Three Weeks in Southern Zambia by Eva Bonta, Geography and Philosophy Majors


Posted: May 31, 2016

One of the most rewarding things you can do is to step out and away from your personal world and travel to a place where you will taste new foods, see new sights, interact with new people, and explore new sides of yourself.
The sun begins to set as the greenhouse structure is completed in Zimba

The sun begins to set as the greenhouse structure is completed in Zimba

In June 2015, I traveled to Zambia with 8 other students from different majors and disciplines to construct 5 pilot greenhouses and conduct research related to our work done the previous semester. We went as part of the HESE program, or Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship, which aims to impact individuals in resource constrained settings and improve their livelihoods through low-cost, sustainable ventures. The most successful venture so far has been Affordable Greenhouses. Although greenhouses do exist across Africa, the concept of a vastly cheaper option was the primary innovation offered by our venture. So far, HESE has licensed its technology to two companies and started its own business with many greenhouses built directly by HESE students. Currently there is an estimate of around 200 greenhouses existing in Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Kenya. This past summer our team experimented with different glazing materials as a part of new branch of HESE’s partnership company with World Hope International, GRO Greenhouses. The first group traveled to Zambia in May to conduct research and help build 3 greenhouses, then in June my group followed and built the last 2.

I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, with one of my team members, exhausted, but excited for the journey ahead. My friend and I spent a week or so in Tanzania before arriving in Lusaka, so the flight was not overly long, but nevertheless we were ready to settle in and begin our work. Two days later, after everyone in our group had arrived, we set off to the town of Zimba, about 6 hours south west. As I mentioned above, we partnered with World Hope International, the humanitarian branch of the Wesleyan Church, so we stayed in guesthouses created by World Hope and managed by affiliates of the Wesleyan Church. Although HESE does not have any direct religious affiliation, it doesn’t mean we cannot work with a church to work towards a common purpose. Our guesthouse in Zimba was located in the “center” of town, although the town center was pretty much just a small string of establishments along the main highway stretching from Lusaka to Livingstone. After settling in, we came together for a group meeting to discuss each team’s trajectory for the next few days. Most of the group’s efforts during the previous semester was focused on the greenhouse venture, while two others and I worked primarily on community health related research. However, we all participated in helping build the greenhouses while in Zambia, since there were only 9 people in total plus our advisor. A lot of different things were going on at the same time, but it added to the  experience of learning what it’s like to “be on the ground”.

During our time in Zimba, I had the opportunity to interact with health officials and Community Health Workers, or CHWs, which were the primary focus of our research the previous semester. CHWs are trusted individuals in their communities and act as a bridge between trained health officials, like nurses and doctors, and the community. They are most crucial in rural areas where the ratio of doctor to individual is low, but the need for a representative of a hospital or health center remains. They are trained in varying degrees of expertise to advise and support their communities, but do not give actual medical advice. For example, they advise pregnant women about what sorts of foods to eat and when to go to the doctor.

After spending a semester simply reading about CHWs, it was wonderful to actually interact with them and learn first-hand about their work. The highlight of my stay in Zimba was my participation in Children’s Health Week, which is a country-wide effort focusing on the health of children generally aged anywhere from around 6 months old to around 12 years old. Along with a few health officials from the hospital in Zimba, some of us traveled to a rural health post to aid the health officials carry out their tasks like weighing children to make sure they were the correct weight for their age. Between tasks, I interviewed CHWs about their work and their motivations for future work and research. It was, all in all, a very fulfilling couple of days learning to interact with people different from yourself and what you’re used to. Although I often times couldn’t directly communicate with the women at Children’s Health Week clinics, a smile and laughter is universal.

During our week and a half stay in Zimba, we drove the hour and a half south to spend the day in Livingstone, more specifically Victoria Falls. One of the largest waterfalls in the world, Victoria Falls is truly awe-inspiring sight. Luckily, I was told to bring my rain jacket ahead of time, because otherwise you get drenched head to toe by the spray. We also stopped a bit upriver from the falls at one of the bridges between Zimbabwe and Zambia to go bungee jumping. I was only one of two that didn’t participate, but I got some great pictures of the others!

Next, we traveled north to Choma, a much larger town of about 40,000 people, spending about another week there, where teams conducted interviews related to their research. Lastly, we traveled back to Lusaka, where we spent our last few days building our second greenhouse.

Although the purpose of HESE trips is to work on the advancement of particular ventures and conduct research, the inevitable creation of friendship occurs as well. After 3 weeks of a lot of early mornings spent making breakfast together, afternoons in the heat, and nights of playing cards, it’s hard not to become friends. My experience in Zambia wouldn’t be as valuable as it was if not for the wonderful people I spent it with.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to travel abroad. Truly experiencing the world will always beat the classroom. One of the most rewarding things you can do is to step out and away from your personal world and travel to a place where you will taste new foods, see new sights, interact with new people, and explore new sides of yourself.