My name is Ellie Fisher and I am a sixth form student at Willenhall E-Act Academy. I first heard about the Connecting Classrooms programme from older students who conducted assemblies in school about their trip to Tanzania. I found out that Connecting Classrooms was a scheme set up by the British Council which gave young people like me the chance to see another culture. The scheme also facilitated partnerships between UK schools and other countries; our school itself had partnerships between schools in both Tanzania and Zambia. When the chance came up to visit Zambia I applied for it immediately because I knew it was a once in a life time opportunity and that I would regret it if I let the chance pass me by. Like the students who went before me I knew I would have to do school assemblies which was a daunting prospect because I wasn’t very confident but I knew I had to improve and resided myself to the fact that throwing myself in the deep end was the only way to do it.
After months of preparation and anticipation, in March we finally took the twelve hour flight to Zambia. As time went by on the plane I was thinking about what to expect and how I was going to react. My view of Africa was typically based on advertisements from charitable organizations that I had seen on television like Oxfam and Water Aid so I was expecting an unhappy poverty stricken country. When we landed however we were greeted with a multitude of smiling faces which I would learn over the duration of the week was a consistent sight. They were happy to see us and we were considered highly esteemed guests because the welcome we received was second to none. As we visited sites they revelled in telling us the history behind every one, the pride they had in their country was unrivalled. This led me to think about my home and how British people like me show little pride in it any more, even though there are so many things to be celebrated about it. When we visited primary, secondary and special schools this observation really became apparent. In every assembly they sang their national anthem which unlike ours held so much more meaning to them as they only recently achieved their independence in the 1970’s. Even the children who lived on the streets who did not go to school knew it like the back of their hand, and then there was me who didn’t even know the first verse of my own.
As we walked around the schools we saw classrooms that were so full of children that wanted to learn some had to stand outside just to be able to listen to what the teacher was saying. Unlike many children in England, they valued their teacher because they knew the quality of education they received would dictate their entire future life. When I have an exam I am overloaded with revision guides, practise exam papers and books where as they have very few resources .In spite of this and the sad fact that a lot of the children’s families were ravaged by malaria, AID’s and HIV they still brought dedication and perseverance to every single lesson as well as unyielding determination to succeed that put me to shame. I will admit, although ashamed now to do so, that I have, in the past, moaned about coming to school on numerous occasions and although I am not a truant, the temptation of missing a school day sometimes seems too hard to resist.
During the week we also visited many famous sights like the David Livingston museum and Victoria Falls. Words cannot adequately describe Victoria Falls, all I can say is that there is reason why it is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Never in my life did I ever dream to think I would see anything apart from its picture on Google, but I did. As the week drew to a close all of us were saddened as we made so many new friends that we didn’t want to part from. At the end we had a celebration evening full of laughter (and some tears) which perfectly rounded off an amazing week.
When we came back we organised charity events to raise money for Zambia, did assemblies round the entire school and spoke at parents evenings and prospective evenings. I have found that my confidence had grown dramatically. Now I can speak to new people easily, it is easier than speaking to people where there is a language barrier present like in Zambia. I am also much happier speaking in front of a crowd than I was previously. My organisation and communication skills have improved, along with an array of other skills, all of which have equipped me for life’s future challenges like university.
Over that week I learnt more about life than I have the eighteen years I spent on this earth. Because of that trip I am no longer selfish, I don’t walk past charity workers feigning ignorance because now I know that any contribution on my part no matter how small makes a difference and most importantly I have become more appreciative of everything I am so lucky to have; a family, good health, an education and the fact that I don’t have to suffer such hardships like worrying where the next meal will come from. My trip to Zambia has developed me as person by making me much more considerate of others and changed my outlook on life. I only hope that programmes like this one carry on giving other young people the chance to change their lives like it has changed mine.
Submitted by Ellie Fisher, Willenhall E-Act Academy. Willenhall