Harding students learn life lessons in Zambia

By Kayla Baugh Published September 15, 2017 at 9:14 a.m.
0 Comments A A Font Size
PHOTO BY: William Harvey

In the front row, from left, students Mercedes Bruce, Kaylan Griffin and Hannah Beck; and back row, Janis Ragsdale and Audra Pleasant, international programs administrators, gather with Jeff Hopper, far right, dean of international programs at Harding University in Searcy. Beck said the Harding in Zambia program expands the students’ worldview while giving them an opportunity to serve others.

— Students at Harding University in Searcy are going places — to different countries, to be exact.

One of those countries is in Africa, and students are bringing back memories from Zambia that’ll last a lifetime.

Jeff Hopper, dean of international programs at the university, said Harding in Zambia, also known as HIZ, began as a study-abroad semester to complement the university’s other programs in Greece, France, London, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand.

Hopper said the program is held in cooperation with the Namwianga Mission near Kalomo, Zambia.

“In addition to attending classes taught by Harding professors who are sent with the students and being taught by Zambian teachers from the mission, the students have opportunities to learn from the Zambians through a variety of planned experiences,” Hopper said.

Activities on the trip are conducted at an orphanage, a medical clinic, a school and a developmental farm, he said.

“The students learn the tribal language from the Zambians, they read African literature, they learn drip irrigation, they learn to care for sick children and adults, and they become saturated with a culture very different from their own. We take away much more than we leave,” he said.

HIZ teaches students and faculty members how people in much of the world live and carry out their day-to-day lives, he said.

“It teaches them that the source of happiness is not in money or private ownership, but rather the source of happiness is found in relationships with family and friends. It teaches them the beauty of the Tonga people and the value of their traditions. Many students and faculty discover that their personal faith in God is deepened at an accelerated pace while in Zambia,” he said.

Hopper said the program began under David Burks, a former president of Harding University.

Harding typically sponsors three study-abroad programs to Zambia each year, Hopper said — the undergraduate HIZ program in the fall semester, the graduate physical-therapy program in December and the graduate program in speech-language pathology in May.

Students fund their own trips, he said, and financial aid can be used.

Hopper said 16 hours of university credit are earned from the 12-week program, and students with any major are welcome to participate.

“I’d like our students to all graduate from Harding with a keen awareness of the world they live in, of other cultures, other languages and the many ways that beauty is expressed,” he said.

Mercedes Bruce, Kaylan Griffin and Hannah Beck, students who have traveled to Zambia with HIZ, all said the experience was life-changing.

Beck said the program expands one’s worldview while giving the students an opportunity to serve.

“You get the opportunity to love and be loved by the people of Zambia. A lot of it is about building relationships,” she said.

Much of the students’ time on the trip was spent helping at havens, she said, places where people take care of babies and children until they can transition into homes.

“Women called ‘aunties’ take care of the babies in the havens and love them like they are their own children,” Beck said.

Griffin said parents often can’t afford to take care of a child, or other hardships occur, so the babies are placed in a haven.

“If there’s not a wet nurse for the baby after a mother dies during childbirth, there’s no way to feed the baby. It takes the equivalent of a monthly salary to buy formula,” Hopper said.

“There’s a terrible, tearful practice where they’ll take the baby and bury him or her with the mother when the mother dies,” he said.

The mission hears about that and offers to take care of the babies until the child is old enough to eat solid food.

Students learn from African teachers about language, African history, African literature and missionary history, Griffin said, “which made [the experience] more significant.”

Bruce said the most memorable aspect of the trip for her was seeing the value of relationships and realizing that Americans spend too much time on electronic devices.

“It’s a relationship-based society [in Zambia]. You drop anything to go and help a person that you know. You do whatever you can to help someone,” she said.

Griffin said she remembers cooking with the aunties and getting a lot of smoke in her eyes one day.

“I had tears running down my face from the smoke. I asked [an auntie], ‘How do you handle the smoke?’ and she said, ‘African women have strong eyes,’” Griffin said.

“I know she was just meaning that they can handle cooking outside, but the more I thought about it, I thought about the things that they see and deal with and the struggles that might come through their lives. You would never be able to tell because of the joy and love that they showed us, and that just never really left me. It made me grateful for the things I have and the things I’ve been blessed with,” Griffin said.

Beck said the Zambians accepted the students as if they were a part of the family and still contact the students on Facebook from time to time.

“They accepted us into their homes, they fed us, they did all of these things, and they didn’t even have much money. They wanted to do it. We were loved and accepted so well, and it taught me so much,” she said.

Bruce said the opportunity to work in the clinic was important — students put casts on patients, gave shots, took vital signs and more.

She said the students spent time with members of the community and saw hundreds of people throughout the day while learning from the doctors, nurses and therapists.

Hopper said the most recent group of HIZ students left for Zambia on Aug. 22 and will return to Searcy on Nov. 15.

“My memories of visiting the Namwianga Mission trigger all my senses and especially my heart,” Hopper said. “When a village serves one of only three goats they own to their visitors from the USA, more than my appetite is satisfied. To hear the Zambians sing folk songs or Christian hymns is a glorious thing; most Zambians love to sing. To cradle a sick child who has no one else to hold him and to share the warmth of his little body is a moving experience.

“The most fulfilling thing this office does is this program.”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or kbaugh@arkansasonline.com.

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or kbaugh@arkansasonline.com.