Welcome to the final blogpost for Gonzaga in Zambezi 2023! Thank you to everyone who has been following along for the past five weeks!
I’m not going to lie; the idea of writing the very last blogpost for this trip is terrifying. At the same time, similar to Kendall, it’s fitting that I’m blogging on our second day in Lusaka just like I did at the beginning of the trip. And this time, I have a much greater understanding of Zambia and a much stronger connection to the amazing women I’m traveling with—reference first blog post!
In GIZ fashion, we continued learning and unlearning on our final day in Zambia. Today we had the opportunity to visit two USAID offices here in Lusaka (courtesy of two women who work with USAID that we coincidentally met at the Doha airport on our way to Zambia—another full circle moment!). These offices receive funding from both the United States and Zambian governments, and their aim is to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in at-risk populations.
We started at an office in Mandevu, a low SES neighborhood in Lusaka where many adolescent girls and young women struggle with poverty and HIV/AIDS. USAID, in conjunction with the PEPFAR program (an initiative of President George W. Bush during mid-2000s), works with local Zambians on the ground to identify ways to reduce the prevalence of these diseases, namely by preventing women from engaging in risky behaviors by giving them the opportunity to return to school or get a job. They have established various facilities to help women develop independence and employable skills, such as digital literacy. When we visited the economic strengthening room, there were six sewing machines lining the perimeter of the room, and a young woman sat at each one. Some were making reusable diapers and menstrual pads while others worked on various clothing items. They each shared their stories—a few were single mothers, others had started small businesses using the skills they learned at Dream, and a handful were on track to attend university. Listening to these stories both broke my heart and gave me hope that it’s never too late for anyone. Dream big!
The second office was only a stone’s throw from our hostel. This location was a care center for the “illegal” in Zambia: sex workers and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The first time I wrote the blog, I vividly remember how at debrief we discussed the taboo surrounding gender and sexual identity. These topics never took center stage during our trip, so I was floored that there is an entire center in Lusaka dedicated to these patients so they can receive HIV/AIDS testing, treatment if they test positive (with FREE medications!), mental health counseling, and contact tracing for those who might have been exposed. To be frank, I wouldn’t even expect to find a similar center in many places in the United States. We were honored to meet two patients at this clinic and hear their experiences of isolation from their communities and mental health struggles reminded me of stories my queer friends have shared with me back home. At times like these, I realize how the United States isn’t as advanced as Americans often give it credit for and that we, as the next generation, still have a significant amount of work to do.
It’s hard to capture the emotional rollercoaster that was today, so here’s my messy attempt. I have absolutely loved traveling with this amazing group of women + Jeff. I’m going to miss Kendall’s sense of humor, Kylie’s laugh, Maddie’s friendship, Lauren’s kindness, Megan’s creativity, Clare’s selflessness, Hattie’s sarcasm, Grace S’s sense of adventure, Grace E’s positivity, Dee’s quiet strength, Bella’s honesty, Kris’s motherly energy, and Jeff’s thoughtful reflections. I’m also going to miss Zambia: the vibrant sunsets, slow mornings, warm welcomes, rhythmic music, various languages, starry skies, tiny airplanes, sweet popcorn, nourishing meals, and all the other little things (if I typed them all out I’d miss the flight tomorrow!).
With that said, it has been challenging for all of us to disconnect from our loved ones, and I know we’re all itching to return to our more permanent homes in the United States. I started a list of things I can’t wait for when I return home (at the top are ice cream, Trader Joe’s, Target, pizza, and seat belts!). I’m also not going to miss some of the extremely difficult parts of being here: drunk men giving us unwanted attention as a group of young American women, being asked for gifts or job opportunities, children swarming me and touching my hair and hands and legs, cold showers, and holding my breath every time I get into a vehicle as we drive down the wrong side of the road (to us) following no set driving laws.
To my loved ones back home, I can’t wait to share the memories from this trip with you in person tomorrow❤️. To everyone else reading this blog post, know you’re deeply missed and we couldn’t have made it through this experience without your support.
And finally, to this special group, I feel like I’ve gained 11 sisters (+ I hold a special place in my heart for Genesis). I can’t imagine doing this without any of you. I love you forever!
Love from the entire GIZ crew!!
Sierra Martinsen, ‘24
PS: Mom and Craig, please bring Sophie to the airport!! A few snacks would be appreciated too 🙂