Sixth grade social students at Sampson Middle School received a first hand look at life in Zambia this week when Peace Corps volunteer Christopher McMillan, who is home on vacation from Zambia, visited his dad’s class sharing his life so far in the South African country.
His father is teacher Gary McMillan.
The younger McMillan left for Zambia in January and is teaching English to the villagers in the southern region. His experiences, however, reach beyond the classroom. A part of what McMillan does is to establish sustainable resources for the people he serves. Some of the projects he has already completed including building a fish pond, developing a tree nursery and introducing bee keeping to the villagers.
The Republic of Zambia is a land-locked county found in the southern portion of Africa. McMillan shared that it was a very poor country where less that 6 percent of the people own a car or drive, and there are no traffic laws or good roads other than in the more modern urban areas. HIV/AIDs and malaria are very prevalent and are areas that the Peace Corps requires McMillan to address in his service there. The village where he lives has no electricity or running water.
“The people of Zambia are a peaceful people although very poor. A person with just a few U.S. dollars would be very rich there,” explained McMillan. “Despite being surrounded by some of the more inhumane countries found in Africa, the people of Zambia have bonded among the many tribes that once inhabited the country. English is the national language but there are 87 different languages spoken there. My village speaks Tonga in addition to English,” added Chris.
Countries that neighbor Zambia include: the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west. The capital city is Lusaka, located in the south-central
part of the country. The population is concentrated mainly around Lusaka in the south and the Copperbelt Province to the northwest. The country is most noted for Victoria Falls that is an interest to tourists. McMillan is about a three hour drive from the falls. Zambia is considered to be a Christian nation with most people being either Catholic or Seven Day Adventist.
McMillan shared that he decided over a year ago that he wanted to join the Peace Corps before any more time had passed.
“I considered going into the Peace Corps following getting my bachelor’s degree from Campbell. I had a friend who did join, but I decided to postpone my experience until after graduate school. I finally realized that if I was going to take the opportunity to serve my country and go into the Peace Corps it was time to do so,” explained McMillan.
He said the application process was fairly lengthy and it took almost a year before he was sure he had been selected and was going to serve in Zambia.It is quite a commitment as McMillan had to agree to serve for two years plus the three months of training received before serving by themselves on the field. A third year of service is also a possibility if the volunteer so chooses, but Chris has not reached that point yet.
“The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy to promote better relationships between developing countries and the United States,” asserted McMillan. “It also was developed to help Americans to learn and understand the people of these developing countries. The other part of the Peace Corps was to help the people of these countries to develop a better way of life for themselves. That is what I do in addition to my teaching job. I have help my villagers to develop the fish pond as a means of not only feeding themselves but using the product to increase their income. The same is true with the tree nursery and the honey produced from the bees. But we just don’t give them these resources. We teach them how to build, develop, maintain and grow these resources so they will continue to sustainable for the villages for the future.”
Living with no electricity or running water is not the only challenges the young man faces in the daily life in his village. The country is home of eight of the 10 most dangerous snakes found in the world. McMillan has a machete to defend himself from the snakes and has confronted a Black Mamba and a Cobra in his hut. Also the mosquito responsible for the brain affecting type of malaria are prevalent there so netting is required around his bed and everyone has to take medication daily to prevent the spread of the disease.
“Once someone is infected with malaria, if they do not receive treatment within eight hours, they are pretty much going to die,” said McMillan.
Chris is the first Peace Corps volunteer to ever serve his small village. The school where he teaches does not have electricity or even indoor plumbing. If a classroom has a chalkboard that is about all the materials that are on the walls. Desks that can seat three people are used for the students to sit. McMillan did state that education was taken seriously and the student were extremely respectful to senior and their teachers.
“The students want to look their best when attending school. They all wear uniforms and when a teacher enters the classroom they all stand until instructed to sit by the teacher. The also greet the teacher with good morning. When passing in papers or giving anything to the teacher, the boys bow and the girls curtsy. There is a lot of respect from the children,” remarked McMillan.
McMillan told the students that the people may eat a meal but if they do not eat one native food at that meal they have not eaten.
“This food is eaten at every meal. They take corn cobs and grind them into a powder and mix it with a small amount of water to eat. It is a staple for them to eat at every meal,” explained Chris.
The people do not use spoons and forks to eat with they only use their hands. Knives are used in killing animals and to cut up things but no utensils are used in eating.
As part of his service requirements from the Peace Corps, McMillan must educate the villagers regarding HIV/AIDs and how to prevent the epidemic problem that exists there. Chris has developed a soccer program where he shares information to the young people on the subject. According to the Peace Corps volunteer the average life expectancy is on 35 year of age and HIV/AIDs, malaria and infections are the greatest cause of such short life expectancies.
McMillan shared with the students the most rewarding part about his work thus far is seeing a project such as the fish pond being completed.
“You can see how something so simple has made such a big difference already in these people’s lives. I feel good to know that they can improve their lives from something I helped them to do,” cited Chris.
The young McMillan will be heading back to Zambia shortly after Christmas. He hopes to take back with him supplies that his dad’s students will be donating up until they get out for the holidays. Gary McMillan told his students that anything they bring in for the students, schools supplies, he will personally see that they are mailed to Chris. The elder McMillan is planning to travel to Zambia in August and again hopes to carry needed supplies to his son then.
Many of the students asked questions and expressed their appreciation to Chris for sharing his story and the people of Zambia with them during the classes.