Starting the Conversations

Abby (left) leading the health team during a lesson earlier today.

My time in Zambezi so far has been filled with teaching classes, canoe rides, 3+ hour masses, dancing, singing, and meeting amazing people. I knew my time here would be short, but I didn’t realize how quickly it would go by. As our remaining time in Zambezi is rapidly diminishing, I’m realizing there is no way to fit in every experience I want to have. I want to revisit my homestay family and eat nshima and caterpillars again; okay, maybe not the caterpillars. I want to dance again with Rebecca, the employee of my homestay mom who taught us some very interesting dance moves. I want to teach my 12-year-old admirer, Patrick, about biology and go to his grandfather’s store in the market. I want to buy more beautiful chitenge and chat with the tailors as they make custom skirts and dresses. Even though I may not be able to do all of these things, I’ve had countless amazing experiences in Zambezi, so I have no room to complain.

An incredible experience that I get to have three times a week is teaching a health class. We teach the class in a little room off the side of the priest’s house. We somehow manage to stuff enough chairs and couches into our little room to fit the thirty or so students that come each time. Class starts at 09:00, but in Zambian time that really means 09:15. The students don’t seem to mind our tardiness and many of them show up at different times, weaving their way through the tightly spaced chairs to find a seat. We begin our class by reviewing material and then dive into new subjects that the students want to learn about.

Each time we teach, I’m overcome by the feeling that I’m not qualified to be teaching a health class to people who are much older and wiser than me. I’m also convinced that there are a few students in the class who could teach it better than us, and it makes me wonder about the benefit of our class. Are we giving them any new information or just telling them what they already know? Does it seem condescending when we explain something like malaria to them? They see it everyday, while all of my knowledge comes from research. I fight with these thoughts as we cover material that I don’t have a deep understanding of or experience with.

I know that I could give the students new information, but that doesn’t mean it would help them. I could tell them that CD4+ T-cells are the specific cell type that the HIV virus attaches to. I could go on to say that these T-cells are responsible for activating plasma B-cells and memory B-cells that produce antibodies to fight pathogens in our bodies, which is why people infected with HIV cannot fight infections as well. This would most likely be new information for all of the students, but it would be too complex and not useful to them. I find myself trying to walk a fine line between giving them new information and giving them information that they will be able to understand. I’m also struggling to take the knowledge I have and translate it to them in an understandable way. In college, I’m expected to have an extremely detailed understanding of material and it’s sometimes difficult to simplify it in a useful way.

I feel like in our classes we’re just scratching the surface of subjects, which is in part due to time constraints, but mostly due to our lack of knowledge on subjects. Students often ask questions that I don’t have an answer to, and I’m instantly aware that I’m just an undergraduate biology major and not a healthcare provider. Yet even so, I’m somehow “qualified” to teach a health class to Zambians who have significantly more experience in some of these topics than me. It’s hard to not feel like a phony, as Bridget would say.

Even though I feel under prepared to teach, there are moments when I can see the benefit of our class. On the first day of class, we had the students tell us what they wanted to learn. We were able to tailor the topics we taught based on their health concerns. We got lucky in that we had prepared for most of the topics they wanted to learn about, but there were some that we hadn’t even heard of, like the parasitic infection bilharzia. Allowing our students to dictate what we taught ensured that the information we shared was of interest to them and not just what we thought they should learn.

We also try to have a discussion-based class where we teach material, but allow our students to talk with each other and us about the topics. These discussions have led me to have a deeper understanding of the challenges the community faces. One of these discussions was focused around malaria and the use of mosquito nets. Jessie, who is a tailor in the market, told us that one of the reasons the nets aren’t used is because of poverty. Some people use the nets for fishing or to protect their gardens from insects and animals instead of using them to protect themselves from malaria. Additionally, she said that attitudes are a big reason nets aren’t used. People may use them for a time, but eventually stop using them because they get tired of it or don’t believe they will get malaria. We also dove into a discussion about the stigma surrounding HIV in their community. John, who is a very intelligent man in our class, told us about the struggle to provide HIV education to members of the community who were unable to attend school. This lack of understanding about the disease can perpetuate the stigma that surrounds the illness and spread fear due to misunderstanding. These conversations and more have given me insight into the Zambezi community.

Often as I leave class students approach me. Jessie tells me that the class is very interesting and that she’s learning new things. Later, when I come to her tailoring shop, she thanks me for a great lesson and conversation in class. I’m thankful she likes the class, but I really can’t take credit because the best parts came from the discussion among the students. John stopped me today after class and told me how much he was enjoying the class. I told him that I hoped some of the information we’re giving them is new or helpful because I’ve been concerned that we’re not providing new information. He assured me that he’s learning new things and we’re doing a good job. These kind comments from the students make me think that maybe I’m not a total fake after all.

I don’t know if our health class will benefit all of our students, but I know that I’ve benefitted immensely from hearing the discussions in class about public health concerns. I’ve learned so much hearing the students talk about their community and the problems they see. I may not be as knowledgeable as I’d like on some of the subjects, but I’m realizing that’s not the point of our classes. We are trying to start a conversation within the community and allow them to initiate the change. We are learning right alongside our students and that’s why we came. I hope that we were able to start a conversation that the students will continue after we’re gone.


Kisu mwane,

Abby Jamieson



To my family and friends—I love and miss you all so much! I can’t wait to share my countless experiences with you when I get home. Mom and Dad, I hope you’re enjoying dinners by the fire pit and giving Choco extra kisses from me. Shelby and Sarah I hope school and work are going well! Also, happy late birthday Shelby…very late, but still. Zach I hope you have an amazing time in Europe! Take lots of pictures, including some of yourself even though I know you hate them. I miss you, but I’ll see you soon!



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Starting the Conversations

  1. Linda Jamieson says:

    What an adventure Abby! Your blog was so interesting and insightful. I really got a sense of your experience there. I love that you asked your students what they’d like to learn and what they already knew about a topic. So many teachers don’t do that initially and I think students get more out of your teachings than the other way. Stay safe and healthy Abby. We love you loads!❤️❤️

  2. Tom Hoban says:

    Great post, Abby!

  3. Conrado says:

    Love, love, love the discussion about your discussions. Popping open a discussion about why people aren’t using something as effective as a mosquito net is a great leadership opportunity. If one person’s mind was changed…and if they changed another persons point of view, and then another…?
    Thank and best to you all, Conrad

    To Devon – Marvin is alive and well 🙂 Love you, sweetie

  4. Lauren Johnson says:

    Morgan! I miss you and love you! It is so fun to read these posts and hear all about everyone’s experiences, i hope all is well and you are having an amazing time:)

  5. Cheryl Jamieson says:


    I read your blog and thought back to the young Senior I took to Haiti four years ago to teach VBS. You had no fear and were confident. You are older and wiser, and have learned a great deal with this experience in Zambezi.

    You are realizing that your wants are not necessarily their needs. Including the students in discussion, and encouraging conversations within the community, empowers them to initiate the change. Good insight! The older students are embracing your genuine concern and you are acknowledging their importance.

    My prayer is you all see the benefit and purpose of why God led you halfway around the world to Zambezi. As you already know, you are receiving so much more than you are giving. God bless the journey.

    love, mom

    P.S. We cannot wait to hear all your stories and please bring back the Nshima recipe.

  6. Brian Jamieson says:


    This sounds like a great life changing experience for both yourself and everyone else who is lucky enough to have contact with you. I hope the rest of your Zambia journey continues to be memorable. Your whole family is missing you.


  7. Aunt Mary Oliver says:


    I enjoyed reading your blog (and then read 3-4 more from your team members). What a great experience for you and the insight of realizing that we are rarely as prepared as we may think that we are. And yes, anytime a person volunteers in any form, they often get just as much out of the experience as those intended to receive benefit. Hopefully those present at your classes will be changed in a positive way that will last a lifetime for them, as I’m sure you will never be the same after this trip. God Bless and we will continue to keep you and your team in our nightly prayers!

  8. Margaret Hoban says:

    Such a treat seeing you in the photo… Your compassion and sincerely shine throughout your post. Being in Zambezi, listening and learning from your students is a gift within itself…continue the good work and enjoy the experiences!

  9. Shelby Jamieson says:

    Dear Abby,
    What an amazing experience you have been given the opportunity to take part of! I love and miss you bunches. Keep sharing your knowledge and know you are making a difference in that classroom no matter how small! You have planted the seed, now watch it grow! I am so proud of you little one. Enjoy this time!
    -love Shelby

  10. Sarah Jamieson says:

    Little buddy!!! I lova you so much! My prayer for you is that you can soak up each of these final moments, share your beautiful spirit with those around you, and take part of Zambia back with you. I can’t wait to hear all of your stories!

    Lil bud

  11. Kathy Schindele says:

    Keep the Faith! God knows that these Wonderful people have so much they can learn from you and vice versa. You are where you are meant to be Zags!!

    Love and prayers,
    Morgan’s mama

  12. KB says:

    Abby, I am so glad you are finding friendship with Jessy! She is an incredible woman (and tailor!) who has done just about every job in the book (ask her about when she was a mechanic for the Zambian Air Force and all the other jobs she’s had). You are noticing some interesting observations and asking really good questions- especially the challenge of discerning and uncovering information that is actually applicable for your class amongst all the details you’ve learned in school at the risk of feeling incompetent or condescending, like you said. Its hard, but from the blogs, it sounds like you all are being the adaptive leaders Dodd, Chris, Hannah and GU has been training you all to be, so keep it up!

    @ ZG interns Olivia, Garrett, and Grace, I’m so sorry I missed your blogs, I was a little behind and am now caught up. But wow, I am blown away by the authenticity of your posts.
    Grace, thank you for highlighting each of the mamas. It is a funny thought to think what this trip would look like without them… 20 lost chindeles wandering aimlessly through the market. I’m glad all the mamas in the states get to know a little about the mamas that are caring for you all in Zambezi and that you have taken the time to notice the power and wisdom they hold.
    Garrett, you are meant to be an English major. Wowza, your words took me right back. You are so observant of the subtle lines that define our common humanity and that separate our experiences as a result of color, privilege, and more. Let me know when you are back in the neighborhood, and we can go on a long Zambezi-style walk because I wanna hear about your experience!!
    Olivia, your post reminded me of a funny conversation we had during one of our ZG meetings, and it also gave me a new perspective on Zambezi. I’m so appreciative of your vulnerability! Also, no surprise you flew a plane. I can only imagine it was with the same grace and confidence you carry yourself with in everything else you do.

    Ahh sorry, this was such a long comment. Much love to you all. Thank you for sharing all your experiences! Kisu Mwane!!!
    Katie Barger

  13. grace underdahl says:

    Wow, Abby! All incredibly honest and valid thoughts that I’m sure many of your other peers are also struggling with. I don’t believe we know eachother but I was in Zambezi last summer. I’ve realized revisiting the blogs is both challenging and an incredible trip down memory lane. Take everything in stride and I hope you revisit this blog post long after you’ve returned to the states. I am so so excited for all of you (and jealous) of your journeys in Zambezi. To all of my dear friends in Zambezi, and Jeff, Kris, and Anna, know that I think of you and my dear Zambian friends while you are there everyday. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and remember to be mindful and present like the Zambians. Kisu Mwane,

    Grace Underdahl

  14. John Darvish - Sanna's dad. says:

    I was reading this article on generosity last night and came across this quote: “Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he (or she) is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self, that the radiance of the living God may then shine forth.” I feel that all of you in Zambia is experiencing this in some way. So happy Sanna is sharing this experience with you all.

Comments are closed.