Tag Archives: Zambia

~from intern Haley Huffman

Ellen Brinks is the graduate program coordinator for the English Department, but her passions extend far beyond the scheduling, staffing and training that make up a large portion of her responsibilities. She thinks of herself “first and foremost as a teacher, advisor and mentor for undergrads and graduate students.”

Brinks grew up in Michigan in the suburbs of the Detroit Metro area. While she was in high school she studied abroad in Germany and that opened everything up for her. Brinks loved the vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere of Germany so much she ended up completing her Masters at a German university. At that point, she had been in a classroom for her entire life and decided that she needed to do something a little different.

She really wanted to do something for others because she has always been very service oriented, so she spent six years doing social work. Brinks returned to her academic roots after realizing that “deep down, [her] nature is that [she’s] an intellectual.” She likes to study, learn, and loves the classroom, and that’s where she wanted to be, so she went back to graduate school for a PhD.

For six years Brinks lived in Manhattan and worked on her PhD at Princeton. She became accustomed to her metropolitan lifestyle and fell in love with the diverse people that also inhabited the city. Ironically, when Brinks completed her PhD she applied for a position with a university located in a small town in Colorado.

Ellen and her wife, Julie

Ellen and her wife, Julie

The adjustment to life in Fort Collins was an interesting one. The hustle and bustle of Manhattan was a long ways away. “I thought I was in some post nuclear zone. I would look out of the house I was renting on Remington and I wouldn’t see a single person walk by,” said Brinks. The charms of CSU and the English Department in particular convinced Brinks to stay. “This department is wonderful. They let you explore and develop in the ways that you feel compelled to do.”

Professor Brinks is using that creative freedom to study international fairy tales at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, and how that shaped understandings of a globalized childhood. In particular, Brinks studies the way these fairy tales were reviewed and the conversations that surround these tales. “Those stories invite children to journey to other cultures and other places that they can never physically go, but they can imaginatively go — so what view of the world are they presenting and what understanding of the child as an international or global citizen are they projecting in those works?”

To research this, Brinks spends a lot of time sifting through archives, which happens to be one of her passions. She will be traveling to London in a couple months to the British Library to scavenge for fairy tales from the 19th century. “I love exploring all of those things and not knowing what I’m going to find,” said Brinks.

Children’s literacy is not just a topic that Brinks is exploring in her academic world, but also in her personal life. She spent some time traveling solo and ended up in Livingstone, Zambia on the Book Bus, a mobile library dedicated to increasing children’s literacy across the globe. “That’s when I absolutely fell in love with the place. There were other volunteers who were with me on the Book Bus, who were like in their 20’s or even younger. There was one guy who was 18 from England and he had never been to Africa before. He just on a whim decided to do it and he was great. I thought ‘wow!’ I can so imagine CSU students doing this and getting so much out of it and finding it very rewarding.”

When Brinks returned to CSU, she met with the Education Abroad office and began to develop the Zambia Study Abroad Program. She found an organization that could accommodate a larger group of volunteers, working in community health and education. Students from all over the university, representing all different majors, participate in the Zambia program and have said it’s been one of the most transformative experiences they’ve ever had.

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015


Professor Brinks working in a clinic in Zambia

Ellen Brinks working in a clinic in Zambia

Students spend three weeks working in Livingstone, Zambia and can choose from several different tracks. For example there is the community health track, where students have the opportunity to provide health care through home visits, or there is the education track, which gives students the opportunity to teach a classroom of elementary-aged students.

Students will be challenged during their visit to Zambia and there will be tough moments, but Brinks said, “it’s also rewarding because you see how you can make a small difference in a child’s life.”

The trip to Zambia isn’t all work and no play; there are weekend excursions and plenty of free time for fun. Chobe National Park, in Botswana, is on the weekend excursion itinerary and there is a very large animal population. Rafting on the Zambize river and swimming on the edge of Victoria Falls are other pastimes.



Livingstone, Zambia has a very warm and welcoming feel, full of cafes and restaurants, as well as shopping and nightlife. This trip is a chance to be immersed in Zambian culture, without the prepackaged “African” experience.

Brinks has been leading this program for three years now and it has been one of the best experiences of her teaching career. “I am with them in the neighborhoods when we go to visit people, when we go to visit a young person who has cerebral palsy or an old woman who is really in pain because of a stroke. We’re problem solving on the ground together. We are giving each other emotional support. We’re just hanging together having a good time, sharing a beer at the end of the day.”

To find out more about this program, contact Ellen Brinks, Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu or visit the program page. Or come to the information session, November 2.


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The CSU Zambia Trip Members on Safari in Chobe Park (Botswana)

Dr. Ellen Brinks recently returned from Livingstone, Zambia where she led a group of CSU students on a study abroad program that focused on contributing to community education and health initiatives for the local people. For three weeks, they took part in experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). The following field report is written by Madeline Kasic, who will be remaining in Zambia to continue working with African Impact for the next 9 weeks. Make sure to check out Madeline’s pre-departure post too!

William Carlos Williams states in his poem Paterson, “No ideas but in things” in regards to descriptive writing meaning that a writer should focus on physical objects instead of abstract concepts. This wisdom has been passed on to me many times in creative and academic writing classes during my time at Colorado State University. However, I have never understood how important the understanding things was until I began interacting with the people of Zambia.

Things are different here than in the United States; here everyday items that Americans have in abundance or consider to be disposable carry value. For example, most of my friends can go weeks without repeating an outfit and have no qualms about recycling water bottles or throwing away unwanted personal items. Zambians on the other hand may only have a few sets of clothes and it is not uncommon for them to wear the same clothes day after day. Furthermore, if a Zambian were to lose something that we might consider to be of little value, like a Nalgene water bottle, they would feel more of a sentimental loss because it was something that travelled with them daily for a significant amount of time. So when I say that things are different here in Zambia I mean that the people here interact with their personal items in a completely different way than we do in the U.S.

It may seem natural for a more impoverished group of people to have a different approach to personal items in terms of use and maintenance than an affluent group that can replace items at will, but the differences between how the Zambians see personal items goes farther than simply having less.

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Madeline Kasic teaching at Linda School in the afternoon (Photo credit: Isabell Brown)

Every morning after I walk into my fifth grade classroom at Zambezi Sawmill Community School at least four students ask me if they can borrow a pen. They ask for many different reasons. Some do not have a pen to begin with because their family can hardly afford school supplies and others ask because the pen they brought has stopped working. I carry extra pens with me just for this reason. The first day I gave one of my students a pen I thought they would keep it, which was fine with me because I figured they needed it. However, when I was packing up after class the student came up to me and returned the pen with a practiced diligence that is rare in American fifth graders.

Over the next few weeks I lent pens to many different students, carrying six or seven with me at all times just to be prepared. Each time I have lent a pen to a student they have returned it to me without fail at the end of class. And although I now expect for them to be returned to me, I still marvel at the respect my students have for such a simple item.

In the US, a pen is a disposable item. I lend pens to my classmates and usually don’t expect to get them back. I figure that any pen I lose in this exchange replaces a pen I have “borrowed” and accidently taken with me when the class ends. But here in Zambia pens are valuable.

teachingI have spent a lot of time thinking about why the Zambian children I teach are so much more respectful of my property than I expected them to be. I have come up with two reasons. The first is that as stated earlier, here, even the smallest item is valuable. The other reason is a result of the first. Because of the level of poverty and the value of simple items, there is a lot of theft in poor communities like the one my school is located in. My students, therefore go to great lengths to protect their reputation as someone who does not steal. There is no such thing as forgetting to return something at Zambezi Sawmill Community School, and the students are very aware of this fact.

The difference in the approach to personal items between Zambia and the U.S. is an unforeseen cultural difference that has begun to fascinate me. As I continue my time here I plan on learning not only the intricate details of the Zambian approach to things, but also the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.  

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Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project. Zambia, Summer 2015

An important message from Professor Ellen Brinks:

Dear English students,

Are you interested in doing meaningful community education and community health work this summer – in Africa? And earning three academic credits for it?

As faculty-director of the 2016 summer Education abroad program in Zambia (May 22-June 11, 2016), I wanted to touch base with all of you. Last year we had a number of English students (as well as other CSU students) participate in Community Health and Community Education work in Livingstone, Zambia, and I’m hoping for a good representation from English again this year. It’s a wonderful experience that will challenge and empower you, and it’s takes an adventurous and unselfish person to do this kind of work.

Some of you have expressed an interest in going, some of you have already applied, and some may be hearing about the program for the first time. This message is for all of you!

Now is the ideal time to discuss the program with your family, to ponder how serious your inclinations are for boots on the ground experiential learning in Africa (this is not a vacation but meaningful, fun, and gratifying work), to decide whether you’re going to be one of our group, and to get the application process underway for the program and for scholarship money!


Do you want to know more about this program, or are you still unsure whether to commit to it? If so, here are some reasons to go:

  • You’ll be able to work on meaningful community education and health projects and make a difference in the lives of children and adults
  • ​It’s the only CSU program – period – that allows students to get a first-hand experience of life in Africa through community work in education and healthcare (this is NOT a pre-packaged tourist view of Africa)
  • ​Service-learning experience ranks very high in skills sought after in the business, medical, governmental, non-profit, and academic sectors
  • ​You will not be able to find a vacation or volunteer program in Africa as inexpensive as this one
  • ​Zambia has been called “Africa for Beginners” because of its safe, warm, friendly culture and its stable democracy
  • ​Livingstone is a bustling town with a burgeoning middle-class; while you’ll see poverty and hardship, this is not a “depressing” place to be!
  • ​Livingstone has some wonderful amenities (wifi; shops, cafes and restaurants; arts and crafts markets), and the area and our program will offer an unparalleled experience of natural wonders (Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park) and cultural experiences
  • ​We stay at a comfortable and inviting backpacker’s lodge with 24-hour security
  • ​The climate is comfortable; we travel there during their winter with daytime highs in the 80s and nighttime lows in the upper 40s


Testimonials from 2015 CSU volunteers about the summer Zambia program:

  • ​“I felt honored to be able to use my privilege to help in Livingstone. They gave me more than I could ever provide them with” (Jo Buckley)
  • ​“I can say quite honestly that it was the best thing I have done in my life to date” (Nick Breland)
  • ​“Zambia forever changed my life, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip with better people. I hope to apply my experiences in Zambia to my future endeavors and daily life” (Amira Noshi)
  • ​“How was it? It was the un-debased definition of awesome. It was everything that I wanted it to be, and it was more than that too” (Jackson White)
  • ​“Though I will never be able to return to the moments I cherish from Zambia, they are now a part of my being and my future” (Adelle McDaniel)
  • ​“I learned invaluable lessons about myself, teamwork, and the world. I have become more aware of how others live and think. I know I have to go back” (Kathleen Wendt)
  •  “I met so many amazing people on my trip to Zambia. I fell in love with the culture and the people I met. Every person in Zambia had something to teach me about life. If I take anything away from my trip to Zambia, it is that I didn’t change Livingstone in three weeks, but Livingstone changed me” (Katie Wybenga)


You may also be wondering: will this be for academic credit?

  • ​All participating students will take E382, “Reading and Writing the Zambia Experience,” which will count towards your program credits
  • ​You’ll earn three academic credits doing daily community work, along with some pre-trip reading and post-trip reflective writing
  • ​The course will make your time abroad more rewarding through: 1) reading (fiction and non-fiction) and discussion about being a Western volunteer or aid-worker in Africa; and 2) self-reflective writing during and after your time in Zambia. We self-publish the essays in a volume you’ll have to keep and share. The course adds meaningful creative, intellectual, and personal components to the hands-on experience in Zambia.


The application deadline is February 15, 2016.  If you want to go, now is the time to apply! We are capping the number of students at 16.

You can access the application and find materials at the link: https://studioabroad.colostate.edu/index.cfm?FuseAction=Programs.ViewProgram&Program_ID=11477


Still need more information?

I’ll be hosting an informational meeting on Monday, January 25 at noon in LSC 308. This will feature many photos and practical information about the program and life/culture in Livingstone, Zambia. It will also give us a chance to discuss more personally any questions or concerns you might have. I will try to get some of last year’s students to come and speak about their experiences, or I can put you in touch with them via email.

You can always – I mean always! – contact me for more information: Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu

In the meantime, I hope you had a lovely break with family and friends.


Ellen Brinks
Faculty Leader, Community Education and Health in Livingstone, Zambia
Professor and Graduate Programs Coordinator
Department of English
Honors Faculty

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 Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project.

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project.


English Professor Ellen Brinks took a group of 12 students to Livingstone, Zambia this summer. For three weeks, they took part in experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). The group, which was in Zambia from May 22 to June 15, included students from a variety of CSU departments. Their story was recently featured in Colorado State University’s Campus Newspaper, SOURCE. Check it out here. 

Also, make sure to check out more stories from Zambia on our blog:

Field Report: Study Abroad in Zambia, 1st Entry

Field Report: Study Abroad in Zambia, 2nd Entry

Field Report: Study Abroad in Zambia, Final Entry

Planning is already in the works for next summer’s trip. Tentative dates are May 22-June 11, and the program will once again be led by Brinks. Program coordinators hope to find ways to support students over the next year to fund the 2016 trip. A three-credit independent study course titled “Reading and Writing the Zambia Experience” is available for students who wish to receive credit for the trip. Interested applicants can visit CSU’s Education Abroad website for more details; anyone is welcome to apply.


English student Jackson White with sixth graders from Libuyu Community School.

English student Jackson White with sixth graders from Libuyu Community School.


“There’s a seismic shift that happens after really experiencing Africa for all that it is, which I think is the point of the whole program. It’s about enriching students in ways they cannot get in a classroom and allowing them to imagine possible futures for themselves.”

-Ellen Brinks


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Professor Ellen Brinks took a group of students to Livingstone, Zambia this summer. For three weeks, they took part in experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). We asked a few of them to send us pictures and let us know how it’s going, tell us more about what they are doing and experiencing. Here’s the final report from Morgan Bennett, Amira Noshi, and Alexandra Pinion.

~from Morgan Bennett

During our time in Zambia, all of us on the community education projects assumed we were the teachers. That was even the idea that sold me on the idea to travel to Livingstone: teaching and impacting children in a country across the world. Little did I know that going to Zambia would transform me from a teacher into a student.

I entered the 7th grade class at Libuyu Primary School confident in my teaching ability; I have had fantastic education teachers at CSU who have prepared me for anything. On top of that, I have aspirations of teaching middle school students in the U.S. But when you hear a 7th grade class, a group of 11 year olds is probably what comes to mind. That is not the case at Libuyu: the students go to school when their family can afford it. This means that the age range in the class can be from 11 to 19. This can be difficult because students are at developmentally different places in their life, but are all still learning the same curriculum.

Halfway through my duration at Libuyu Primary School, my host teacher, Coastah, told me that 13 of his students could not read. At this point, I was cursing myself for not packing my E402 Teaching Reading Interactive Notebook, Teaching Grammar Through Writing by Keith Polette, and Kylene Beers, When Kids Can’t Read. It was a real frustration for me to have only three weeks with these students who needed help past what my time could give. This was my next lesson as the student. To me, teaching students digraphs seemed a small feat; I felt disheartened that I only had time to teach them so much. But that’s not the point: teaching students what noise “th” makes may be small, but it’s leaps and bounds away from where they were before they learned that. And sometimes life is about the connections and experiences you have, not the amount of information that is learned.

In Zambia, 7th grade is the testing year. This means that at the end of the three terms, students must take a test to see if they can continue their education in secondary school. If the students don’t pass, it will be the end of the road for many of them; schools and families both cannot afford to support that high volume of students in the class for a second year. I learned a disheartening statistic that 77% of students in the Zambian school system will not graduate from secondary school. It hurts my heart, because like the students in America, these children have high aspirations. Many of them want to be doctors, engineers, and teachers: all jobs that are desperately needed, but also require a high level of education. Although it’s hard to know that all of the students in my class may not make it to secondary school, I have the hope that all the knowledge they have learned from their great teachers throughout the years can take them into the future to accomplish any dreams they put their minds to.

The 7th grade class at Libuyu Primary School with soccer balls donated by the CSU English Department

The 7th grade class at Libuyu Primary School with soccer balls donated by the CSU English Department

~from Amira Noshi

We’ve been back for nearly two weeks now and I think I can speak for all of us when I say, no words can describe our individual experiences. Overwhelmed by the seemingly harmless question of “how was it?” I find it hard to even write about now, having defeated my jet lag and adjusted back into my daily life.

Spending three weeks working in the Cheshire Home, a school for children with disabilities, has changed my perspective completely, being immersed in the daily lives of the inspiring students and teachers of Cheshire homes reminds me to challenge myself in all aspects of life.

The Cheshire Home was conveniently located just around the corner from the hostel, so Katie (my partner in crime) and I could enjoy a nice stroll every morning before starting a unique day. Cheshire Home had two classrooms, separated by grade levels with Charity teaching the older kids and Evelyn braving the younger class. Charity and Evelyn were not only responsible for the everyday lesson plans, but also for administrative duties, and often they were called away from class leaving Katie and I to either continue the lesson or completely improvise the rest of the day.

Playing a game where the object was to hit the newspaper with a rock, whoever hit the most wins!

Playing a game where the object was to hit the newspaper with a rock, whoever hit the most wins!

During these times we really got to know the kids, we learned that Mildred has some pretty sweet dance moves, Mushabati is a math wiz, and Veronica can command a classroom better than Katie and I combined. I experienced a spectrum of emotion while working in Cheshire, with days that were difficult – hair was pulled, faces were kicked, and tears were shed – and I had days where there was no place or group of people that I would’ve rather been or been with, reiterating my changed perspective and reminding me constantly of why I opted to go to Zambia in the first place. We were forced to make due time and time again, and each time Charity, Evelyn, Katie, and I managed to make it work.

Lifah! One of our brightest and smiley-est students!

Lifah! One of our brightest and smiley-est students!

Evelyn and Charity were nothing short of inspirations. Both of them demanded authenticity from everyone inside and outside of Cheshire, encouraging the kids and community to face adversity as a team. We witnessed that time and time again, with the donation of food by the religious community of Zambia, allowing Evelyn and Charity to host the braii (barbeque) that provided the funds for a school trip to Lusaka for a nationwide sports competition and again at the braii itself, when Evelyn and Charity (and some of our group members) let loose and fully embraced the ideals that they instill in the wonderful kids of Cheshire.

Student Andrew shows off his amazing football skills to fellow volunteer Fiona during sports

Student Andrew shows off his amazing football skills to fellow volunteer Fiona during sports

No words can describe my trip to Zambia. I’ve tried over and over again to find adjectives that manage to condense all the memories created. Replaying them in my head leaves me with a warm sentiment, all the friends we made, all the truly amazing experiences we had, all within a span of three weeks. I think we all as individuals went on this trip for a vast array of different reasons; in the end we all gained so much from the community we both built and dove into in Zambia. No regrets, none at all.

~from Alexandra Pinion

Leaving Livingstone can only be summed up in one word: bittersweet. For the most part, I think we all made Livingstone Backpackers our home away from home. We settled right in, made fast friends with the other volunteers as well as the staff, and shared memories that can’t be easily transposed through writing or simple images that we had taken from our time here. It is something that we share, but we must all be prepared to condense this three-week experience, and to tell our family and friends back home in as much (or as little) detail as we can how we fared in Africa.

What I had gathered from talking with the friends that I’d made was that yes, we were probably ready to go home now, to sleep in our own beds, cuddle our pets and significant others, and relax in the sweet Colorado summer sun, but we were also incredibly sad to leave. There were tears and enough hugs to last a lifetime on that last day, yet I think we all realized that these feelings extended from the strong bonds that we all made during our short time in Livingstone. If only we had a little more time…

I remember the last few days as trying to soak up every bit of my surroundings. During the bumpy van rides, I took mental photographs of the big mango trees (unfortunately for us not yet in bloom), and the clear blue sky, the red dust that got all over everything and that was permanently underneath all of our fingernails, the loveable children that knew no boundaries, the pastel sunsets that somehow merged two opposing colors into something that could ever be captured except by the eye itself. I hugged the kids tightly, feeling a type of warmth and love that I hadn’t felt before with children that were so openly affectionate. I waved joyfully at the locals who seemed so happy to see us. I tried to pinpoint all of the personalities that were so wonderfully welcoming to us.

5th grade girls at Mwandi Community School

5th grade girls at Mwandi Community School

I think that three weeks was a perfect taste of what it would be like to live on the other side of the world. I know that I can adapt to another place, another climate, another way of life. Those three weeks in Africa affirmed for me that I can and should chase my dreams around the world of teaching and learning from other cultures that I may have had no idea about. My biggest hope is that in the short time I was there I was able to transfer some of my knowledge and culture as well, in order to offer a learning experience to those that so graciously welcomed me and took care of me during my stay.

I’m especially thankful now for social media, because even though I’m a half a world away from the projects and the people I was invested in during my time in Zambia, I can still see how they progress, change, and develop. I can still see the smiling faces of the kids I cuddled and the friends I made and their journeys. It was definitely difficult to leave this temporary home behind, but it was also such a joy to step outside of the airport upon arriving and have my sights filled with beautiful Colorado rolling hills and misty mountains, the green grass contrasting with the dark blue sky. It was difficult to leave behind the short life I’d made in Zambia, but when I saw that landscape I had been away from for so long, I knew that I was home.

The students at Mwandi always brought a smile to my face

The students at Mwandi always brought a smile to my face

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Bottom row, left to right: Kathleen Wendt, Nick Breland, Alexandrea Pinion, Nicole Marie Sutton, Jackson White. Top row, left to right: Amira Noshi, Jo Buckley, Acacia Sharrow, Adelle McDaniel, Alexandra Orahovats. Not pictured: Morgan Bennett, Katie Wybenga

Bottom row, left to right: Kathleen Wendt, Nick Breland, Alexandrea Pinion, Nicole Marie Sutton, Jackson White.
Top row, left to right: Amira Noshi, Jo Buckley, Acacia Sharrow, Adelle McDaniel, Alexandra Orahovats. Not pictured: Morgan Bennett, Katie Wybenga

Professor Ellen Brinks took a group of students to Livingstone, Zambia this summer. For three weeks, they took part in experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). We asked a few of them to send us pictures and let us know how it’s going, tell us more about what they are doing and experiencing. Here’s the latest report.


Silas and Morgan Bennett together at Libuyu Community School. Silas is showing off his Art Club mask.

Silas and Morgan Bennett together at Libuyu Community School. Silas is showing off his Art Club mask.

Although coming late to the Zambia blog, I (Morgan Bennett, English Education Concentrator) am excited to be able to share a moment from my teaching experiences. (During my time in Zambia, I’ve chosen to volunteer in community schools, as opposed to working on community health projects.) In Zambia, education is not a right offered to all, but a privilege; and unfortunately it can be a costly one. Livingstone has two schooling options: community schools and government schools. The government schools can be far away from the outer provinces of town, or prohibitively expensive, so communities have created local schools to have their children educated in. The majority of these schools have minimal to no financial support from the government and, as I have come to understand it, operate solely on student fees and donations.

But what does this mean if the student can’t afford to pay the 50 kwacha (roughly 6USD) every term (3 month period)?

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to find out. If the students don’t pay the fee, the teacher asks them to leave the school; from talking with students, this means that the up to an hour trek they made that morning was for nothing. In the course of 5 minutes, the class I was volunteering in went from 40 students to 4. Although usually very obedient, the students were unruly at being forced to leave the school for the day and miss a chance to learn. Outside the barred windows, students stared into the room, begging to be taught, crying out, “We want to learn!, we want to learn!, we want to learn!”

Most of the students trickled back over the next few days, scraping up the money they needed to attend school. Some students still show up everyday, in hopes that the teacher will let them in regardless of unpaid fees.

English student Jackson White with sixth graders from Libuyu Community School.

English student Jackson White with sixth graders from Libuyu Community School.

In the U.S., education is compulsory, and students celebrate days off and breaks from homework. But there is a lesson in this. Although in America we have a right to be educated, we must remember what a privilege that right is.

Hi, everyone, this is Amira checking back in with a report on a very special project designed by African Impact for our CSU Group here in Livingstone: to build a compost bin out of “ecobricks.” By densely stuffing and packing plastic water and soda bottles with plastic waste, you can create an ecobrick, eliminating unsightly environmental waste. A fun and easy way to collect trash and make use of it, EcoBricking rids areas of toxic waste degradation, ensuring a safer area for all the residents of Zambia. It also provides the materials for much needed infrastructure, because you can actually build structures with ecobricks, including benches, chicken coops, and even large buildings, such as schools.

Local Linda Farm resident working on the compost with CSU.

Local Linda Farm resident working on the compost bin with CSU.

EcoBricking provides an intersection between poverty and the environment. More often than not, communities in Zambia are forced to choose between sending their children to school or paying for trash pickup.

EcoBricking has been utilized in one small Livingstone community named Linda Farms, a local area where families live and receive support from the community. Africa Impact has made it the centerpiece of an incredible new afternoon project for volunteers, with our CSU group on the forefront of this incredibly cool practice.

Ecobricking to create a compost bin.

Ecobricking to create a compost bin.

After everyone returns from his or her morning projects, i.e., teaching or healthcare, we eat lunch and prep for our afternoon projects. For CSU, that usually means grab some plastic, pick axes, and sunscreen, load up on the Muzungu bus, and head to the farm.

Guided by our fearless leader Alex from African Impact, we’re greeted by the kids eager to help (especially with stuffing the EcoBricks). There’s an area sectioned off where we are assured that our hard work will be safe from pesky elephants. We break off, some to EcoBricking, and some to manual labor. Working as a team we’ve made great strides. A foundation consisting of rock, topped by ecobricks, has been laid, with a concrete reinforcement. On top of that foundation, we’ve started laying down EcoBricks.

 Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project.

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project.

EcoBricking is an extremely sustainable practice, and hopefully it will start trending in Zambia and the rest of the world.

Hello! This is Alex, with an update on my time in Zambia. We’ve all worked extremely hard on this trip. We have early mornings for our teaching projects, and long hot afternoons with community projects like Eco-bricking at Linda farm, helping out at Maramba Old People’s Home, and after school projects like reading, maths, and art clubs. We’ve been rewarded greatly for this hard work though.

This past weekend we had the opportunity to visit Chobe National Park. Chobe is about an hour away from our temporary home in Livingstone, in the beautiful country of Botswana. The safari began with a boat ride on the Chobe river where all of us were in awe of the elephants out for a morning swim. This was our first encounter with African wildlife aside from the pesky mosquitoes – or, as the British cutely call them, mossies. On the river we saw several elephants, some hippos, crocodiles, and many birds, including the fish eagle – the national bird of Zambia.


Despite the early morning wake up call and hourlong journey to Botswana, after the boat tour we were full of energy and excited for the afternoon game drive. We strapped in to the vehicles to prepare for the bumpy ride through some of the 11,000 kilometer-square park to our campsite. We realized the boat tour was just a small taste of what we would see in the afternoon.

Upon our entry into the park, we immediately encountered monkeys rooting through the trash, baboons in the trees, and so many beautiful birds. Our group was split into two vehicles, one led by Ace and one lead by Odi. They were so knowledgeable about the wildlife and taught us about how the plentiful impala is nicknamed the McDonalds of the animal kingdom (not because it is easy, but because it is very fast food for many of the predators if they are able to catch it).  From there we saw giraffes peeking through the trees as we drove down the road into the river delta.

The view was beautiful and breathtaking. We encountered more elephants, which are also very plentiful; we later learned that the park contains about 100,000 elephants able to roam in and out through the seasons (the greatest density of African elephants on the continent, it turns out!).

The rest of the day was surreal. We expected to see wildlife but not so much and not so close to us. What was even more surprising were our evening lion encounters. On safari, I think we expected that we’d see elephants, impala and maybe giraffes, but the big cats are elusive and one can never count on seeing them having only a weekend. The lions, though, roamed all over the roads. We were lucky enough to catch a pride of females with a fresh Cape Buffalo kill by the river, with the hungry eyes of the crocodile peering out of the murky water waiting for its chance to drag the lions’ kill from them.

As dusk approached, the roars of the lions became audible through the din of the engine. Ace told us that lions roar when trying to find each other. That meant that the male – the king – was possibly around, and a sighting would be “very rare.” Sure enough, we parked the vehicle, and see him sauntering lazily up the hill, the picture of the red African sunset as his backdrop. Our day was topped off with the most amazing vision, reminding us how lucky we are to be here on this amazing continent.


Our campsite was in the midst of all this wilderness, and our ears pricked up to hear the sounds as only sheets of fabric shielded us from multiple prides of lions, warthogs, hyenas, and all the things we hadn’t seen but knew were there. Despite all this we rested easily, our bellies full of delicious food and imaginations enlivened with stories from our guides.

We woke before the sun to see more animals. Again, we encountered the majestic male lion, just as the sun was coming up. His demeanor was relaxed and regal as he got ready for his day of sleep. After leaving him to his business, the CSU caravan departed to see more sights of the Chobe morning. These included an elephant carcass covered in scavenger birds, such as vultures and marabou storks. Later we saw other birds as well: majestic fish eagles and the beautifully colorful lilac-breasted roller. But there were a few animals we hadn’t yet seen.


“You’re not keeping your eyes open,” Ace tells us, as he slows the vehicle to point out a few zebras, perfectly camouflaged in the brush. As we inch forward, we see more and more of them, and finally come to a clearing with a herd of zebras near the water. We learned that a group of zebras is called a dazzle!


After a much-needed siesta, we knew that our amazing time was limited. After being dazzled by the zebras, in awe of the lions, surprised by the giraffes, enthralled by the many types of beautiful birds, plus so many more animals we had never even heard of, we began our exit. This wasn’t without one last encounter though. Over in the brush, almost hidden and skulking, was the elusive leopard. We were so lucky to have spotted her, and by this time we had seen almost everything that Chobe had to offer.

We were exhausted and dirty, our bones jostled by the hours of bumping around, but we all left the park feeling transformed. Nothing can compare to being inches away from the famed African wildlife. Maybe some of us will visit again, maybe some of us will never return, but we have all been able to share this experience together, and that alone is enough to last a lifetime.

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Zambia Info Session Flyer

Dr. Ellen Brinks is taking a group of students to Livingstone, Zambia this summer. For three weeks, the will do experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). We’ve asked a few of them to send us pictures and let us know how it’s going, tell us more about what they are doing and experiencing. As they get ready to leave in the next few days, Amira Noshi (an International Studies major) and Alexandrea Pinion (an English major with a concentration in Education) have this to report:

~from Amira Noshi and Alexandrea Pinion


Alexandrea Pinion and Amira Noshi

A group comprised of several different majors and specialties will soon be heading into the unknown: Livingstone, Zambia! We are counting down the days until May 22 when we will depart from Denver on a two-day journey to the other side of the world. Zambia is located in the southern region of the African continent, just above Botswana. It is the home of the famed Victoria Falls — a massive waterfall that is a wonder of the world! Our group, led by the lovely and talented Dr. Ellen Brinks, will be enriched with the wildlife and culture of what some people call “the Real Africa” during our three-week stay.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

We will all be working on diverse projects through a program called African Impact. Some of us will be teaching English and helping to build school houses, while others will be promoting community health and awareness. In our projects, we will be able to see a side of Zambia that could never be available to us through books or the media; we are truly immersed in the unique culture and climate of this beautiful African country! We are looking forward to the opportunity to learn from the people of the Zambian community while giving back to the those who have so graciously accepted us.

Bottom row, left to right: Kathleen Wendt, Nick Breland, Alexandrea Pinion, Nicole Marie Sutton, Jackson White. Top row, left to right: Amira Noshi, Jo Buckley, Acacia Sharrow, Adelle McDaniel, Alexandra Orahovats. Not pictured: Morgan Bennett, Katie Wybenga

Ellen Brinks with the group. Bottom row, left to right: Kathleen Wendt, Nick Breland, Alexandrea Pinion, Nicole Marie Sutton, Jackson White.
Top row, left to right: Amira Noshi, Jo Buckley, Acacia Sharrow, Adelle McDaniel, Alexandra Orahovats. Not pictured: Morgan Bennett, Katie Wybenga.

Our adventure begins in less than 72 hours and the overwhelming sentiments of excitement and wanderlust have reached a boiling point. Most of us in this diverse group have never traveled to Africa; we are all eager to gain a life-changing experience and challenge our comfort zones, burying our preconceived notions surrounding a vastly diverse continent and building on our own passions. Following a two-day plane ride, none of us really know what to expect, which is perhaps the most exciting aspect — the potential for this experience to really become what we want it to be, maybe even exceeding our expectations.


Of course, traveling to a country that most of us had little to no background context on is a daunting task. Trepidation from the parental camp is inherently present and our group dynamic is still slowly developing as we all sort out logistics. We are all preparing to leave the comforts of our lives, the daily interactions, the continuity of our routines for three weeks, which in retrospect is a long time. Figuring out ways to maintain contact while remembering the importance of disconnecting presents itself as a point of internal contention. Everything leading up to this point has been so up in the air that most of us still can’t even believe it’s happening.


The pieces, though, are beginning to fall together as we collect the last few items on our packing lists and prepare to embark on a journey we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. Not only will this experience enlighten our perception about the world we live in, we will also build a framework of support and friendship together that will be unlike any other, and will last even beyond our return home. We are looking forward to sharing this experience with each other and with you! We’ll keep the blog posted with affirmations about our excitements and worries, with new insights and amazing revelations from the other side of the world. Livingstone, here we come!

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English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently interviewed Professor Ellen Brinks about the Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU and her upcoming Study Abroad trip to Zambia.


Katrina and her daughter Esther outside their small arts and crafts shop

You’re an advocate for the Peace Corps, how did that come about? If you were in the Peace Corps yourself, where did you go? What did you get out of it? 

I never was a Peace Corps volunteer, but I’ve met a number of Peace Corps volunteers and have learned about what a powerfully formative experience it had on their lives. Without wanting to overly simplify things, as far as international development programs go, the Peace Corps is one of the most ethical, and I have seen how the immersion and collaborative work within communities in developing countries gives volunteers both a sense of the bigger picture – a wider, global perspective – as well as a more nuanced, complex, and empathic understanding of cultural difference.

We have a Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU, where a graduate student earns an MA with academic coursework and combines that with the standard 27-month, hands-on Peace Corps assignment. Our PCMI graduate students have had all kinds of opportunities opened to them as result of their PCMI degrees. One recent returnee has worked with the US Park Service on global climate change initiatives and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, in the acquisitions department. What cool jobs! So it’s absolutely not at all a stretch to advocate for this program; I love talking about it.

[Professor Brinks is the English department liaison for the Peace Corps Masters International program here at CSU. There are four departments that participate in the program at CSU, and English is one of them. Ellen advises interested English majors and graduate students on the program.]

Zambia Info Session Flyer

What got you interested in Zambia? What are some of the activities that you will be doing?

I got interested in Zambia by traveling there and working with schoolchildren on their reading skills. Kids there are not native English speakers, but English is the language of the school classrooms and curriculum, the language of the Zambian government, and it’s the ticket to greater economic opportunities as they mature. On the summer education abroad program I’ll be leading this coming May (so soon!), students will be working collaboratively in the community of Livingstone, Zambia, on community education and community health projects. They’ll chose the projects that they want to participate in, and they’ll work 8 hours a day, five days a week (with weekends off). Some will be working with teachers, some will be working teaching and tutoring students and adult learners, some will be helping construct classrooms, some will be teaching sports, some will be assisting in health clinics and doing home-health care, some will be teaching nutrition and HIV education. There are some other projects I’ve not mentioned, but this gives you a good idea of the diversity of initiatives the students will be a part of.

How many students will be with you? How did they get chosen for such an exciting trip?

Based on application numbers, I think we’ll have about 15-20 students traveling. Anyone can go who has a desire to go (and a GPA of 2.5 or higher). The program is run through the Education Abroad Office here at CSU, and they have a great support team there to help with the application process and with scholarship information.

Are there any special requirements that the students needed to complete to be eligible? For example, did they need special immunizations or medical records?

Besides the 2.5 GPA and getting all the application materials completed by February 15, the students will need to get a US passport and the required immunizations for travelling to Zambia (there are a few!). All the other costs (except personal spending money) are included in the cost of the program – airfare, all in-country meals and lodging and transportation, program costs, and weekend excursions.


Hippo family at Chobe National Park, Botswana (Ellen says, “we’ll go here on the Zambia summer trip!”)

What do you hope students get from the trip?

So many things! I hope that students feel empowered by the challenges of a trip like this – it’s not a tourist trip to Africa – and recognize how skilled and talented they are; I hope in their work with Zambians, they come to see them as co-partners, as aspiring citizens of country with great human resources, and not as needy recipients of Western aid; I hope they develop an appreciation for the beauty and cultural richness of Zambia; I hope they make new friends, become lifelong travelers, and become engaged, global citizens for life.


Animals at the watering hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

While there, will you have an opportunity to see some of the beautiful sights that Zambia has to offer or will it be all work?

Yes, we’ve definitely designed the program so that students have time to explore some of the natural and cultural wonders of the area! There are many exceptional sites in this corner of the world. First and foremost, right next to the town of Livingstone, Zambia, are the world-famous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Zambezi River falls into a rift that stretches more than a mile, and there’s an amazing National Park with lots of trails. If we’re lucky and there’s a full moon, we can visit the Park at night and see “lunar rainbows,” a rainbow effect created by the moonlight on the mist rising from the falls – it’s beautiful and eerie. Livingstone is also an adventure hub, and students can do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping into the chasm, parasailing, and lots more.


Deadvleih petrified area, Namibia

We’ll also be traveling for one weekend to Chobe National Park in the neighboring country of Botswana. It’s only about 2 hours away, and we’ll be on a “camping safari” there: spending the nights in tents and touring the park/Chobe River by day to see wildlife. Chobe is one of the top three wildlife preserves in the whole continent of Africa, and students will see A LOT of animals there: hippos, crocs, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards (if lucky), many species of antelope and gazelle, warthog, jackal, I could go on. It’s all right there, and students will be able to see these animals up close and take many photos.

There are some other great outings possible: to local food and crafts markets; to some local restaurants for traditional Zambian food; to a traditional village away from the town; to a big cat rehab sanctuary.

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

Ellen at the lion sanctuary (for orphaned and injured lions) in Livingstone, Zambia

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to thus far?

I once counted up how many countries I’d traveled to (it came to 42), and many of them are amazing and beautiful places. For me, though, my favorite places are the ones where I feel at home, as if I could live there for a long period of time and be happy because the culture is warm and inviting and stimulating. There are three places that come to mind: Greece; the Lake District in England; and Livingstone, Zambia.

Is there anything else you would like us to mention?

Students should feel free to contact me for information about the Zambia program or our Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program: Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu

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