Returning to Mazabuka: Zambia’s ‘Sweet Town’Arrivals and first impressions
My memory of arriving in Mazabuka, Zambia in 2013 is clouded as I could hardly keep my eyes open! My clearest memory is the car stopping somewhere outside Lusaka, on the way to Mazabuka. I opened my eyes to find myself face to face with a woman selling bananas. Looking around I quickly realised the whole car was surrounded by women selling bananas! So this was my introduction to what is sometimes known as “Banana Junction.” Before I knew it the backseat was full of bananas and we settled in for another 2.5 hours.
Making friends at immigration…
My arrival to Zambia this time round was a lot more…I’m going to say confident? Immigration was a breeze thanks to the lady who brought us from the very back of the queue to the very front for reasons still unknown… I managed to stay awake for the whole journey to Mazabuka- success! We got there just in time to see the sunset, still one of my favourite things about travelling in Africa.
The sweet life in Mazabuka
Mazabuka is a large town in Zambia’s Southern Province. The “Sweet Town” earns its name from the large sugar plantation. It is the largest employer in the town. The sugar burning is a truly spectacular sight to behold. However, Zambia Sugar’s tax avoidance, aided by lax Irish laws, leaves a bittersweet taste. One has to question the logic of sending aid to Zambia while depriving the country of much needed tax revenue, but that’s an argument for another blog post!
The Flamboyant School: three years later
My first big trip was to Mazabuka in 2013, to deliver inservice training to preschool teachers. In 2013, only a few months after its opening, we also visited the Flamboyant Special School (named after the Flamboyant tree). Now, 3 years later, we have returned to find a fantastic, well run and thriving school. The school provides a happy and interesting learning environment for over 80 children with special needs in the Mazabuka area.
The school employs 12 qualified Special Ed. teachers. It contains two classroom blocks, an administration block, a skills unit, kitchen, library and hall. The school is divided in two- half of the classes are for children with learning disabilities and the other half is for children with hearing impairments.
Sharing ideas at the Flamboyant Special School
We worked mostly with the teachers of the youngest classes on both sides. Over 2 weeks we introduced active learning methods and game based learning. On the first day the children greeted us formally and were shy about participating in games. Now, at the end of week 2 they ask for their favourite games. The sense of competition has led to some great excitement and the occasional heated outburst (and that was just from the teachers)!
With the money received from the Folens Overseas Teaching Fund and other community groups we bought a range of resources to develop the children’s fine motor skills and early literacy and numeracy skills. Resources are a useful and welcome addition to the school but we were eager to ensure that the teachers were confident in using the materials. All of the teachers in the school attended our workshop on game based learning.The ideas generated made the resources applicable to all ages. The Zambian teachers came up with some interesting ideas that I can’t wait to try out.
Early years education is a relatively new field in Zambia, as is Special Education. In some ways the teachers at the Flamboyant School are pioneers in their field. It has been an honour to work with such creative and enthusiastic teachers and to contribute, in a small way, to the future success of this fantastic Mazabuka school.