Newscast Media LUSAKA—It is summer of 2012. Everyone in her senior class has graduated. Some graduates are doing mission work, while others are pursuing admirable paths in their chosen vocations. Meanwhile, the thoughts of Annie Dougherty, a 22-year-old Psychology graduate, have drifted thousands of miles away to a land she has only read about and seen on television and in movies.
Annie planned to spend the entire fall 2012 and part of winter 2013 in Africa working with underprivileged and at-risk children in the remote village of Mazabuka, Zambia.
Teaching would come naturally for Annie Dougherty, since she was home-schooled, and as the second eldest of a large family, she got real life practice teaching her younger siblings. Yet the school system in Africa was a little confusing for her. Upon arrival in the Continent, Annie was assigned the first set of eight girls she would be helping pass the written exams which include science and maths.
“It makes a world of a difference to work with people who are equally serious about the goals in front of them,” Annie said. “My task was to help the girls pass the writing exams. Some girls had trouble reading and I think one was dyslexic, so we were learning how to overcome or work through the problems,” she added.
The students were between grades 1-12 therefore each student had a different need, in regard to the amount of attention and time needed to overcome any impediment. Everything was a challenge in the “City of Joy”, which is the name of the girls’ shelter in Mazabuka, Zambia. However, Annie was thankful that she was getting fulfillment from helping the villagers learn, and was doing it on a voluntary basis.
By 6 A.M., everyone was starting their day, and the girls actually walked to school while Annie stayed home with those who went later, that way she could do the tutoring. Transportation to the local parish for religious ceremonies was in the back of a pickup truck.
Despite being a foreign guest, the women encouraged Annie to roll up her sleeves, and work with a pair of oxen, because they loved to see a White girl do the same kind of tasks they did when they were growing up. “It was a thrill cultivating the fields,” Annie said. “Every time I had a chance, I volunteered myself because I enjoyed the work I was assigned to do,” she added.
In addition, Annie Dougherty lived in the volunteer house by herself, which is owned by the Salesian Sisters, while the girls lived in three separate houses. Each house that accommodated the girls had a “mami”—an older African woman between the age of 20-35 years, whose duty was to mentor the younger girls. The Salesian Sisters had their own living quarters in the vicinity.
“Sugarcane is what Mazabuka is known for,” Annie said. “The factory seems to employ half the city. Nsima is the most common item on the menu—maize flour cooked to the consistency of grits or porridge. I learned how to eat with my hands like a real Zambian, and have also learned a few Tonga expressions,” she reminisced.
Every visitor to a foreign culture experiences both culture shock, and has to deal with stereotypes, and Annie Dougherty found herself in such a situation during the early days of her arrival in Zambia, as she was scrubbing the floors of the volunteer house.
“Don’t clean too much, or you will get tired,” one of the little girls said to Annie. “White people don’t clean.” Taken aback by the thought that White people don’t do manual labor, Annie simply smiled and continued cleaning. It was a misconception portrayed by our culture and the media, in which they never show non-Blacks doing hard work or manual labor.
After the cleaning was complete, Annie sat down with the girl and told her about the kind of labor she had to do in order to afford a plane ticket to Zambia.
“I had to tell her that I spent the entire summer cleaning houses, in order to pay for my flight. I did not get upset…it gives me a chance to break the stereotypes and understand the culture here a little better.”
Indeed, the Zambians noticed Annie had a strong work ethic and did not have any false airs. In appreciation for what she was doing for the girls in the village, she was gifted with a “Chitenge” (African garb), and was told by them that she was practically Zambian, because she blended so well with, and embraced the Zambian culture.
As she and the other African ladies would go shopping to the local markets, Annie recalls that the men would say to her, “Mzungu,” which means “White person,” as they tried to get her attention, because they viewed her as tourist who had tons of money to spend on local goods.
“I really can’t describe the openness and genuine character of the people I met there. It has given me a new perspective on many things. Here there seems to be more of a sense of community. Everyone shares.
“Father Gregory Boyle who once worked with gangs in Los Angeles said that in working with the poor and underprivileged, we are allowing our hearts to be broken by the very things that break the heart of God. I think what he said is important because sometimes I am tempted to give up, when I don’t see the fruit of my work, or the results I expect,” Annie told this journalist.
Annie also made an interesting observation: “I got many odd questions like how many friends I have, or are there people in America who do not know how to read? In my experience so far, the culture seems to be non-reflective. It is pretty rare to hear someone say, “I think” or “I feel”, usually people do say, “I’m asking for… or I am telling you about…”"
As remote as Mazabuka may sound, Annie Dougherty had limited access to high-speed Internet, when there was power, and was able to keep in touch with her family and also update herself with news and current affairs around the world.
Perhaps her most satisfying event after completing six months of teaching in Africa, was the graduation ceremony, as any teacher would wish for a pupil to achieve.
This occasion found Annie’s spirit already most disposed by the ambition of seeing her students’ work come to fruition…it created a profound sense of gratitude that she will forever carry within the domain of her soul.
The undertaking she embarked upon, that is infused with recollections, of which some are amusing, while others instructive, created a new reality in Annie’s world that allowed her human side to fully express itself, as a way of demonstrating her homage to the aesthetics of a newly-discovered culture.
Impelled by the hope of further opportunities, Annie Dougherty has since returned to Texas, and is currently working at a pregnancy resource center, and also interns at a refugee settlement center.
Annie hopes to return to Africa at some future time, and plans to use her experience and resources to affect the lives of the underprivileged, by helping them change their world for the better, as it also changes them.