Zambia 101: The Teaching Adventure Of A Lifetime

Where do I even start?

I’ve been thinking for years about how my teacher’s salary could get me to Africa. I mean, let’s face it, a trip to experience Sub-Saharan Africa was going to be hard won. I would have to figure out how to get there, experience everything the area had to offer and get home for pennies on the dollar. It felt like I would have to give up a ton of other travel in order to enjoy anything south of the African equator. One day, it finally dawned on me. I was putting the logistics before the dream and that never gets the job done! It was this kind of thinking that was keeping me from the very thing I wanted to do!

Time for a strategy change!

This switch in tactics was exactly what I needed to get the puzzle pieces for this great adventure in place. The idea of going to Africa was planted in my head by quite a few colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with while I lived in Japan. These fellow teachers were connected by an interesting circumstance. They had all lovingly adopted a child from the same foundation in Africa. As a result, they had all had the opportunity to visit at one time or another. I loved their stories and the unique, quick connection that they had made with Africa. I was definitely hooked. While all of their stories were great, it would be another fellow teacher that held the key to my African success. Her name was Alicia.

Alicia taught my son back in Japan and, like so many others, moved on from her time there to other opportunities. She and I kept in touch over the years via Facebook and I watched from a distance as both of us settled into new places and routines. Each year, I was pleased to see her update chronicling her time in Zambia as she continued working through an organization called Family Legacy.

Family Legacy

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Family Legacy is looking to leave its mark on Lusaka. This capitol of Zambia has taken a few big hits over the years. From political unrest to the AIDS epidemic, Lusaka needed and still needs a lot of TLC. I’ll just suggest that you google the numbers to see the overwhelming statistics for yourself. Family Legacy, a modern day mission model of sorts, strives to make an impact on the poor neighborhoods within the capitol. They provide a recipe of services for the very needed schools they have built (24 of them) to the quiet social service work that they partner with the government to accomplish.

Their centerpiece is “The Tree of Life Village” where about 750 kids live in about 60 homes centered around their school. Since the 2003, founder Mario Zandstra has spearheaded this single minded mission to help children through the word of God. And make an impact they do. Consider this: Mario was using a small piece of land to put on a Summer Bible Camp. Fast forward to the present day, where his organization is servicing over 15,000 children with schooling, housing, and care. As impressed as I was, I wasn’t quite sure how I fit in.

Use your skills for good.

I always hemmed and hawed when I saw Alicia’s yearly message. Yes, it was wonderful work. Sure, I could make a difference with a small act. The problem was, I really wasn’t being called by some higher power to go do good deeds in a foreign land. Don’t get me wrong, I was intrigued to learn about this work happening so far away. I was also very aware that Summer was my selfish time when I got to forget about all of my responsibilities for the most part and regroup. Did I want to go to Zambia to volunteer to do something I really wasn’t feeling? The tables turned when Alicia mentioned a smaller program within the Family Legacy organization: Teach One.

Alicia and her colleague Heather, were interested in bringing American teachers to Zambia to model lessons for their teachers. Their goal was to bring those elusive best practices to life in the classrooms filled with these kids that they tasked themselves with helping. This was the piece of the puzzle missing for me. I knew I wouldn’t be good at mission work, but teaching, I can do that! I found my place. This was how I could contribute.

Be a teacher!

Now, that was something I could work with. I was in. And then I saw how much it would cost to go. Ooof! This was going to take some planning and some convincing. Yes, I needed to convince my husband that this was a good idea but I also needed to convince myself. In all reality, the cost to go to Africa was going to be about the same whether I lent a hand or not. If I was going to commit to this trip, there was just no way to say no to those kids and Alicia’s program. I made my deposit.

Heading to Zambia- for real.

I get it. There are many other travel bloggers who go to Africa and can do a much better job than me based on experience alone. Here’s the deal. This trip could be my only chance. I’m not a professional traveler and this was a big deal, not another press trip. It would also be a family trip. My mom would be joining me after a week as I wrapped up teaching and turned my attention to more travel.

The travel experts at Family Legacy had arranged and approved everything on their end. One day in March, I received a packet in the mail. The enclosures really read like I was going away for Summer camp! I needed so many things! From sunscreen, a personal first aid kit, and teacher clothes to vaccinations and donations. I was literally allotted three 50 pound bags. This was not a carry on only kind of trip!

Alicia and Alex
Landing in Zambia

In addition, it was my Teach One responsibility to come up with several lessons to share with the school I would be working with. I struggled with making my teaching choices and peppered Alicia with questions. Based on her input, I chose to bring some “craftivities” for the kids to do with literature that was based on character education. I crossed my fingers and packed my construction paper and googly eyes. Kids love googly eyes.

The Travel Plan

As with any trip, we all want to make our travels be the best that they could be! This trip would be no different. I needed to fly through Dubai then connect to Lusaka. Once I finished with the Teach One program, I would meet up with my mom for a short flight to Victoria Falls and Chobe, Botswana just beyond for some fun. On the way home, we would stop in Athens to enjoy a little down time then head home. It was twenty-one days of adventure and I was looking forward to all of them. Thankfully, the FL team was in charge of the in country logistics making this huge trip seem even more carefree. I’ll leave the stories of airport check-ins, Dubai layovers, and airport customs for another time.

Sunday Market

Alicia was a sight for sore eyes for a weary traveler. We loaded up all kinds of luggage and took off to get settled and meet the other teachers who I was joining in one of the FL schools. We met in our very modern hotel and went over the week’s plans which started with a Sunday Market at the Tree of Life Property.

Markets are an interesting concept from a traveler’s perspective. Will the market be a slice of life like a fish market where the daily haul comes in and sold? Or, will the market be a tourist market where handicrafts and “authentic” items of local culture are displayed by artisans? Don’t get me wrong, both have merit. I mean, let’s face it, I like the hum of a food market like everyone else but I’m probably not buying a bushel of apples. On the other hand, non breakable artwork and Christmas ornaments made out of monkey orange pits have an appeal I can not deny.

Weaved baskets at the Sunday Market
Monkey Orange pits turned into Christmas ornaments.
Handicrafts from some of the local vendors including chitenge

Time To Get My Craft On.

First, I’m going to be truthful. I am all about the buy. I’m a sucker for the handcraft. If I can turn it into a Christmas decoration or make it a tablecloth, I’m good. Take my money. I’ll worry about fitting it in my suitcase later. I’m willing to make the most of this hilltop moment.

beads made out of rolled newspaper  and painted in bright colors. Tree of Life Sunday Market, Lusaka, Zambia, Africa

Handicrafts in Zambia consist of weaved baskets, woodcarvings, animal paintings, and Chitenge material. Chitenge is the fabric that is used as women’s clothing. It can be worn traditionally or sewn into modern fashions. My favorite booth was full of jewelry that had a great story. Mulberry Mongoose is a female led company that pulls poacher traps from the bush and fashions the parts of the traps they take out of commission into really lovely jewelry. The proceeds circle right back to anti poaching funds. Score one for the good guys! Sunday market time in Africa just got a whole lot better!


In order to get a true read on the kids we were about to work with, Alicia and Heather took us on a short drive through the capitol. My impressions of modern day Lusaka, Africa were mixed. On one hand, the tourism industry put forth great hotels and plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy. On the other, deep set poverty was evident. Families were living in close quarters in neighborhoods that seemed cut off from the middle class world just around the corner. In addition, there was a distinct presence from China here. The construction and infrastructure all seemed to be funded by this outside source. When I asked about crime, the answer seemed to be “we have to guard everything because most crime is crime of opportunity”. Fair enough. I rolled up the window.

Good Morning Class

When a teacher gets a chance to truly step out of their own classroom and into the shoes of another, a certain renewal occurs. This was most certainly true of the little school in Ngombe. With students from ages 5 to 13, this school was all heart. It was clear that everyone was there for the right reasons- growth and opportunity. This was going to be a week’s worth of long days filled with great work.

A mom dropping her children at school
Popcorn fun in 6th grade
Little ones with bunny ears and hoot owls
Alicia tutoring proper chopstick form

I brought several books with me to share. “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns To Listen” was on my list because we could make bunny ears with the little ones and have a great literature circle. “My Mouth Is A Volcano” was also one of my picks so we could model connecting science with literature. Last, I brought “How My Parents Learned To Eat”. That last pick gave me the chance to share a little Japanese culture with the kids. Something that Alicia and I shared. To say that it was a fulfilling week is an understatement. We glued googly eyes, made bunny ears and ate popcorn with chopsticks. We played games in the school yard and we American teachers learned how much this neighborhood depended on their school.

Second graders after learning about sequence Lusaka, Africa
Matthew, a kindergartener, so sweet.
Family Legacy Ngombe School
Making volcanoes erupt in 4th grade.
Family Legacy Ngombe School
7th graders learn basic ballet in the school yard. Family Legacy Ngombe School
Fellow teachers meeting with a mom to learn more about life in Ngombe
Lusaka, Africa

The Flower Man

The entire week, as we all got to know each other, I watched the groundskeeper as he patiently work on replacing a faded flower out of donated construction paper. Each day, he took a little time to add a petal or cut out a leaf. It was as if that flower on the wall bloomed to life over the week to make the little school in the poverty stricken area just a little better. It was a true metaphor for the work that Family Legacy was doing here in Africa. From just a few scraps he created a masterpiece.

The Flower man on Monday.
Lusaka, Africa
The FLower Man on Friday.
Lusaka, Zambia, Africa
Family Legacy Ngombe School

From teaching to touring.

No doubt, teaching in Africa was an amazing experience. But, quite frankly, not many of you would spend time doing that. (And if you are, please click the link I left above!)I’m sure most of you would dig in to the quintessential activities that draw us to Africa to begin with. However, I must say that my experience in Lusaka lent an important point of view as I said goodbye to Family Legacy and Ngombe School and hello to Victoria Falls in the western tip of the country. Often, travelers are only treated to a “disneyfied” view of a country and do not experience day to day life with all of its wrinkles. While the Sunday Market may not have given much insight into daily life in Lusaka, my time in Ngombe did. That understanding gave me permission to view the more touristy Victoria Falls.

Suddenly Solo

The plan was to have my mom meet me just as I was wrapping up in Lusaka. The plan did not go according to plan. My mom was going to be about 2 days delayed and I had a little free time and a flight to catch to Livingstone. My reservations were for a hotel adjacent to the falls. Surrounded by Mosi-oa-Tunya National Perserve, The Avani Hotel is the perfect launching pad for the surrounding area. And there is so much to do!!! As you might expect, the town of Livingstone has plenty for every sort of traveler.


If you are adventurous, there’s zip lining and rafting. But, you may be more of a history buff, check out the small but good museum on the local area and the arrival of man about town, Sir David Livingstone. Then again, you may far more interested in the local residents and there’s a great cultural center for that. Probably the most impressive interest is that of the falls themselves.

The Smoke That Thunders

The great Zambezi River is unique for quite a few reasons. It’s crocodile and hippo population is above par and it serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, it’s the 354 foot drop it takes that seems to win the popularity award. The Falls are awesome. In fact, all 5,604 feet of them remind anyone why this planet is so incredibly amazing!

The mist rising from Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa
Upriver. Victoria Falls
Looking across to the Zimbabwe side of the falls, Africa

I totally appreciated all of Zambia’s forethought into their side of the Falls. Especially when I looked over at the Zimbabwe side and saw people standing with no safety rails or specific viewing areas. Yikes!

Thankfully, the Zambia side of the falls, which is the largest, has a great set of trails to use so that you can view this wonder of nature. And, yes, the Devil’s Pool is there for those looking to see things from the very top edge. Take advantage of the great guides, be prepared to get a little wet, and revel in nature! Speaking of nature…

Let’s face it, no matter which of the choices above you may be interested in, the biggest draw, by far, are the animals. After all, what would a trip to Africa be without a few four legged friends?

A zebra has a drink with me at the poolside bar.

Livingstone is full of fantastic places to stay. I was lucky enough to stay at Avani. Located in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Preserve, Avani has access to both wildlife and the magnificent falls. Because the resort is located inside the preserve, wildlife including zebras, giraffe, and baboons all roam freely on the property and that is very cool. As I settled in for the evening, I was joined at the poolside bar by a few striped friends.

Avani Resort, Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa
Zebras Poolside.
Avani Resort, Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa
Some of the loving staff at the Livingstone Lodge

The activity desk, available at all the local resorts, had tons of things to do. From helicopter rides to river safaris, travelers of every age and stage have something to do. I was lucky enough to have one of the groundskeepers show me around and got a chance to get up close and personal with one of the giraffes. I also got the chance to zip line over the lower Zambezi which was out of this world!

One of the locals enjoying the sunshine
Avani Resort, Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa
Zip lining over the Zambezi River
Victoria Falls, Zambia, Africa

Cover Girls

I must have 1,000 pictures from my trip. Half of them are of elephants. I didn’t mean to take so many pictures of just elephants but I couldn’t help it! Looking back, I think that they all know what a camera is and they have learned over the years how to pose. I was lucky enough to spend a little time up close and personal with these beauties at The Elephant Cafe.

This meet and eat experience allows you to combine a gourmet meal that’s sourced within 20 kilometers of the cafe with an up close encounter with elephants who stay under the watchful eye of a keeper. Each of the 9 elephants has a unique story that brought them to the cafe and it is a joy to hear all about them as you feed them and interact with these gentle giants.

The Elephant Cafe, This girl is just 5 years old
The Elephant Cafe, Cover Girls
The Elephant Cafe, Victoria Falls

Zambia was amazing. I have literally sat with this post for months trying to come up with a better word than amazing. I finally looked up the definition and decided that amazing was the right word. See for yourself:

Amazing Zambia

So, what does a teaching experience in Zambia have to do with global literacy?

Well, it’s simple. The little connections we make along the way allow us to have a greater understanding of the cultures around us. They make the world more accessible and create bridges of understanding. Like this and want to see more ? Please like TGC and share! We are a growing community and look forward to sharing travel, education, and culture with you!

But Wait! There’s More!

This post wound up being so detailed that I couldn’t include the second part of my trip. Check out my adventure in Botswana with my mom. We went on a traditional Safari and had tons of eco-friendly fun! Click here to read on!