Becoming Inspired by the Leaders of Zambezi

Mama Katendi preparing a delicious tomato sauce for lunch!

Hi to all of those keeping up with the blog and this amazing group of people! (Happy birthday Clare’s mom!) 

Today was a slow, routine day in Zambezi with one exception: it was Grace Sikes’ birthday!!! To celebrate, we hung a few birthday banners around the convent, made her a card with a message from her family, and gave her soooo many birthday wishes! Keep reading for a few more special moments throughout the day. 🙂

Now returning to our regularly-scheduled blog post! After a one-mile sunrise run, which felt much longer because of our sore legs from playing Ultimate Frisbee yesterday, we settled in for a quick breakfast so the education team could leave for their morning classes. Lauren and Maddie got to participate in yet another field day, Hattie sat in on a chemistry class, and Kylie successfully taught an English class. We’re happy with the 25% classroom-teaching success rate today! Meanwhile, the business team led a fantastic class discussing participants’ business proposals. Mama Violet raved that this was the best part of her morning! Everyone decided to wear the gorgeous pants and skirts they have had tailored here in Zambezi using chitenge, local fabric, and I was living for all the fashion slays. 

Grace S, Grace E, Clare, and I left a few minutes later for the pediatric ward at Zambezi District Hospital. Today was challenging because, for the first time here, all of our patients were sick and suffering (most from sickle-cell anemia, malaria, and/or deep wounds). We were introduced to the doctor in charge and the handful of nurses on the unit. They assessed patients and then administered medications, both oral and IV, and one nurse performed wound care by dumping alcohol into a deep wound before wrapping it. We heard cries and screams as the kids tightly shut their eyes and pulled away, while their mothers physically held them down. It was painful to watch and we left with heavy hearts. 

I’ll list some of the differences between healthcare in Zambia and the United States that I’ve observed for those who are curious. First, healthcare is free! Second, there is a lack of resources (which we were expecting). There were a total of 19 beds in the pediatric ward for the entire town and surrounding rural communities, one doctor, five nurses, a handful of malaria medications and oral vitamins for treatment, and one blood transfusion machine. And this is the largest public hospital in all of Zambezi district! In the labor & delivery unit, mothers are expected to bring their own gloves, forceps, and linens to lay on as they give birth. It’s been fascinating to see how nurses are adapting to this challenge. Third, many people seek healers rather than medical treatment. Fourth, nurses can receive training at hospitals rather than higher education if they choose. Fifth, there is very limited access to medical care because of the distance many have to travel and the cost of said travel. For the sake of time and space, I’ll end the list there! 

These differences remind me of a theme we discussed last night: guilt. Throughout our time here, we’ve been hyper-visible. The locals see us as wealthy experts who know best. In fact, we often feel reduced to these labels because people remind us over and over (both indirectly and to our faces) that this is how we are seen. I think there is some truth to these viewpoints—our group of students is wealthier and more educated than most of the people we have met so far. However, that does not make us more wise, capable, or intelligent than the incredibly resourceful families here in Zambezi. I’ve found this community spiritually-rich, vibrant, connected, and self-sustaining, so my goal to release guilt is to dive into the relationships I’m building and the new experiences I have. 

Moving onto a more light-hearted subject, I had the opportunity to interview a local nurse, Eucharia, for a leadership piece I’m doing. Everyone else has conducted similar interviews this week, and I’m realizing just how many unsung heroes there are in Zambezi. I’m inspired by their passion and drive to create a better community for the next generation as they balance leadership roles at their jobs, in their homes, in the community, and through passion projects. This has caused me to reflect on the legacy I want to have as a leader and given me ideas on how to help my community back home! 

Once we were all back from our respective projects, we shared a fabulous lunch. Similar to this morning, the education team left for a local boarding school, the health team taught a class about the Heimlich and disease prevention, and members of the business team had a few hours to read (and watercolor if you’re super talented like Megan!). 

We ended the night the same way we started this morning: making Grace S. feel loved on her birthday since her family isn’t here with us (though I think & hope we’ve become her family too). We visited a nearby hotel and watched the sunset. On our way back to the convent, we packed into the back of a pickup truck and screamed lyrics at the top of our lungs while star-gazing, laughing when our singing turned into screams when we hit particularly large potholes. 

Tomorrow, we’ll try to visit a century-old missionary hospital in Chitokoloki, and we look forward to a traditional Makishi performance in the evening. On Saturday we leave for the nearby town of Dipalata. We are excited to end the week with a bang and experience more this wonderful country and its people have to offer! 

I’ll end this lengthy blog with a little note to my loved ones back home: I love and miss you so much and I can’t wait to see you in two short weeks! I have so much to share with you. Please be safe and stay healthy! 

With love,

Sierra Martinsen, ‘24

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4 Responses to Becoming Inspired by the Leaders of Zambezi

  1. Karen Martinsen says:


    What a terrific blog post! It’s incredible all that is accomplished before lunch! I’m so glad that you are experiencing such a different life, and I’m very proud of you for embracing it and challenging yourself each and every day. I think all of you are so brave to go on this trip!

    I love reading about each team’s adventures, and I think all of you are doing a superb job with the blog posts. I feel really informed and connected even though you are so far away!

    I love that everyone wore their newly acquired pants and skirts on the same day. Please do it again and have Jeff or Kris take a picture for an upcoming blog post. What a beautiful picture that will be!

    Know that we are doing well back home and that we love you and miss you terribly. We can’t wait to see you and hear so much more about your experience in Zambezi!

    Love, Mom

  2. Genesis Middlebos says:

    Tough day med team. Hang in there. Your work is important.
    Happy birthday Grace, I threw one back for you tonight ♡

  3. Kevin Ford says:

    Thank you for such a descriptive post. You really seemed to put us there with you.

    To all of you, you are doing wonderful work. I’m so glad you are enjoying the experiences, touching so many lives.

    We miss you Maddie. We think of you every day, wondering how you are involved with the community each day.

    Love you,

    Maddie’s Dad

  4. Sherry says:

    Thanks so much for the birthday wish and hope Grace had a great day. What are the chances? All of the posts about life there are amazing and touching. Know that everyone is sending love to you all.

    Love, (Clare’s) Mom

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