, they probably have dozens of words related to fishing and fish related food. The Tonga people have a cattle raising culture. They probably have dozens of terms that are cattle-related. English may have no equivalent terms from these Zambian languages which limits cognition. Zambian languages are not just simple words for which we should create English equivalents, but reflect a much deeper epistemology and world view which may provide an advantage in the contemporary global world. For example I argue the nshima diet among 13 million Zambians may help to reduce obesity and gaining weight which is fast becoming a health epidemic. I discuss this in this article.

Because Zambian languages are what we speak as babies and children in families, this is why they are called mother tongues. They play a special role in our lives as they reinforce and express a certain emotional intimacy among Zambian families. My speaking Tumbuka expresses my deep connection to my mother, father, siblings, and kinship. These languages reinforce very important bonds when we are children and as adults.

Finally, speaking and understanding Zambian languages creates and reinforces national unity and patriotism. There is nothing as heartwarming when as a Zambian you are away from home for many years may be living in Tokyo, London, New York or Russia. When you meet a Zambian you experience a special joy whether they speak Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda or Kaonde. Although we would communicate in English if we don’t know each other’s’ traditional languages, we often use the much more intimate town lingua franca such as town Nyanja or Bemba, Lozi, or Tonga to express our national unity and patriotism. These are some of the factors why implementing compulsory teaching of Zambian languages in schools is the best decision the Ministry of Education has made.

Zambia Center for Contemplation of Knowledge

Before gaining independence from British colonialism in 1964, an estimated 3 million Zambians belonging to 72 tribes had traditional forums in their villages in which they discussed, contemplated and exchanged knowledge about all subjects. The men contemplated knowledge at the mphala among the Easterners and Insaka among the Bemba. The women contemplated knowledge and ideas at the mtondo or pestle and mortar among the women among the Easterners. I am sure the Lozi, Tonga, Kaonde, Lunda, and the 72 tribe tribes had different indigenous traditional names for such places of intellectual contemplation.

I am proposing that we create the first “Zambia Center for Contemplation of Knowledge”. This is a physical location where Zambian men and women from all parts of the country from the 72 tribes, all races, and the globe can retreat for the sole purpose of contemplating knowledge in a safe and secluded environment for a specified period of time. The selected intellectually seasoned men and women who will be privileged to report at the  Center will have been very carefully recommended and selected for their life long devotion to both indigenous and external knowledge. Before most readers make their own assumptions of the purpose of this proposed “Center for Contemplation of Knowledge”, perhaps the best way to describe it is to explain what this Center will Not be.

The Center will NOT be a place where young men and women can stay to write Masters’ thesis and Ph. D. dissertations to gain their degrees and be a stepping stone to improve their CVs for future careers. We have 13 universities in Zambia and thousands of colleges and universities abroad where individuals who are seeking this type of training can go. This is not the place where those who want to conduct technocratic or R and D research will go because we already have universities, institutes, government institutions, and other national and international organizations where such research is being and can be conducted. This will not be a place for holding workshops because there are already thousands of hotels, lodges, and other entertainment complexes in Zambia and abroad where seminars, workshops, main stream professional conferences are and can be held. The attendees at this Center will not be sponsored by international donor agencies and NGOs as our country is saturated by donor influences the majority of whom do an excellent job in providing solutions to some of the major problems we face as a society such fighting HIV-AIDS, hunger and poverty, provision of clean water, and empowering women and girls. The place will prohibit alcohol and other possible mind-numbing activities that pass for entertainment as we already have a saturation of such establishments. Having described what it is not, what will be the purpose of this Center?

The Center will provide an opportunity for Zambian men and women to live in a beautiful and secluded quiet location for a while where they can contemplate ideas and knowledge. The retreat or place will be located away from the bright light pollution and noise of the cities. It will be best if the place overlooks a beautiful Savannah river valley or stream. The residents should be able to see both sunrises and sunsets. The residents and attendees will be asked to come with no valuable possessions. This place will be safe and peaceful with serenity and have no walls surrounding all the dwelling units. The attendees should provide evidence from themselves and perhaps others that they have spent most of their lives contemplating certain forms of knowledge to which they will devote themselves to during the period they attend the retreat at the Center. The retreat should be treated as a place for replenishing both the soul and the spirit. At the end of the retreat, the participants will be expected to produce some of the newly found ideas and knowledge for public consumption, to teach, create a community of genuine thinkers and scholars that will inspire future thinkers of Zambian men and women.

This is where serious Zambian men and women, who would be at least 45 years old, will seriously deeply reflect in a serene location all kinds of knowledge: challenges of personal life  experiences,  in history, law, oral and written literature, performing and creative  arts including dance, philosophy, religion, spirituality,  linguistics including and especially Zambian languages, in culture, economics, gender and sexuality, marriage, psychology, sociology, political and philosophical science, computer science, mathematics, statistics, food and agriculture, architecture, divinity, engineering, physics, astronomy and space, cosmology, chemistry, biology, intersection of modern and traditional medicine, and education. Some of the Western disciplines such Anthropology have been so contaminated, we should never hesitate to create  new disciplines where necessary. Merely repeating or extending epistemological theories that were developed 200 years ago with European epistemology and elsewhere may no longer be useful or give us good explanations or answers as Zambians and the world continues to change and evolve.

If you read this as a Zambian begin to think how you can make this Center a reality. My thinking is that a good location for the first Center would be NegaNega Hills overlooking the beautiful Kafue River. Another location would be the  hills overlooking  Chinyunyu Spring or Rufunsa in Lusaka Province. In the Northern Province, Shiwa Ng’andu would be perfect or on the hills overlooking the Luangwa Valley on the Mfuwe Road. In the Southern Province in the Gwembe Valley, Munyumbwe would be a good location and also anywhere on the beautiful shores of Kariba Dam.

January 15, 2014

Who would some of the inaugural candidates for the Center? We have had some scholars in

Zambia who have done some definitive work on Zambian history and knowledge. For example, Prof. Robert Serpell for more than 40 years has been using modern psychology to analyze our Zambian culture and technology, The Significance of Schooling (1993).

Dr. Mutumba Mainga Bull researched; Bulozi Under the Luyana Kings: Political Evolution and State Formation in Pre-Colonial Zambia (1973), Norah Mumba, A Song in the Night: a personal account of widowhood in Zambia (1992), Professor Mubanga Kashoki published Sirarpi Ohannessian and Mubanga E Kashoki, Language in Zambia (1978). President Kaunda has written  Riddles of Violence (1980). Vernon Mwanga, An Extra Ordinary Life (1982). Patrick Wele, Likumbi Lya Mize and other Luvale Traditional Ceremonies (1993). Dr. Yizenge Chondoka, Traditional Marriages in Zambia: A Study in Cultural History (1988), Naboth Ngulube, Some Aspects of Growing Up in Zambia (1989). These are perhaps the first Zambians who would be invited to the retreat. I am sure there are many more other Zambians. Perhaps one Zambian who impressed me about his dedication to knowledge was Mr. Sangweni who I had met 27 years ago in Lusaka. He had only a Grade 12 education and did not have any degree. But he was a self-taught phenomenal thinker.

Review: Intelligence and Schooling

The Significance of Schooling and Cross-cultural Differences in Intelligence
As modern influences penetrate all remote corners of the world, the contemporary universal view is that if you introduce formal schooling to any group of rural people, they will learn to read and write. The knowledge and skills learnt through so many years of school will enable graduates to improve their personal lives, families, and contribute to nation building by working in the modern sector of the economy in manufacturing, agriculture, and other professions. In “The Significance of Schooling: Life‑Journeys in African Society”, Robert Serpell explores the impact of schooling on a rural community in Africa. The book explores some of the most troubling issues regarding the status of schooling in a typical rural African or other Third World countries. On the basis of data from the study, Serpell argues that it is erroneous to assume that all individuals who have, for example attended seven years of formal schooling any where in the world, acquire certain amounts of quantifiable knowledge and skills that will both predispose and prepare them to perform clearly predefined useful roles and achieve specified goals  in the community. Because of reasons he explains in the book, the “Life‑Journeys” of individuals who attend formal school in rural Africa show remarkable differences in their life courses for many reasons. In many respects, what Serpell finds may have parallels to the impact of formal schooling on racial and ethnic minorities and non‑middle class communities in the American and other developed Western societies.  The findings of the study are intriguing.

In “The Significance of Schooling”, Serpell presents findings from a longitudinal study he conducted at Kondwelani School among the Chewa people  of Katete district in the Eastern Province of Zambia since 1973. The rich findings presented in the book are based on first, tracing the life experiences of a cohort of over twenty village boys and girls who attended Kondwelani School from their first grade in 1973 up to as far as they could go with formal education. Second, Serpell interviewed parents and surveyed teachers’ perspectives on the significance of schooling in the context of a rural environment.

The book has seven chapters which address such issues as “the multiple agenda of school in Zambia”, “Wanzelu ndani? A Chewa perspective on child development and intelligence”, “the formal education model of cognitive growth”, a description of the research cohorts’ “life‑journeys and the significance of schooling.”

Although it may seem common knowledge to scholars of cross‑cultural studies that people in various cultures of the world many define “intelligence” differently, this knowledge may not be fully appreciated by some scholars and policy makers outside the narrow confines of academia and the public in general. The publication of Murray and Herrnstein’s “The Bell Curve”* (1994) caused vituperative and searing controversy in the American society in 1994. In that study the findings that drew the most heated debate were that Asians had the highest levels of intelligence, Whites were second, and Blacks had the lowest Intelligence Quotients. Although Serpell’s study does not raise this issue directly, one is left to wonder how Murray and Herrnstein would react to these findings which strongly suggest the possible absurdity of their sweeping generalizations.

Among the many findings that are fascinating from Serpell’s longitudinal case study is that the Chewa people of Eastern Zambia define “Nzelu“, which is the closest linguistic equivalent of “intelligence”, very differently. However, he cautions the reader against treating the concept of “Nzelu” among the Chewa as being equivalent to “intelligence” in English. The latter in Western psychology seems to have an exclusively cognitive thrust.  Among the Chewa people,

nzelu…appears to have three dimensions, corresponding roughly with the domains covered in English by ‘wisdom’, ‘cleverness’, and ‘responsibility’, or in French by ‘segesse’, ‘debrouillardise’, and ‘serviabilite’.  Both literary and conversational usage draw on the contrast between the two dimensions ‑chenjela and ‑tumikila, and yet the full meaning of nzelu seems to embrace both of them. The central thrust of Chewa culture’s definition of nzelu is thus a conflation of cognitive alacrity with social responsibility.(p.32)

Another fascinating dimension of the study is that Serpell interviewed parents in the village and asked them to rank or evaluate the cohort of school children on the indigenous scale of nzelu or intelligence. The interesting findings were that the Chewa people rank their children. not according to the school abstract concept of intelligence which relies heavily and exclusively on cognitive manipulation of abstract symbols, but rather on such community criteria as whether the child can be sent by adult to carry out challenging tasks or chores, trustworthiness, attentiveness, and cooperativeness.

Serpell explores the significance of schooling in the lives of the research cohort in rural Zambia. He reports some important contradictions to the main stream expectations of the impact of schooling.  For example, he finds that completing a certain number of years of schooling neither necessarily guarantees functional literacy nor appreciation and acceptance of the values that are engendered by school. Children’s success in school among the Chewa people has, what Serpell terms, “an extractive definition.” Attaining high levels of education, for example attaining twelfth grade to a college education, means that the individual has to leave the village and become alienated from her indigenous community and culture. The child who leaves often is seen as a loss to the family, the community, and the child is said to have become a “muzungu” or White man or European.

Serpell also finds that inspite the Zambian provision in the official national policy that both girls and boys will have equal access to formal education, social pressures and expectations are such that fewer girls from Kondwelani School research cohort went beyond a seventh grade education. Finally, Serpell finds that teachers and parents have a very rigid conception of what school is about; something formal with a rigid “staircase model” of progress, and its operation is beyond their control, influence and contribution. Determination of failure and success is narrowly done by performance on tests.

Serpell’s  “The Significance of Schooling” in a rural community in Zambia case study raises some new interesting theoretical and pragmatic issues that are of great importance to all scholars particularly of cross‑cultural psychology and formal education in Africa and the Third World. On the theoretical level, the findings in this book do provide valuable ammunition to challenge and debunk the Western rather monolithic concept of “intelligence” which heavily and exclusively relies on formal school achievement, the manipulation of written abstract forms and often reified as a concrete entity that can be used to determine and  predict the life‑journeys of all individuals. (Murray and Herrnstein, 1994)   “The word ‘intelligence’, as the discussion of nzelu and other related terms in Chi‑Chewa …. should have made clear, does not stand for a thing: it is an abstract noun representing a quality of behavior: how people behave, not something they have. Once we stop thinking of intelligence as concrete entity, the absurdity of asking how much of it someone has got or how much of it was passed on to them by their parents becomes apparent.” (Serpell, 1993: p. 263)

On a pragmatic level, Serpell raises the question of how should, the rather limited formal educational  skills that rural children acquire, be used to improve their lives in the village once they leave school? At the moment, the study suggests that school has a mixed bag of outcomes and draws a repertoire of reactions ranging from ambivalence about its relevance to the lives of the village community and the drawing of complete separate dichotomy between school and the culture of the village life. Besides a few positive outcomes, school seems to be a largely alienating experience in the sense that it does not teach students skills that may more directly and positively impact their lives. Learning is done in English which is a foreign high status language none of the children speak at home.

Toward the end of the study, Serpell did something unique and unusual. He tried to get teachers, village parents, local agricultural extension, and health officials to hold a public discussion to exchange  views about some of the findings from the study. All participants in the public forum were either had a subdued reaction or simply played their expected parochial roles.  However, community participatory drama and popular theater performed under a village tree generated incredible enthusiasm  from villagers, teachers, and other community leaders of the church, political party and those who were employed in government‑related institutions. The animated discussions were about the crucial issues that were portrayed in the play but had  also been exposed in the study.

As the reader might be aware, the book is rich with research  knowledge that breaks new ground. I recommend the book for cross‑cultural studies, African studies, educational psychology and rural development in the Third World, and all scholars who are interested in the impact of main stream formal schooling on minority or underclass communities.

*********REVIEWED BOOK: Robert Serpell, The Significance of Schooling: Life‑Journeys in an African Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 345, Hardcover   59.95 US dollars

*Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve:Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Stephen Fraser, (ed)., The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Challenges of Village Library Project

Over four decades ago, a young village African boy was summoned urgently from his goat herding chores. His uncle told the boy to wash his body, comb his hair, wear the brand new khaki uniform and the uncle was going to take him to the nearby Boyole Primary School for his first grade. The class was already in session as the uncle let the boy’s little hand go, and the teacher welcomed the boy and directed him to squeeze between five other classmates on the small classroom desk. The class of forty students was in the middle of a religious knowledge class singing a song in the Tumbuka African language: Chinjoka chikulu chikamnyenga Adam, (A big snake tempted Adam), Adam na Eva (Adam and Eve). The teacher was drawing a big long snake across the black board as the class sung the song. That African young boy was this author.

The class couldn’t have been worse equipped. No one had a pencil or a book to take home, and any writing was done in class sharing a few pencils and pieces of writing paper among several students. The entire class had only two tattered textbooks to learn how to read English. The teacher would ask each student to read aloud several sentences in each paragraph. The teacher would correct our pronunciation as each one of us read hauntingly. After each student was finished with his assigned sentences, the next student stood up to continue where the previous student had stopped. That’s how I learned how to read.

I was not introduced to many books until I passed a major exam and and was among the few who qualified to go to Chizongwe High School. I have been in love with books since then. Several summers ago  in 2006 when I visited my home village, I noticed that my seventeen year-old nephew who was in the ninth grade at the village school, had his precious candle on in his hut at three each morning. I asked what he was doing. He said he was reading his class notes. There were no books available. I talked to my brother, my parents, and others in the villages about a village library. Within a few weeks, three meetings were held attended by men, women, and many retired people in the area. The Village Library Project was born: The Zambia Knowledge Bank Libraries: Nkhanga Branch. The project had zero resources.

So we all went to work. I started the Village Library fundraising campaign in December 2006 in Michigan, Bridgewater, Harrisonburg and the Valley among friends. The Library will serve students, men, women, and professionals in fifty villages, fifty square-mile area, and about a hundred thousand people. The Librarians at Thomas Harrison Middle School (Sandra Parks and Peggy McIntryre) and teacher (Michele Hughes) at Wilber Pence Middle School held successful book donation drives. The construction committee in the village and volunteers molded and kilned twenty thousand bricks.  Many friends and relatives donated time, money, and over eight hundred books were been shipped in April 2007. A ton of donated books are still sitting in my basement for lack of shipping money.

If ever there was an opportunity in which so little has already done do so much, this project is a good example. The foundation slab for the thirty-one hundred square foot library was completed on July 23 2007. I was there in the village for 8 weeks. It was very hard work but so satisfying to work together with a large number of people in the community who were building a dream. Over twenty thousand dollars is now required for building the walls of the  library and metal roofing which will change many people’s lives and generations for the better. Although the African country of Zambia has a literacy rate of an estimated 75%, comapred to America’s 99.0%, the rural areas of Zambia may have a lower rate as their conditions for education may not be as good as in the more urban centers. On the other hand, one of the poorest African countries such as Niger may have a literacy rate as low as 12.3%.

The most unforgettable rewarding experience for me this past summer was during the laying of the foundation and the arrival of the first shipment of some of the donated books from the Shenadoah Valley. Often news about Africa in the US tends to focus on the HIV-AIDS and other killer diseases, economic decline, people living on one dollar a day, unemployment, and poverty. But often we ignore that there are millions of people who go to school, want to read, work hard to support themselves although with modest resources and opportunities. This library will help those people. I have experienced one of those rare precious opportunities in which someone like me who struggled when I was growing up and became successful can truly return to my roots and help to give back. Many people in the local community, including the Bridgewater College students and faculty, have decided to help as individuals.  If you can donate any amount to help in this effort, please write the check to: “Bridgewater College,” the memo on the check should indicate “Zambian Library project” If you would like to find out more about this project see

Thanks to all Teachers

We all at one time or another thank someone who played a very important role in our lives. This could be a parent, a friend, an uncle, aunt, a teacher, or just sometimes a total stranger who was kind to us at our greatest moment of need. We might express our thanks and gratitude for good health and be lucky and blessed enough with the bounty of food on our tables when others in the world, sometimes even our neighbors were starving. But who should we thank during our birthday, wedding anniversary, or Christmas? Should we thank Budha, Jesus Christ, God, Yaweh, or the very Allah on behalf of whom some terrorists claim they carry their dastardly acts?

The most appropriate person to acknowledge most to the time is the teacher, especially one who inspires and ignites in the students an intense motivation to achieve their dreams. I had such a teacher who I have never thanked publicly. I still vividly remember him forty-five years later after my Ph. D., having a family and a teaching career. This was an African Headmaster and seventh grade English teacher at Tamanda Boarding Upper primary school. This school was located on a remote plateau literally on the British colonial drawn border in the countries of Zambia and Malawi in Southern Africa. We had limited facilities but our teachers gave us the best.

The daily routine was grueling. But it was particularly so on a chilly morning when I decided to be tardy and skip my early morning chore of sweeping the school Assembly Hall. The floor was so dirty that as soon as the school teachers entered the assembly, the first announcement from the Headmaster’s lips was for Mwizenge Tembo to see him in his office after the assembly. The Headmaster sternly asked me why the assembly Hall floor was unswept and dirty. I had no answer. My tears did not help either as he gave me two swift strikes of the cane on my rear end. When they saw tears on my cheeks, my classmates did not need to ask what had happened. I never skipped my chores again and didn’t dare complain to my parents either because they would have supported the headmaster.

One chilly morning, Mr. Phiri digressed from teaching English, and asked the class what we wanted to be after completing school. My classmates and I looked at each other blankly in stunned silence. What could kids in a rural African village school dream about after finishing only Grade Seven? Then Mr. Phiri gave us his memorable talk.

“What’s the matter with you!” he raised his voice and he said almost whispering: “You are young. The future for all of you is wide open. Our country just got its independence 2 years ago. We will need doctors to cure disease, pilots to fly planes, locomotive drivers to run trains, bankers, teachers, surveyors, architects to design homes, engineers. Any of you could even go to college at the new University of Zambia, get one or two degrees and become professors. You need to know not just about our school, our chief, your village, or our country, but about the world. Did you know that as we speak in the classroom now, on the other side of the world in Japan its midnight and people are asleep?”

I smiled and looked around my classmates. That was it! That was fascinating class for a kid who had only known about herding goats in the village at this point. My imagination was ignited and a seed was planted. I begun to dream night and day about going to University of Zambia if I worked hard. Our imagination as students was further ignited when word came around that our government of Zambia was raising funds all over the country to build the University of Zambia. This would be the highest educational institution in the land where students would gain degrees. Everyone donated ten ngwee ot ten cents toward the national project.  I qualified to go to Chizongwe Secondary School, then qualified to go to our only national University of  Zambia at the time and later went to do my Masters and Ph. D. in the United States.

Later that year when I was still in seventh grade at Tamanda Boarding Shcool, the Headmaster received an urgent letter from parents. He had to inform me in his office that my younger brother had passed away. I couldn’t go home for the funeral as my home village was too far. As I was weeping in the dark with deep grief alone lying on my dormitory bed that evening, I was summoned to the headmaster’s house. Students were often summoned to his office but never to his house. His wife made a cup of tea with some buttered scones. I wiped my  tears as I sipped the tea. Mr. Phiri said he was deeply sorry about the loss of my brother. He wanted me to be strong because the big all important high school entrance exam was only three months away. He wanted me to pass, go to high school and may be University. This would be my only chance.

Teachers play many different complex roles. However, what is paradoxical is that people can also become excellent teachers of the extreme hatred as demonstrated by the Hitlers of this world and as demonstrated by the tragic terrorist events of September 11 and many others since then.  If ever you have taught in a classroom, may be you are a parent, scout leader, trained police officers, members of the armed forces units, fire fighters, emergency service personnel, or have inspired young people  to learn any useful skill or to do be good human beings, you are a teacher who should be celebrated and thanked. For  teachers not only inspire us to read and write,  but chances are that you and I are reasonably decent human beings because of teachers who may have prodded us when we were slacking and motivated us and gave us self esteem when we felt the least confident.

Children Scare Me

I love children. But it is the five year olds that scare me. My anxiety and fear are not so much over what they do, but what they can say, where, and when. This was brought to me recently when I had to interact with a group of very cute five year olds. My son’s kindergarten class was having a “parent(s)-eat -lunch-with- their-kids” program. As a precaution, I made sure I wasn’t dressed as a clown. I took a bath, wore a regular nice shirt, shoes, pants, and even a tie. I drove through the rain and made sure I had an umbrella to avoid being a soaked father; then I could have looked worse than a clown.

As soon as 1 walked into the class, I was greeted like a celebrity and was surrounded by excited kids. 1 felt like 1 was a rock star. 1 could see my son was very proud to have his dad there.

“So you’re Mike’s dad!?” one kid asked or sort of stated.

“You look Just like your son. Mike”(not his real name) another kid quipped.

“You must be twins.” (Ever hear of twins being born thirty years apart? one asked me.)

“Why do you have balls in your hair?” another kid asked. (I have very curly hair.)

Then my own son said:

“My dad’s hair is turning white. He is an old man.”

They all giggled.

With my son joining in the offensive, I felt helpless and vulnerable.

1 was saved from this bombardment when another male parent walked in. Then one kid said to another; “My dad is bigger than yours”.

A courageous parent tried to smooth things over and said:

“Com’on Joe, dads come in different sizes.”

The continuous action and body movements the children made were incredible and made me momentarily dizzy. We ate an enjoyable and amusing lunch as the French fries were in the shape of letters of the alphabet. We took the opportunity to ingeniously brush up on the letters of the alphabet. One of the children took some liberties and reversed the order of eating and started with the ice cream dessert. Predictably, she never made it to the main course: a meatball sandwich.  Being a responsible parent, I was tempted to report the kid to the teacher and write down the kids’ name and his home address, and phone number so I could inform her parents of the naughty behavior. But I thought better of it.

I commended the teacher for doing such a wonderful job handling these active but curious kids. I had enjoyed the visit. But as I left I could not help but feel relieved that I had escaped just in time to avoid becoming a P.O.W. of that class of kindergarten kids.

****A version of this article appeared in: Mwizenge S. Tembo, Kids Scare Me, The Bridgewater College Talon, February 11, 1991.