BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Greg Jeane, who retired in 2007 as a professor of geography at Samford University, taught classes about Africa for 15 years at Auburn University and then for 18 years at Samford.
He always hoped he’d get a chance to travel there one day. “To me it was always one of the most intriguing areas of the world,” he said.
Jeane went to Africa for the first time in 2003, on a mission trip with members of Independent Presbyterian Church, which he attends.
He’s now been to Africa 11 times. Most recently, he attended a Jan. 9 dedication for a school he planned and coordinated construction for in the village of Sikuzu, Zambia. “There were 70 children there for the dedication,” said Jeane, who returned last Saturday.
The children will start attending school there when it opens next month, he said.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Jeane said. “The opportunity just fell in my lap.”
Jeane was attending a wedding in Atlanta in August 2010, a day before he was scheduled to leave on a trip to Africa.
A new three-classroom cinder block school will open next month in the remote African village of Sikuzu, Zambia. (Greg Jeane)
A relative of a friend became interested in his discussion of the mission work in the village of Mwandi, Zambia.
“I had never met him, but he was a successful commercial developer in Baltimore,” Jeane said. “We chatted two and a half hours over lunch.”
The businessman expressed an interest in funding a worthy project in Zambia and asked Jeane to report back to him on the most pressing needs in the region. “I talked to everybody in the village about what the most critical need in the village was, and it was education,” Jeane said. “Education is the key to everything there.”
Jeane told the donors that the construction of a school would cost $40,000. Within six weeks, Matthias and Rosetta DeVito, their DeVito Family Trust, and DeVito’s nephew, Frank Timlin and his wife, Neenah, had donated the cost of the project.
Jeane then went about raising additional funds to add items like classroom furniture, latrines, a water system and solar panels to provide power in the village that has no electricity.
The Rotary Club, Vestavia Hills High School and Jeane’s current fellow employees at Barnes & Noble contributed to the project.
The village of Sikuzu is on the Zambezi River, 90 miles above Victoria Falls. Up until now, children in that area who wanted to attend primary school had to walk five miles through the bush to Mwandi, the home village of the Lozi tribal chief. “That’s a 10-mile trek every day for 6-year-olds, and it’s not always safe,” Jeane said.
Opportunity to learn
Now they can attend through fifth grade in their own village, and continue their education in sixth grade at Mwandi when they are more able to make the trip. A five-mile walk is common at that age, he said.
“Everyone walks everywhere,” he said.
Zambia’s National Ministry of Education provided specifications for the three-room, cinder-block building and will provide a head teacher and curriculum. The village will provide assistants for the teacher.
“To go to that part of the world, it’s a real gut check on who you are and where you are in life,” Jeane said. “These people have nothing, no resources, no skills, no education. They live in mud huts and have no clean water. They get their drinking water from the Zambezi River, which is hideously polluted. They’re acclimated to the bacteria. You see people surviving with absolutely nothing. And yet they have a joy about them that is hard to understand.”
Several years ago, Jeane nearly died on one of his mission trips. He believes he inadvertently consumed contaminated water as part of a meal there.
“I have never been so sick in my life,” he said. He had to be flown for emergency treatment in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Still, Zambia remains a treasured place for Jeane. The people of Sikuzu, many of them Christians, gather to worship in a small mud hut chapel that was built by mission teams from Independent Presbyterian.
“I’ve been privileged to travel widely,” Jeane said. “Africa is the most rewarding place I have been. It’s changed my life.”