Full Hearts. Full Minds. Full Hands.

The rhythms of our Zambia trip hold most years, and the final week in Zambezi is a stew of emotions. We all struggle to remain present even as reunions with loved ones draw near. We are saying goodbye to the community that has extended itself in hospitality, even as we try to hold their loving embrace a bit longer. As faculty who’ve experienced this many times ourselves, we too struggle with these tensions.

Jeff is fond of calling Zags into this tension in one specific way: when he hears them start to say “we only have n days left,” he offers a reframing: “we still have n whole days left; imagine what you can do in that time.” Today was a case in point. 

Josh often says that the days here in Zambezi are “full but not busy.” This speaks to the different pace of life here compared to our lives at home. We have opportunities and responsibilities each day, but the Zambian concept of time and the cultural ways of relational connection make each day feel more like invitations than obligations. When my head hits the pillow at the end of the day, I often reflect on our many interactions and experiences that never felt “busy.”  Many times, those days reflect the work of our hands, minds, and hearts. 

Full Hands: Home health visits with Winefrieda

For the last several trips I, Jeff, have made to Zambezi, I have taken lead in organizing the health and wellness team. During this time, I have tried to cultivate a network of relationships in area clinics, and—importantly—in the Zambezi District Hospital. I have grown “comfortable” in this under resourced hospital and with its truly impressive and creative staff of healthcare professionals. I have also visited the two mission hospitals at Chitokoloki and Dipalata, as well as several outlying clinics. I have even taken students to visit traditional healers (sorry ZamFam 2024, time is not with us) and to be treated at modern clinics in Lusaka. But there is one aspect of Zambian healthcare I had long wanted to understand: the work of Community Health Volunteers (CHVs).

Last year, a student named Hattie accompanied an old friend of the program, Winefrieda Mwewa, as she visited HIV patients in a home monitoring program. After a career in social services, she is a full-time CHV, visiting dozens of mostly women living with HIV in the area. This year, Brynn (aka “Mangana”. If you know, you know.) and Katie followed up on the opportunity. I decided to join them and fill in this gap in my understanding. 

We visited several women, in hopes of learning about the ways they are being cared for amid the challenges such a diagnosis presents. As we talked with these women, several themes emerged. For most, their HIV+ status remains largely hidden, in some cases from all but a single family member. I have always been struck that Zambia is one of the youngest countries on earth because HIV/AIDS claimed entire generations of families. And yet,  the very disease responsible for such massive death is still taboo. Additionally, most of these women live without a husband or domestic partner, having been abandoned or suffering the death of a husband from the disease. Further, all of them expressed challenges meeting their basic nutritional needs, eating only one or two meals per day. Because of this, each was vulnerable to the side effects of their medication when taken without food: extreme dizziness and fatigue. Some took the medication despite the side effects, while others took it inconsistently. One, a breastfeeding mother of a five-month old child, took the medication irregularly because the side effects were so difficult to bear. Of course, the risk is clear. Without the ART suppressive effects, her viral load will increase and she’ll be more likely to pass on the virus to her infant. 

Late in the morning, Winefrieda introduced us to a fellow CHV, Grace, in a community west of Zambezi. Grace then guided us to a woman named Charity. At 17, she tested positive for HIV in 2004 after spending six months in the hospital with TB. Winefrieda explained that TB and HIV are cousins because a suppressed immune system makes patients susceptible to diseases like TB. About the same time as her TB was being treated and she began receiving HIV treatments, Charity developed a skin rash that has persisted for close to two decades and progressed to feature large nodules all over her head. She removed her cloth cap to show us that some were now open wounds from being picked at and were at severe risk of infection. Brynn recognized her from the hospital, where she’d seen Dr. Mpande consult with Charity earlier in our trip. Charity had previously been referred to Chitokoloki for care but still hasn’t gone due to lack of funds for transportation. As we left Charity, we discussed with Winefrieda and Grace what it would take to get Charity to Chitokoloki, and listened as they worked out a plan.

At each of our visits, Winefrieda and Grace were welcomed with joy and warmth. The work they and their CHV colleagues do may not save every life or ease the burdens of living with a disease that nearly devastated this part of the world, but they are able to bring them small necessities such as sugar and soap, while also connecting them with healthcare resources to enhance the likelihood of their survival. That work is a reminder to us Zags that patient, present acts of compassion can be a lifeline for those facing serious challenges. Full hands.

Full minds: Final class presentations and ongoing library work.

Earlier today, final presentations were offered by students in our computer, business and leadership, and health education courses.  The culmination of our three-week courses provided opportunities for our Zambian students to show their learning to the community.  These presentations are marked by encouragement from others (cheers erupted from the computer lab as each student presented their work!) and a sense of accomplishment.  New skills are displayed in computers, knowledge shared in the health course, and business proposals offered in the leadership class. Josh had the opportunity to sit on a panel of community and business leaders evaluating proposals for micro-loans offered by Gonzaga to launch new community businesses.  Captured in these twenty proposals were the imagination and hopes of incredible leaders who strive to make a difference in their community.  Through the direct questions of our panelists, I was reminded of the care and capacity here. The feedback provided opportunities to increase the viability of their projects. Students were asked to dream bigger and hone in on their distinctive contribution to the Zambezi business community. A community of learners and leaders rather than a business competition to be won. 

We sometimes downplay our classes because they are taught by Zags who themselves are still learning, and are sometimes far outpaced in knowledge by the adult Zambians in the room. Indeed, they function as much as spaces for developing relationships as they do one-way transfers of knowledge. However, watching students beam as they present what they’ve learned and accomplished, or hearing them describe how they used our classes to springboard a new career or endeavor is a reminder that growth can be nurtured when minds are open to possibility.

Dominic Sandu has used the opportunity of returning to Zambezi to reignite the partnership with the Chilena Library.  Nearly ten years ago, our program assisted the community in building a library in a rural school just on the outskirts of Zambezi.  A shipping container full of books provided the largest library in the region, a collective effort that solidified our belief that we can do it together.  However maintaining and leading a library is certainly as hard as building one.  With new leadership at the schools and renewed passion for literacy from Dominic, this week has been an opportunity for him to dig into the work of partnering with local collaborators to share the wealth of knowledge in the Chilena library with people around the Zambezi district. He’s invoked the power of curiosity and knowledge with community members, the school district’s resource coordinator, teachers at other schools, and at the district education board supervisor’s office. Dominic’s dedication to the intellectual growth and capacity of this community reminds us all that knowledge can change lives. Full Minds.

Full hearts: Accompaniment dinner.

Josh’s favorite night of our time in Zambezi is the Accompaniment Dinner, where Zags honor the friendships and partnerships developed during our time here.  It’s a festive night with amazing food (cooked by our mamas), marking connections, new and old, with the Zambezi community with photos, dancing, speeches and songs.  At the center of our program here is developing relationships, and tonight we got to meet each students’ “people” and honor them for the generous hospitality that been extended to us. 

This year, Katie and Jackson emceed, and the absolute highlight was each Zag introducing their guests, explaining what they valued in their friends and what they learned from their Zambian guides. Early in the buildup to our trip and again when we arrive, we read Aaron Ausland’s brief essay, “Staying for Tea,” in which he cautions us against seeing people as function or backdrop, preferring instead the pursuit of friendship true and deep. It is affirming and inspiring to see the ways our students come to know, after just three weeks, the people in Zambezi friends.

The evening closed, as it often does, with Jessica Mukumbi singing a song called “Time has come.” It’s a goodbye song, but also one that looks forward to a reunion full of rejoicing. Often she sings the song to us, but this year, the group slowly began to sing along, building from a singular voice to full choir of perhaps 50 Zambians and Zags celebrating our time together. Full Hearts.

As we start our last full day in Zambezi with full hearts, minds, and hands, We are beyond grateful for the community of Zags on this program. They have taken full embrace of the possibility each day offers, navigating uncomfortable spaces while moving towards growth. We have laughed and cried together.  We have experienced inspiring beauty in the people of Zambezi and wrestled with the complexity of this place. They sing and dance to the delight of this community. They have lived into a maturity and connection which has allowed us to stay together through difficulties.  We have marveled at the connections they have formed in Zambezi.  You should be proud, and ready to listen to these stories when we return.  

Josh Armstrong and Jeff Dodd, Associate Professors, Gonzaga University

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5 Responses to Full Hearts. Full Minds. Full Hands.

  1. Carolyn Herman says:

    Thank you, Jeff and Josh, for leading our kids through this experience and for taking great care of them! I am very thankful for you both (and for Chris too). Much love to all the group, and safe travels. Extra love to Charlie
    Carolyn (Charlie’s mom)

  2. Michelle Doty says:

    I cannot imagine how you all are feeling. I am “sad to leave!” As Lucia’s dad expressed to her, I hope you all take time to integrate this experience into your lives. I have a feeling I am preaching to the choir (literally) here. How about: I hope you take the time to really share this experience with us. The writing has been beautiful – the story telling will be awesome
    Love to you all
    Miss you, Lucia ❤️
    And, as Charlies mom expressed, thank you Jeff and Josh. I am extremely grateful for your care

  3. Klaire Powers says:

    Thank you Josh for such a moving recap of our Zags time in Zambezi. I know this has been a life changing experience for them that will continue to shape their personal and professional lives. Thanks to you, Jeff and Chris for being there to guide them through these last 4 weeks. We look forward to hearing all about it when Ellie returns. ❤️


  4. Anuncia says:

    Jeff, Josh, and Chris, thank you very much for this trip, from the planning, organization, execution, and developing contacts with the Zambia/Zambezi community through the years, to caring and leading these group of Zag students through this program. We have read wonderful experiences and stories, seeds for personal growth and service to others. Looking forward to hearing the experiences from Ana!
    Safe travel to all.

  5. Kathleen H. says:

    Dear Josh, Jeff and Chris,

    Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for the leadership and mentorship you provided our Zags in Zambia. This is an experience that will last them a lifetime through their friendships, memories and lessons learned. You all are incrediblly special individuals to devote yourselves to this program and to years of Gonzaga students who are blessed to travel to Zambezi with you.

    Safe travels and thank you again.

    Kathleen (Katie’s mom)

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