Zebell helped build African schoolPublished 3:44pm Sunday, March 25, 2012
Building a school in Zambia last summer humbled Craig Zebell, a Dowagiac valedictorian.
The school his family and pastor’s family built in Africa has almost tripled in size, from 96 students to 276.
And many are wearing orange-and-black Dowagiac shirts they collected to leave there.
“A guy from Holland who taught there said there were so many kids on the floor, he couldn’t move from where he was, and there were more outside, peering in the windows and trying to get a little knowledge,” Zebell said. “Kids my age usually aren’t that eager and excited to learn as these students were. It was mind-boggling to me.
“It made me more a learner who desires to keep learning. I’ve been touched a lot knowing that we impacted kids’ lives so they can do something. We started a feeding program which costs $36 a year. It also impacted how I treat people,” Zebell said.
One of the three teachers died from malaria a week after he returned home.
The school had been teaching without books for three years. When they were presented with curriculum materials, “Their eyes lit up so brightly,” Zebell said.
One day at the work site, a worker caught a rat and toasted it over a fire.
“They said it was a delicacy,” said Zebell, who spoke to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday as the guest of his principal, Paul Hartsig, who called him a “superstar” for being a Michigan High School Athletic Association Scholar-Athlete, receving a scholarship at halftime of a Class C basketball game. He also wrote a winning Daughters of American Revolution Good Citizen essay to compete at the state level on Tuesday in East Lansing, and he is secretary of Interact at DUHS, which has its own website and three times made All-State in soccer. He plans to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
“Like a little blossom, this trip started to happen several years ago,” Zebell said. “My mom’s father, Grandpa Joe, did relief work in Malawi. He wrote letters back to my mom, so, at a young age, she had a desire to help people in Africa. Two Septembers ago, we were headed to a family reunion in the Chicago area on a Saturday and prayed with her for $20,000, which she heard on the radio was enough to build a school in Africa. That Tuesday in the mail came $20,000 from Grandpa Joe’s estate. It wasn’t $25,000 or $18,000, but $20,000, which was sort of scary.”
Accompanying his family, which includes Steve and Claudia and an older brother and younger sister, were Pastor Doug Cuthbert of Sister Lakes Community Church and his wife and daughter, one of her friends and a cousin from Chicago.
Zambia, formerly the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, has English as its national language — along with 73 tribal dialects. The country is the size of Texas or France in southern Africa and home to Victoria Falls.
Zebell reports the residents love to sing and dance, as evidenced by videos, which also show the requisite lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinos.
“Each day we woke up” at the seminary and went to the village, digging nine-foot latrines and building the cement block school. The temperature was mostly comfortable, in the 70s or 80s. They ate “nshima,” the staple, which Zebell found “bland. It’s corn meal the texture of oatmeal. They eat it with things to make it taste better. It’s not very nutritious, but it fills them up. They have marketplaces where you can get bananas, apples and tomatoes from South Africa. The capital, Lusaka, is modernized to an extent.”