Earlier this semester I described my introduction and entry into the International Development Design Summit (IDDS), but of course that was just the beginning. After a little over a week of seminars, classes, activities and bonding, we were assigned to teams and sent out into the field. The eight teams would go in groups to villages across Zambia. In a random and happy twist of fate, the two teams with GSSErs ended up going to the same village and one of the summit facilitators for this village was to join the GSSE family as part of the seventh cohort this fall.
Our departure time was set for 10 am, and true to ZMT (Zambian Maybe Time), we finally pulled out of Lusaka around 1p heading southeast towards the border with Mozambique. Seven hours of winding roads took us through mountains, scrub forests, and dozens of tiny roadside villages to a gravel road leading us along the Luangwa River to our destination, the village of Mwavi, set amongst the Baobabs and palms. This little village is clustered with a dozen or so others in the Chitope District of Lusaka province. Village sizes range from 50 people up to 600, and during the rainy season many people engage in subsistence farming of maize. During the short dry winter, villagers make a living through brick-making, palm-weaving, and a number of other activities that utilize locally-sourced material.
Most people in the area speak Senga Losi, which is quite close to Nyanja, the language of the capital city. Households are separated into family units, but extended families are large and community life is interconnected. Religion plays an important role in this community, and most people we interacted with were Pentecostal. White maize is ground to flour and used to make nshima, a stiff porridge served with relishes. White maize is also used to make a local fermented sour brew that is popular throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. I am happy to report that both the food and the drink are delicious and worth experiencing.
Our two teams shared a community center as home base. This was situated within 100 meters of a football pitch, a catholic church, the courts, and thankfully a well. In the evenings, the soulful sounds of scripture groups singing at the local high school provided a peaceful backdrop for evening meetings and blissful sleep. We arrived on the new moon, and the depth of the darkness on the ground was contrasted by the intensity and vastness of the African night sky.
Over the next week, our two teams would spend time with community members in focus groups and individual interviews learning about what mattered most. This information would lay the foundation for co-creating solutions to a range of local concerns. Keep your heads up for the next installment!