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Originally published September 11, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Page modified September 12, 2013 at 5:55 AM

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Volunteers from Seattle learn a lot from school in Zambia

Queen Anne Elementary School is part of a partnership with an African school in which mutual benefit and fairness outweigh charity.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Seattle’s Queen Anne Elementary School and the Dwankhozi Basic School in Zambia are trying to forge a relationship deep enough to be nourished by both differences and similarities.

Ties between the schools are the latest fruit of Dwankhozi Hope, an organization founded in 2006 by an emigrant from Zambia and friends who are part of the Queen Anne community.

Charles Masala is an engineer and one of 10 brothers and sisters who grew up in the Dwankhozi area, all of whom graduated from college. His family wanted other children to have the kind of success they have had, so when one of his sisters-in-law started a small school there, Masala asked members of his church, Bethany Presbyterian, to help.

Matt and Beth MacLean said yes, and pretty soon there were a dozen people who formed the core of the organization — relatives, church members and teachers and parents of children at Queen Anne Elementary School, which the MacLeans’ son attends.

The MacLeans are inclined toward helping. Matt is a recruiter for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Beth is a nurse.

The volunteers they attracted represented a broad spectrum of expertise that would not have been available in a less-fortunate community — doctors, nurses, teachers, managers, specialists in fundraising and communications, among others.

What they did not bring to the effort was an assumption that they have all the answers. They came with material and educational resources and open ears.

Dwankhozi Hope makes a simple declaration about its mission: “Dwankhozi Hope is not about charity, it’s about justice.” Charity is good, but not if it erodes the respect of one party for the other, something attempts to help haven’t always recognized.

Matt MacLean told me the people of Dwankhozi started the school, they know what they want and they were already working toward their goals; parents in Dwankhozi even make the bricks and mortar for the school buildings. The Seattle volunteers wanted to be a partner in the Zambians’ project.

Masala has since moved to Vancouver, B.C., but he remains on the board of Dwankhozi Hope, and family members in Zambia are involved as well.

During an after-school report to the school community last week, Queen Anne Principal David Elliot listed some of the accomplishments so far.

There was one school building to start with; now the campus has six buildings, including living quarters for teachers, some of whom are a long way from home and family. There is electricity, which helped with something else, the lack of books. Dwankhozi Hope worked with Worldreader.org to deliver Kindles loaded with books.

The Dwankhozi community consists of a cluster of villages, and the school serves 600 students in grades K-9. The Seattle group decided that being partners required getting to know each other, so they visit Zambia to work and socialize with the people there.

Beth MacLean, who has visited Dwankhozi several times, said the first time she met mothers in the village, “I realized these are moms just like I’m a mom, and they want for their children what I want for mine.”

The Seattle school got involved last year. Kindergarten teacher Katie Cryan Leary said that when she first arrived, “Kids grabbed my hands, which is exactly what would happen here if I walked through the school.”

She was impressed by the teachers there and the “amazing work they are doing there without the tools we have here.”

“There is a lot we can learn from them and a lot they can learn from us.”

Rene Yokoyama, another kindergarten teacher, said the teachers in both schools share a goal, to empower the children in their classes.

And third-grade teacher Megan Klope said, “You go thinking there are so many things we could give them, but they can teach us.” She was impressed by the work ethic of the students who she saw studying late into the evening and by ingenuity of children who crafted toys from trash.

Yokoyama said the Seattle visitors got lessons in resiliency and perseverance and even in sharing. She and Elliott recalled a group of older students sharing a bag of nuts and offering their visitors some. And when some younger children came over, Yokoyama said, the older kids didn’t say no, they placed nuts into the palms of the little children.

Cryan Leary said, “I was struck by how much we have in common as teachers and as parents, and by how different our access is to resources.” She said she saw no evidence of their hardship in the way the people carried themselves. Instead, Klope added, “they celebrate the great things in their lives.”

The visitors said they recognized how much where people happen to be born affects their life prospects.

The Seattle educators see the connection between the two schools as a way to open a door to the wider world for their students. And Elliott said Queen Anne is working on a similar relationship with a demographically different school closer to home, which can present its own challenges and rewards.

Matt MacLean told me after the meeting that what he sees happening is mutual transformation. “You think you’re getting involved to help out, but you find out you are being helped.”

And in a video from June’s trip, the headmaster of Dwankhozi School said, “ ... this week you have motivated our students. And hopefully someday we can come to Queen Anne and motivate yours as well.”

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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