Far Beyond the Yellow Walls

Poorly duct-taped poster paper of past classroom lessons nearly cover the soft yellows walls of the convent where we hold our Business and Leadership class. As each student walks in, ranging from as young as 14 to as old as 70, I am greeted with extravagantly long handshakes. The mismatched chairs and benches slowly fill with students eagerly awaiting the lesson ahead.

On the left sits Mama Josephine, a 70-year-old single mother who started a tomato growing-and-selling business after retiring as a political activist. She fought for Zambian independence when Zambia wasn’t yet a country and worked for the nation’s independence.

Next to her sits Hendrix who owns his own cassava-and-meal grinding plant and is known for his good product throughout Zambia. He even took me to the grinding mill to show me how the process works and explained how Zambians turn the ground meal into nshima, Zambia’s staple food.

Frezia sits in front of the opened window, a 20-year-old woman who wants to further her education but is struggling to find a way because of the lack of universities in the area.

I look out at the faces of the people I am expected to teach, but I feel ill-prepared. The people in my class are incredibly knowledgeable and already active in the business community. Many of the students are my age; a few older students have their own small shops. I struggle with what qualifies me to stand in front of them as their teacher. As students ask me detailed questions about problems I know little about, I can’t help but feel like a phony.

This feeling worsens after we take a bumpy ride to Dipalata where we are welcomed with joyful singing and dancing by the locals. Women waving their chitenge and dancing with babies on their backs sing to us as we unpack the Land Cruisers. We look around at the only two buildings; one is the church and the other a hall that is not yet completed. The economic difference between Zambezi and Dipalata becomes increasingly apparent. We are told to break into groups as the people of Dipalata are anxious for our lessons.

Curriculum booklets in hand, we sit in the bright sun on benches they pulled from the church. The language barrier in Dipalata is much larger than Zambezi; we struggle to make our lessons applicable to the students. We are asked detailed questions about fish farming and expanding their market beyond Dipalata when poor roads make transporting heavy materials difficult. I exchange helpless glances with the members of my team as we try to explain through a translator that we do not know the details of fish farming and have no immediate solution to the lack of roads. If they have questions about the qualities of a servant leader, we have lots of information.

For the Leadership team, leaving that class was hard; the problems we discussed and the reality of their situation seemed inescapable. I doubted my role not only in Dipalata but also in Zambezi, and the experience changed my perspective on what I can actually accomplish. I am frustrated every day in class when I hear students talk about their dreams that deserve to become reality but may be derailed by economic hardship or simply a lack of resources. Still, I am inspired to see all of the students, young and old, come to class excited to learn.

Returning to Zambezi and to the yellow convent walls, I am reminded of the progress the two town’s residents already have made, giving me hope for Dipalata and pride in the place we have been able to call home. We are here in an accompaniment role; we are not here to save anyone or change anything. We are here to learn from the local’s experiences and the ones we have ourselves. Our lessons happen beyond the yellow convent walls as I walk beside the people in my classes and learn about their lives. They are learned walking on the yellow sand when I am no longer the teacher, and they are no longer the students. Rather we are two new friends.

Kisu Mwane, Bridget

P.S. Sending love to my Mom, Dad, siblings and friends. I love and miss you all!

P.P.S. Happy almost birthday Bailey!

P.P.P.S. Did you ever think that taking a trip to the beekeeper would land you with a stinger in the eye? Don’t worry, Mom, I found out I’m not allergic.

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12 Responses to Far Beyond the Yellow Walls

  1. Gretchen Shoenberger says:

    Love you Bridget! Hope your eye is okay. 🙂 We love you!!!

  2. Gretchen Shoenberger says:

    Love you Bridget! Hope your eye is okay 🙂 We love you and are happy for the experiences you are learning from!

  3. Bailey Shoenberger says:

    I love you Bridge! So happy that you get to have this experience and I can’t wait to hear all the details! You are gorgeous inside and out <3

  4. Michele E Morrell says:

    Hi from Portland! Really well written Bridget, I can feel your fears and frustrations. Just know that allowing people to express their struggles and validating their experiences is huge. You are seeing them as humans and listening respectfully to their stories. You don’t have the solutions or answers but allowing them to share with you is very meaningful. Keep up the good work. Validating others will serve you well in any role you take on in your life. As Sister Helen Prejean always teaches, listening is a very important element in any discussion or resolution attempt.

    And lastly, Hi Olivia! Have a great day and rest of your week! Love you! xoxo, Mom

    • Katie Shoenberger says:

      Beautiful words Brilliant, Bridget!! What a journey! I miss you lots, but I’m so happy you are there, doing what you’re doing, sharing, learning and loving. I know this experience and especially the people will stay in your heart always and guide you in little ways forever. Love you!! Love to all of you our ZagZamFam!!
      I hope it was a Zambia Gold bee that got your eye! Really, hope you’re eye is OK!! And I’m very glad you’re not allergic!!

  5. Cam McDermott says:

    Hi Briggita! I nearly got choked up reading your beautiful words waiting for my take out food, but had to stop because couldn’t show weakness in public. I am so proud of everything you and all the beautiful Zags are doing, achieving, and experiencing. I keep FaceTiming you and then remember, so don’t be alarmed if there’s a lot of missed calls and texts. I’m holding down our SoCal turf and I miss you dearly. Love you and can’t wait to squeeze ya! Oh ya, still single but you probably already guessed that….

  6. Mia Campbell says:

    You a star Bridge! They are so lucky to have you there, what a gift to have such a compassionate and wise soul with them. Thank you for sharing with all of us, your experiences and insights!! much love to you always my queen, sending good vibes from Sea town. So so proud of you, keep shining!! xoxoxox

  7. Georgia Davey says:

    BRIDGE!!!!! I loved reading about your experiences and frustrations and realizations that you have been faced with!!! All of you Zags are amazing!!! Miss you so so much and I can’t wait to hear the same exhilarating stories over and over again. I just got home from NCAA’s yesterday (Henry and I are together again, finally), we placed 18th overall and racing only lasted 2 days because hurricane Alberto blasted through Sarasota, Florida. #blessed to be done with rowing for now. Keep on smiling and giggling and being all that you are. I am SO proud of you and you inspire me everyday. Talk to you soon bday buddy. xoxo

  8. Morgan Green says:


    Good for you for acknowledging and accepting the places where you don’t have the expertise that people may assume of you. I admire you for that. I teach middle school and I still get asked questions that I am unsure how to answer. I read something the other day about embracing moments of frustration or inadequacy that we feel with students because that means that they have pushed us to our professional and personal boundaries. Those are the moments we grow the most from, as uncomfortable as they may feel at the time. I truly believe that the best teachers are the ones who position themselves as learners alongside their students. The moment us teachers stop posturing ourselves as learners is the moment that we lose a special, human connection with them. It sounds like you are doing just that by building relationships, listening, and walking alongside your students beyond the yellow walls.

    Oh also, I love your description of the empathy you feel in being frustrated by the lack of resources and opportunities for your students, paired with the pure joy in seeing their enthusiasm each day. I remember feeling both of those things daily in Zambezi. I get the same sort of feelings in a different context teaching in a rural title I school here in WA.

    To the rest of the crew- I heard you had a hard fought match against the u-13 zam city academy team. PK’s? What a heartbreaker. Debby and his wife Eucharia sent me several photos and a recap. My favorite photo is one where everyone is smiling and ready for the picture EXCEPT for Anna who has a wonderful facial expression of total confusion…it made my day. Love you and miss you Miss Anna! Cheering for you everyday!

    Keep going, keep growing,

    Morgan Green

  9. Caroline Till says:

    Hellloooooooo Briggita! Wow! You continue to impress me. I can only imagine what an amazing impact this journey is having on you and I just simply can not wait to hear all of your stories. Enjoy every moment! Spo misses you dearly, as do I. So excited to give you a big hug.

    All my love, Caroline

  10. Kelen Ahearn says:

    Chimene Mwane Bridge!!!!

    Ah I’ve been waiting to hear your voice through this blog for some time now. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts as you take on all in front of you. Like Morgan mentioned, I remember feeling so many thoughts about everything I was doing in Zambezi – not a whole lot aligns together, so to have so many contradictions was weird. I’m proud of you in identifying the privilege you have to teach, the inadequacy you feel, the passion of your students, their potential, your passion, your potential, all of it.

    Something I have always admired about you is your ability to make everyone around you to feel comfortable. When I am around you I feel affirmed, known, and comfortable in my thoughts and self. You have such an inclusive, warm presence that brings value to those around you. I’m imagining you in that convent now and it brings me so much joy. I see you so easily bringing this validation through your personality to those sitting at that table with you and to your incredible students as well. You are so so loved. In your intentional thoughts and reflection of your experience, enjoy continuing to share your heart and warmth with others.

    Also, go Business & Leadership!! Wishing you the best as you continue to teach and learn and teach and learn. Your students are so full!

    I love you and am praying for you!!

    P.S. Mobes! Thank you for sharing your experience in the classroom. I am praying for you as you continue to dive into the classroom.

  11. Margy costello says:

    All of the Costello’s are so proud of you and can’t wait to see you when you come home.

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