Murundu Trip Report

Eric VanZwieten

by Eric VanZwieten

My life changed the day I walked through the gates of a school in a remote village of Africa.

I heard stories about the school many years ago and started following their progress, but I finally got a chance to see it for myself. My cousin Tannen started the school about 10 years ago and her story is extraordinary.

New! Our Upcoming August 2019 Africa Trip

Deep Bore Water Wells – Murundu, Zambia
Although this trip will be full of fun and adventure, it will not be a vacation. Be ready to be part of a deep immersive experience, interacting with the local people that our project supports. We will get to know the people we are helping. We will eat with them, hug them and get our hands dirty. An experience like this can be life-changing.

Tannen is a flight controls engineer at NASA and spends her free time running the school she founded for vulnerable children in the village of Murundu. The village is in a very remote part of Africa on the northern border of Zambia.

The "Debbie Joy" school is named after Tannen's older sister who passed away when she was 20. Tannen and Debbie were best friends and only one year apart.

They grew up together and before Debbie passed away she encouraged Tannen to start helping orphaned and vulnerable children even though she had a busy life pursuing her masters degree in aerospace engineering.

Shortly after Debbie passed away, Tannen started going on mission trips to Africa to help stop the spread of HIV AIDS and eventually started a school for the kids left behind. 

After experiencing the conditions of the vulnerable children, Tannen decided to do something about it.  She started a school focused on providing nutrition and education, naming it after her sister, the Debbie Joy School.

10 years later The Debbie Joy School now feeds and educates over 200 vulnerable children in the village.

Debbie Joy School Founder

What Tannen has done is extraordinary. She could have turned her back on those children many years ago. She could have lived an easy life with a successful career at NASA.

Tannen isn’t even 40 yet and she has already spent the vast majority of her adult life managing the school remotely and traveling to Africa multiple times a year while maintaining a demanding career at NASA.

Debbie Joy School Nutrition

Over the years Tannen has built an amazing team of volunteers that visit the school a few times a year to work on projects and help mentor the staff.

The 100% volunteer nonprofit organization is called Life Restoration Partnership International

I got to go with the team to Murundu last summer and I am returning again in August to help build wells for the village.

When I stepped through the front gate of the Debbie Joy School for the first time, I was completely blown away. It was quite a journey just to get there.

I met up with the team at JFK and flew 16 hours to Johannesburg, then another flight to Zambia and then a four hour drive on a twisty, uneven dark road late at night.

Most of the drive to the village is on a road that looks like it was paved fifty years ago; we had to drive slowly, weaving back and forth across the road to avoid all the potholes. At some point the pothole ridden road turned to dirt near Zambia's northern border with the DRC (Congo).

Once our car entered the village we were dropped off at the central open air market where locals sell their vegetables and other crops.

We continued walking on the dirt road past mud huts and rows of shacks. After a short walk we arrived at the front gates of the school Tannen and her team built.

Road to the Debbie Joy School

I finally got to see what she had been talking about all these years. When I stepped through the front gate of the school for the first time...

I was completely blown away.

The school is extraordinary. There is a small group of buildings clustered together. Each building has a couple of classrooms that were added over the past decade as they have been able to afford it.

Walking Through Front Gates of the Debbie Joy School

When I first walked into the school grounds I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was a full functioning school with well organized classes, seasoned teachers and well behaved students.

Most of the kids wear donated uniforms, so they almost look like private school students which is an odd site to see in the middle of a mud hut village.

Classes at the Debbie Joy School

Once we arrived and were introduced to the school staff, the team got right to work administering standardized testing, eye examinations, tutoring students and mentoring staff.

The next couple of days would turn into an experience I will never forget.

I spent time helping the team give the children eye examinations and fitting them with glasses.

Eye Exams at the Debbie Joy School

We brought a couple hundred pairs of childrens shoes from the U.S. with us because the kids in the village were suffering from intestinal worms that were entering their bodies through their feet.

So we spent an afternoon organizing a massive shoe fitting and distributed shirts and socks along with the shoes.

American shoe donations being distributed at the Debbie Joy School

We tutored the children that were falling behind, one on one.

"Earn It" Tutoring Program at the Debbie Joy School

We played games with the children.

Playground Games at the Debbie Joy School

We went for a long walk through the village with the children to visit one of their homes.

A Walk Through Murundu

The team started a couple of construction projects to add additional bathrooms and build shelves for a nearby clinic.

Debbie Joy School Construction

One of the highlights of the trip was getting to watch a PTA meeting Zambian style.  The students families came to the school one day to show their appreciation for the American team of volunteers.

Debbie Joy School PTA Meeting

​I also got a chance to visit with some of the families in their huts. They showed me where they cook, where they sleep and how they get their water. I wish I could have gotten more video of these visits to show you what it was like, but I didn’t want to be intrusive with my video camera.

After spending time with the villagers and the kids at the school I started noticing that a lot of them had runny noses so I enquired about the common illnesses among the population of the village. 

I learned that most people in the village don’t have access to clean water. They typically get their water from shallow pits that are are not far from other shallow pits they use for going to the bathroom.

The water they use for drinking, cooking and bathing is oftentimes contaminated. Cholera and other waterborne illnesses are a real problem there.

Murundu Pit Well

The solution is deep borehole wells.

After doing some research we found out that we may be able to eliminate the vast majority of waterborne illnesses by providing access to clean water throughout the village. 

So we are working on a project to drill around 24 deep borehole wells throughout the entire village, starting with one at the school.

Each deep borehole well will cost around $3000.     

My brother and I are providing funds for the first two boreholes.

We will continue installing more wells as funds are raised. If you are interested in helping us raise funds for more wells you can click here to donate directly to the wells.

100% of all donations go directly to the project.  Every dollar helps, it doesn’t matter if it’s $10, $50, $100 or $1000, every little bit will help us provide access to clean water for the entire village.

Feel free to call me with any questions at 614-554-4385.

In August 2019 a group of us will be traveling to Murundu to check up on the progress of the wells and help install one.

After spending a week at the school I really got to know some of the staff members. I sat down with a few of them to get their ideas on how to improve the lives of these kids.

There are four main elements of the project that need further funding:

  • 1
    Clean water (deep bore water wells)
  • 2
    Nutrition (students and family supplemental support)
  • 3
    Teaching staff
  • 4
    Classroom construction

We will be providing education and nutrition to more children as the funds are raised.

If you are interested in contributing to any of these programs you can find out more here.  

100% of donations go directly to the program of your choice.

After spending a week at the Debbie Joy School I traveled to the largest national park in Africa to visit a special project on the banks of the Zambezi River.

I spent some time with one of the directors of the project learning about the issues facing the diminishing wildlife population in Africa.

While I was visiting the wildlife project I spent some time traveling up the Zambezi river by boat and traveling deep into the African bush in an old Land Rover. I took a drone with me and captured some amazing footage.

If you are interested in sharing this type of experience with me this August you can learn more here. African Wildlife

If you are interested in sharing this type of experience with me this August you can learn more here.

Together we can help provide access to clean water for the entire village of Murundu.  We will be installing more wells as we raise the funds. 

100% off all donations go directly to the project.  Every dollar counts, it doesn’t matter if it is $100, $500, $1000 or $5000, every little bit will help us provide clean water access to the entire village.

Call me anytime to learn more at 614-554-4385.

Thanks for your interest in this project.

Eric VanZwieten