Students at Sacred Heart Academy will venture to Zambia this summer in an immersion trip sure to change lives of the locals, as well as their own.
Eleven students from the all-girl high school in Amherst will spend three weeks in July working on several service projects and learning of the Southern African culture by working on a sustainable farm, visiting a private girls' school, and building a traditional home.
"Even though service is at the heart of why we are going, it's really about giving our girls opportunities to immerse themselves in a different culture," said Meghan Dandrea, religion teacher at Sacred Heart. "So, some of our activities are service oriented and some are more of culturally what we can understand about life here in the States - what privileges we have and what we can do with those privileges."
Dandrea had a mission experience of her own in Tanzania and fell in love with Africa. As a parishioner of Holy Angels Church in Buffalo, she knew the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who serve in Zambia. Dandrea, along with SHA head of school, Jennifer Demert, and another teacher traveled to the area last summer to vet the trip.
"We loved it and fell in love with what opportunities presented themselves. So, we decided to take girls this year," Dandrea said.
The school recently connected with the new U.S. ambassador to Zambia, Daniel L. Foote, who has attended school in Williamsville. The embassy has a program where Zambians who are interested in studying in the United States can learn about American culture, so that it's not quite as much as a culture shock when they come here. Sacred Heart will partner with the American Spaces program to help people who want to come to the U.S.
"We wanted to partner with things that were already successful in Zambia. So, we are working with a wide variety of organizations and people," Dandrea said, noting the Oblates have been a big part of the trip. "We're looking at what is already showing success, what is already helping. We're going to get our hands dirty, but also really learn about what other people's efforts have done."
Projects include producing a show for Radio Liseli, the Oblate radio station. Students will also spend time at two nursery schools and a school for disabled children, learn about the need for water pumps to provide safe and clean water to villages, and learn about the culture while on safari in Victoria Falls. Twice the height of Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of the Horseshoe Falls, Victoria Falls is considered to be the largest waterfall in the world. At Victoria Falls National Park, visitors can see elephants, Cape buffalo, southern white rhinoceros, hippopotamus, antelope and crocodiles.
Dandrea hopes the girls develop the same appreciation for African culture she gained after Tanzania. "My girls know they come from a place of privilege," Dandrea said. "I think they innately understand coming to Sacred Heart, living in a safe community of Buffalo, that was given to them. It's not something they had to earn or deserve. It's a privilege they have. Service is a huge part of Sacred Heart, so they have a desire to make good use of the gifts they have been given. This is one other way that they are able to do that. I hope they come back with a deeper appreciation for the gifts that they have, also with a desire to continue to use those gifts for good."
She hopes her students develop a desire to continue the work the work they started, even if it is in the Buffalo area.
"I want them to know that they can make a difference, and know that even though they are one person in this huge world, that what they do with their life, what they do with the gifts that have been given to them is what's important. It doesn't necessarily matter how those gifts are used, as long as they are being used for the good of God's people," she said.