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High School Teacher Leads Colleagues in African Cultural Exchange

When Byron Center High School history teacher Jim Moore told colleagues about his ongoing missionary work at schools in Zambia, Africa, he always got the same response: “I would love to do that.”

Many conversations unfolded that way, leading Moore to start Teachers Helping Teachers, a cultural exchange program between West Michigan and Zambian teachers. Moore started the program with an initial trip involving eight teachers in 2012. Now, seven Byron Center and two Wyoming educators are preparing to head to Kabwa, Zambia, in June to lead workshops for African teachers.

During the two-week exchange, June 19 through July 8, the group will work with African teachers at schools for underprivileged students started by Grace Ministries International, a Grand Rapids-based ministry.

Moore sees it as a way to bring a wealth of knowledge and resources to schools in Zambia, where teachers and students make do with very little. But the trip isn’t only about American teachers training Africans, he said. The learning definitely goes both ways.

“We want to help transform the lives of children by transforming the lives of teachers,” Moore said. “This model can really be done over and over and over again. There’s no lack of schools and no lack of teachers, over here or over there.”

Continuing to Touch Lives

Moore’s work as a teacher in Kabwa, Zambia, started in 2009 when he took a sabbatical from Byron Center High School to work at schools started by Grace Ministries International. He moved with his wife, Carolyn, and their three sons for a life-changing year working at schools with large deaf and orphaned populations. He grew to love and respect the culture.

“In Africa, everything is about relationships,” he said. “Survival depends on being part of a community, so you never want to break a relationship with someone.”

After he returned home, he joined the Byron Center-based group Hope for Abba’s Children, started by Rush Creek Bible Church members who also traveled to Zambia to support the schools. Moore returned for two more summer trips to continue his service.

An Ongoing Partnership

In 2012, teachers on the first educators’ trip spent a week getting to know Zambians, and a week offering workshops for the Zambian teachers covering phonics, reading and other subjects.

“We decided to immerse ourselves in the culture,” Moore said. “We went to their schools, visited their houses, we had meals with the Zambian teachers. We really got a sense of what they are doing.”

This year’s trip will take a similar shape on a larger scale. Workshops will be offered to 150-200 Zambian teachers.

Zambian teachers receive certificates after completing the workshopsByron Center High School math teacher Leon Slagter, who went on the 2012 trip, said it was an unforgettable experience. Moore’s work has undoubtedly made a difference in education in Zambia, Slagter said, adding Moore is well-known in the community and affectionately called Uncle Jim.

“I was absolutely floored at the impact he has made for people there,” Slagter said. “It was a phenomenal thing to see what Jim had set in place,” he said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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