Privileging Struggle

Yesterday Abby (left) and I struggled with privilege. Today I had the privilege of teaching girls how to use their new menstruation kits so they don’t miss school during their periods.

Preparation for this trip was incredibly exciting.

I am a nursing major and was assigned to the health team, so my spring semester was filled with anticipation for sharing my newly acquired health knowledge from the anatomy classes I took with the people of Zambezi. Like Lexi blogged about yesterday, I had great expectations of sharing the knowledge I worked hard to learn all year. Keeping the values of servant leadership in mind, our team planned to have our first lesson mostly spent with students giving us topics that they would like to learn about. When we got to class, there were questions about topics that I felt confident about, including blood pressure and sexually transmitted diseases, but there was one that I had no clue about. A student asked about Bilharzia, and what we later found out with research was that it is an incredibly prevalent water-borne illness that is also called schisto. When you swim in any fresh water, you put yourself at risk of having microscopic worms burrow into your body and grow in your bloodstream. You can carry these worms for a long time without having any symptoms, but if they are in there for long enough they can lead to kidney failure, and other potentially fatal responses.

I said above that we researched this illness, but really our “research” was a simple Google search where we read one website and a Wikipedia page about it. With that minimal “preparation,” we showed up to class and taught a lesson on water borne illnesses, including bilharzia. Even though in the previous class we said we knew nothing about it, we showed up to the next class as “experts.” In the moment, teaching them about bilharzia and everything else made me feel really good. I was “teaching” people the information that they needed to hear to potentially keep them safe from waterborne illnesses. I was almost blissful that I finally had found my purpose here.

After the hustle and bustle of the busy class day was over, I was able to reflect on my day in the classroom. The bliss faded away and I realized that I felt gross. My expectation of sharing knowledge that I felt I earned was shattered, and instead part of my lesson was based on one thing that our group was able to Google search. We did not “earn” this knowledge, we used the privilege we were born into and bought this information with our computer and WiFi that we brought with us to Zambezi. The information that we got on bilharzia was basic, and the way we found it was something that is done all of the time in the States. I can’t count the times that I have been at dinner where someone asks a question that no one knows the answer to and Siri saved the day. This leaves me with a series of questions: If all of the students in our class were able to access the information that most Americans have at their fingertips all of the time, would the world would be a much different place? Would Zambians be living at levels or rates of poverty? Would inequities between the Global North and Global South be erased or lessened? Can any of these questions even be answered?

Yesterday, I found myselfundeserving of the information that I have available to me at all times, and I feel guilty sharing this with my students as an expert. I thought class was going to give me purpose, but half of the content we are teaching is attained through the wealth that we brought with us from the States, and the other half is from the systemic privilege that I have from being born in the States and through attending university. My purpose here is even less clear when I think about the fact that there are many people in Zambezi who are highly educated and would be able to teach a more informative lesson in the native Luvale. I am struggling to fully understand why I am here, and why the money that I spent to be here is not instead being used to buy WiFi and a computer for the passionate and attentive student that asked about bilharzia, as well as all of the other students in our class.

Don’t get me wrong, I am loving Zambezi. I have never felt so much love from complete strangers on a day-to-day basis. But, I have also learned so much about the privileges I have because I was born a white, middle-class woman from the United States. I will continue to search for a clue about what my purpose is here and ask the tough questions.

Tunasakwilila mwane (Thank you!),

Holly Ebel


PS: Mom and Dad, thank you so much for supporting me on this big adventure. I am making the most of every moment, and smiling like always. Mags, good luck with the last month of SW. Even though it seems like it’s dragging, you will look back at this and miss SOME of the moments. Keep on working hard and treating yourself! You are the best and I am so proud of you! I miss and love home so much!

PPS: Still haven’t found butt-pincher chair but we are all very scared for its eminent reappearance.

PPPS:  From Alyssa: To my dear Shells!  Thank you for being born because of it I get to be here on this earth to experience Zambia for all that it is. Happy Birthday! I bought you gifts don’t you worry! I am sunburnt oops sorry I never learn. Love you momma!

The outside of Malola Primary School, a two-room rural school that serves 540 students. The incomplete brick structure on the right will bring the total number of rooms to five.

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14 Responses to Privileging Struggle

  1. Michele E Morrell says:

    Good morning Zags! Really touching post Holly! You will be a wonderful nurse because of this and all of your combined experiences. This opportunity will add layers to your education and you will draw on this for years to come. Thank you for sharing from your heart. Keep smiling, you are making a difference in ways you can’t even imagine.

    To Olivia: Steve emailed and is holding your spot when you return! Miss you so much! Hope this first week of class is going great! Love, Mom

  2. Mama Ann Brunett says:

    Thanks for sharing. Privilege is indeed power, and using it in service to others is a conscious and meaningful choice. You’re doing a great job.

  3. Cheryl Jamieson says:

    Holly, speaking as one nurse to another, I loved your honesty and humility. It will make you a better nurse for your future patients. I traveled to Haiti twice on a medical/ mission team and was so humbled by the Haitian nurses and how they cared for their patients with minimal resources. Keep pushing forward as God has a plan and you are definitely part of it. Please tell Abby “hi”.
    Cheryl Jamieson, RN
    (Abby’s mom)

  4. Katie Shoenberger says:

    What a blessing to have the time and experience to ask these big questions. The people of Zambezi, from your stories, seem to have few material possessions, but they sure seem to know and understand LOVE. Thanks for sharing from your big, wonderful, compassionate hearts!!
    Bridget, we’re all thinking of you!! Your sibs think I post too much! : ) I took a few days off, but, sorry, I can’t help myself. If there’s an opportunity to shout my love and joy for you, I’m going to do it!! Love & Joy beautiful girlie!! And to all of you and all your new families in Zambezi, we send our love, thoughts and prayers. Continue to spread the love and joy!! Looking forward to the next chapter of Zambezi 2018!
    PS Bridget, have you been braiding everyone’s hair and/or learning some new braiding tricks?

  5. Tom says:

    Love the blog, love the reflection, miss you tons Holly. Just to let you all know Marco Gonzales – Zag alum pitched 7 shutout innings, allowed 2 hits and got the win ! (Side note it was vs. the A’s )

  6. Conrado says:

    A teacher who answers one person’s question has served a higher purpose. Well done to hear the question in through their lens and not your filter.
    Best to you all.
    Love and hugs to Devon

  7. Momma Ebel says:

    Hi Holly. Your caring ways and quest for knowledge continue to shine.
    I miss my personal sunshine but I’m so thankful that you are sharing it
    with others. Live each moment and take lots of pictures. I love you !

  8. Beth Polacheck (Katie Polacheck's mama!) says:

    Zags, as the mother of a Zambezi Alum (KP 15 and 16) this year I do not have the compulsion to check for the post multiple times per day. But it is still so fun to read about your experiences. Treasure each moment, even the challenging ones, sometimes those are the ones we learn the most from. Continue to let the Holy Spirit guide each of you. God Bless you All!!

  9. Susan Watters says:

    Great insights Holly, your thoughtfulness and honesty is so to touching and thought provoking. We have loved all the journal entries it is the highlight of my day and I am sure everyone else that is following the blog.

    Colleen know we miss you dearly, and we are proud of all the Zags representing the USA in Zambia! Love and prayers to all! oxoxoxo

  10. Shellie & Don Groscost says:

    To Alyssa,
    Thank you baby girl for the wonderful birthday wishes. My day is complete now that I know you are safe, sunburned, and exactly where God intended for you to be. I can’t wait to hear about all of the amazing things you are experiencing. Love you and miss you lots!

  11. Peggy O’Heron says:

    I know Devon had an inkling that her journey to Zambia would be profound and potentially life changing……I think you all are ‘going after it’ in terms of learning, lessons and lasting impressions. Your daily posts continue to be a gift and I am grateful. Thank you for sharing.
    Many blessings and love to all of you, and especially to my LoveBucket.

  12. Kelen Ahearn says:

    Hi Holly,

    My name is Kelen, I went to Zambezi last year. Great thought process lady, this questioning is where I got the most stuck. I would think, as I’m casually paying $5 for someone to learn how to use a computer, just imagine where thousands of dollars could go. Money can go far, and especially far when you quickly recognize your wealth in Zambezi.

    That’s where the idea of connection and accompaniment come into play though, so try not to get too caught up in the logistics. Your relationships and presence in Zambezi mean way more than any large sum of money would. And to all of you, when it comes to teaching, yeah, you feel pretty inadequate right? Well, you are and you aren’t all at the same time. You’re there to share. You share what you know, and they’ll share what they know. Holly, I’m glad you learned about the illness, so that you could take the student’s interest a step further. If you weren’t there, your students wouldn’t know more of what they were curious about. What a blessing it is for you to be able to help them out in that way!

    Keep on thinking and smiling and thinking and sharing, thank you for your words,

    P.S. Hola Bridget, te amo mucho chica!

  13. The People's Champ says:


    Love hearing your thoughts on this, almost feels like you are home. The same passion and thoughtfulness I’ve been lucky enough to witness for the last five or so years continues to grow and grow, and everyone that knows you is better off for it. Looking forward to hearing all your thoughts when you get home!



    P.S. The M’s have been on a hot streak while you’ve been away so I think we’ve figured out the key.

  14. Kathy Schindele says:

    Privilege that you are born into is something you can’t control. What you do with that privilege you can. Going to Zambia and helping others is the Best thing you can do because you have the resources. You will make a Great nurse because you are concerned with these issues. Thanks for sharing with us, I know it can’t be easy!
    Love and prayers,
    Kathy Schindele ( Morgan’s mom)

    PS Morgan, big hug!! I love and miss you tons but can’t wait to hear your stories!

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