For many vulnerable children at community schools in Zambia, any day could be their last day of school.
Impoverished families who can’t pay the standard education fee often send their children from school to school until they are kicked out for missing payments.
That’s why Savannah Turner, a 2018 Anderson University College of Education graduate, spent two summers during college at schools in Zambia. Turner knelt by children’s desks and helped them study words and numbers.
Turner saw well-intentioned teachers scribble exercises on the chalkboard and then leave their young students alone in the classroom. And she saw teachers’ frustration and lack of training bear itself on the backs of children as students received corporal punishment.
“They were just in the midst of a lot of brokenness,” Turner said.
Turner knew that there was more for the children and teachers in Zambian schoolrooms. She believed deeply that something had to change. With the right resources and training, these schools could have a different story. And God would use her hope for schools in Zambia to transform a community throughout education.
Turner first felt God stir a call to missions within her when she and her family went on a mission trip to Zambia when she was 17-years old. Yet as a high schooler, Turner wasn’t sure how her life would intersect with Zambia again.
After graduating from high school, Turner came to AU and majored in elementary education as a teaching fellow. She said her professors encouraged her to see her classroom as her mission field.
“Education really does change lives,” Turner said. “The best way to give people an education is by loving them. If I can love them in light of the Gospel, and if I can love them with a Jesus-kind of love, it will not only change their future but it will change their entire perspective and their life.”
On a fall Wednesday morning of her sophomore year at AU, Turner listened to a sermon at Campus Worship during Missions Week, an annual campus-wide series of events that encourage students to explore global mission opportunities. Turner could no longer ignore the call that God awakened in her in Zambia.
She called Bitwell Njovu, a local pastor she met on her first trip to Zambia, and Njovu arranged for Turner to spend her summer working in local schools. In Zambia that summer, she was crushed by what she saw, and she knew she had to help.
“I knew that Zambia was going to continue being a part of my story,” Turner said.
Turner started fundraising, and she returned the following summer with $800 and a desire to help children in Zambia receive an education. She did not know exactly what that would look like, but when she told Njovu about her dream of starting a school, he encouraged her to take action.
“If the Lord is with us, we will not fail,” Njovu told Turner.
Within three weeks, Turner rented and renovated a building, hired local teachers and opened enrollment for Chikondi Community School. The school opened with 50 children in pre-K through third grade in June of 2017, the summer before Turner’s senior year at AU.
Chikondi Community School is a beacon of light in Lusaka, Zambia. When they first rented the building, it was filthy, and they spent days making it a safe and clean learning environment—an oasis in an area once littered with trash and sewage. Turner shares the teaching practices she learned at AU with teachers and ensures they are properly trained, and the school prohibits its staff from treating its students harshly. Chikondi Community School also does not require a fee to attend.
Turner also helped Njovu start an official nonprofit, Hands of Hope USA, to fund the school and the work his church does to help local children in need. In addition to the school, the nonprofit operates a feeding program and a child sponsorship program.
“Savannah's love for children is evident in everything that she does,” said Dr. Larry Knighton, assistant professor of education and coordinator of elementary education. “I am so proud of her work in Zambia because she has extended her Christian witness to a part of the world that most of us will never see. She is truly following Christ's commission to ‘Go into the world…’”
Turner assumed the role of director of Chikondi Community School, and she continued managing the school remotely when she returned to AU in the fall. Turner kept raising funds in Anderson, sometimes receiving only $100 to $200 each month at the beginning. But she said that whatever they had was always enough.
Although Turner felt inadequate to be running a school in Zambia as a 20-year-old college student, the Lord used AU to equip her for the job. Through the guidance of her professors, Turner said she knew best practices and she knew how to love and teach children well; further, she was able to share her knowledge to train teachers in Zambia.
“I think my story is a story of the Lord’s grace because He chose someone like me who was in the middle of school, didn’t have extra money and didn’t have extra time,” Turner said. “I was so busy and overwhelmed, and the Lord still asked me to do it. So if you feel like you are not in the right season to serve […] the Lord will equip you and call you. He can use anyone.”
Turner now teaches at Spearman Elementary School in Anderson County, and she continues to help direct Chikondi Community School in Zambia from afar. She still spends her summers at the school, which now has about 140 students—many of whom are orphans and vulnerable children. The school offers up to fourth grade, and they will add fifth grade in January.
“The College of Education is extremely proud of the work Ms. Turner is doing, both locally at Spearman Elementary and abroad in Zambia,” said Dr. Mark Butler, dean of the College of Education.“In our programs, we refer often to our mission of creating ‘educators who are builders of knowledge, values and community,’ and Savannah is doing that in such meaningful and inspiring ways. Seeing Ms. Turner use education and her love for children to impact the world is a joy and something we hope inspires others to do the same.”
To learn more or support Hands of Hope USA and Chikondi Community School, you can visit https://handsofhopeus.com/