Back in the early 2000s, Lisa Bennett was a secondary education major at Clemson who had no way of knowing that one of her coworkers at a video rental store would go on to found one of the most successful educator development organizations in Zambia. Lusungu Sibande was just another employee in the trenches with Bennett, restocking DVDs and keeping a naughty list of late video returners.

Fast forward nearly two decades. Bennett has had two kids and moved around South Carolina teaching high school English. Lusungu and her sister, Kondi, have repeatedly made trips to Zambia at the helm of A to Zed, a nonprofit dedicated to enriching the lives of children in Africa. The organization started in 2006, and from the beginning Lusungu and Kondi extended an open invitation to Bennett.

In 2016, Bennett finally went with them, offering her abilities as an educator to help teachers in Zambia through professional development workshops. Bennett said her first visit turned her into a “full-fledged member” of A to Zed, and she will travel to Zambia again next summer to continue closing gaps in education.

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From left to right: Lisa Bennett’s daughter, Alicia; Ocienna Sibande; Lusungu Sibande-Simwinji; Kondi Sibande; Lisa Bennett and Lisa’s son Philip.
Image Credit: Lisa Bennett

“Lusungu and Kondi made me part of their family and an honorary Zambian citizen,” Bennett said. “That just gives me more motivation to go back, discover what teacher needs are and develop workshops to address what they may be lacking in classrooms; it’s very fulfilling to help them put proven methods into practice.”

A to Zed coordinates its efforts with Zambia’s Center for Development of Curriculum. Bennett worked with teachers and students in grades 5-9, but her work wasn’t confined to the classroom. A to Zed also tackles service learning projects, such as helping teachers and students raise and sell crops, the proceeds of which get put back into the schools. Members of A to Zed also found time to host a field day for Matthew 25, a local orphanage.

Bennett said the first week of her visit was focused on cultural immersion. She learned about the people and different tribes, and she said it was jarring to experience over 70 different dialects in a country that is one thirteenth the size of the U.S. She also said it was humbling to see just how little the people of Zambia take for granted.

“An experience like this makes you realize how often people expect something to be done for them,” Bennett said. “The people of Zambia work hard and don’t expect a hand out; they do a lot with a little.”

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Lisa Bennett enjoying a visit to the Clemson Area African American Museum.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Bennett’s observation of “a lot with a little” hit home for her when she encountered a teacher through A to Zed that by her usual standards was underequipped to teach. Bennett said the teacher didn’t struggled; she used a single book and no other reading or writing materials to teach a class of 40 students. While Bennett watched her teach, she couldn’t help but think of teachers at home getting bent out of shape when technology failed them.

“In the end, it’s about me and what I have to give, and that’s expertise, heart and passion,” Bennett said. “All that technology should make your life easier, but when it doesn’t you can fall back on your passion.”

Bennett will leave for Zambia along with several other A to Zed volunteers on June 2, 2018. For more information about how you can get involved with A to Zed, visit their website here.