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Nov 2010

Welcome Bookbus!!

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Week 3. Mangochi to Blantyre.

So Monday morning and it was time to drive to our new home near Blantyre. We started early, drove for about 5 hours and met the area PEA (primary education advisor) whose name was Mr Kalulu (translated as Mr. Rabbit!!) outside the town hall. As we were driving to our new base at Fisherman’s rest about 20 km outside Blantyre we were to be greeted by some of the schools we were to be working with. Mr Rabbit went out in front on his motorbike and we followed! There were 3 stops in all and at each one there were children lining the roads, waving and shouting “Welcome Bookbus!!”. It was crazy, exciting and at the same time heart warming! They were singing, “We are happy today, we are happy today, we are happy to see our books!”It was a fantastic welcome to the area! This must be what it feels like to come home after winning the FA cup or something similar!!

We then proceeded to our new home. The setting couldn’t be more different to the grotto. Perched high up on the side of a hill we are overlooking the lower Shire (pronounced shear ree and NOT shire – as I made the big mistake of calling it!) valley. The views are stunning, especially early morning and at sun set. There are impalas on the property as well as some very naughty goats, that we keep threatening to turn into stew!! We are also no longer staying in tents or cooking outdoors, both good news as we approach the rainy season and not having to get dressed to go to the bathroom in the night is an obvious advantage!

That afternoon for me it was off on a whistle-stop tour of the sights of Blantyre. The sights being supermarkets, money changers, chemists, markets, banks, stationers and hospitals, all those things you need to know! Blantyre is huge compared to Livingstone. It has over 600,000 inhabitants and the traffic is crazy! It’s the first traffic jams I have seen in a long time. Blantyre is the oldest city and main commercial hub of Malawi. It is named after the Scottish birth place of Dr. Livingstone. It lies at an altitude of almost 1000m and is ringed by hills and compared to life just a few Km outside the city limits it all feels very cosmopolitan and modern.

The PEA had given us a list of the schools in the area with their distances from fishermans and the number of learners, this ranged from 2000 down to 300. I decided that as we had more volunteers the first week we should visit the bigger schools and leave the small ones to next week when there were just a handful of us. All the big schools are located just of the tarmac road, so access was no problem. We began on Tuesday with one of the schools that welcomed us on the road. Mbame Primary School is the closest one to Fisherman’s so it was only a very short drive, past the permanent police road block where we are already known, hopefully meaning, we won’t be getting stopped too often!

Once again we taught standards 7 and 8 but we had to divide them into half each time as the classes are so big. Class sizes were never this big in Zambia. Apparently since primary education was declared free for all several years ago, the number of learners has skyrocketed but the number of teachers is falling and the number of classrooms remains the same. It is always the infant classes which are the biggest as the older children become the more they are needed at home to do chores and farm the land. We taught 4 lessons at 45 minutes each, at least the temperature here is more bearable than that at the lake. Mbame school is the first time I have seen in action a so called ‘play pump’. This is a water pump that is powered by a roundabout so kids get to have fun playing whilst pumping water from the borehole into a tank which can then be access by the villagers. A very clever idea, especially when placed in a school!

Wednesday we went to Madziabango Primary School, our first journey down into the valley and you could feel the temperature rise as we descended. Thursday it was Namkumba, which was in the process of creating a library complete with Librarians and wall paintings and Friday it was Chisawani, a school with over 2000 learners and one of the ones that had welcomed us on Monday. Chiswani is lucky enough to be the venue for a school feeding programme, funded by an organisation called Mary’s Meals. Everyday all learners get a meal of soya porridge, as you can imagine when cooking for 2000 the pots are enormous.

Everywhere we went we attracted much attention and Gerald the Giraffe was brought out to tame the masses! We taught standards 7 and 8 and always found the pupils very willing to take part in what we were doing but it is obvious that they are not used to being asked their own opinions or to use their imagination and they certainly aren’t accustomed to small group work or one to one interaction with a teacher. At all 4 schools this week the teachers seemed keen to know what we were up to and how it would benefit their students without disturbing their timetables, but very few seemed keen to get hands on and join it what we were doing. I guess that this is a totally new concept, not only to the students but also their teachers but we are welcomed with open arms and warm smiles wherever we are working.

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Nov 2010

The Lake of Stars.

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Week 2. PART B.

Wednesday saw us at another huge school, Koche Primary School also has over 2000 learners. We were getting used to seeing huge classes learning under the baobab trees and this school was no exception. I talked to one standard 4 teacher and he told me that he never taught in a classroom, always under a tree, when the sun was too high and the shade from the leafless tree wasn’t enough for the 100 pupils he had to send them home. If it rains there is also no class. The setting of this school was right against a rocky outcrop and there was no vegetation or shade except the few baobabs so it gave the impression of teaching in the desert. It was very hard to believe that the lake was only a few kilometres away as it felt very baron.

We were warmly welcomed by the teachers and pupils and we were joined by the area PEA (primary education advisor) who was very keen to see exactly what we did and to get involved herself. This involvement is not something I am used to in Zambia and it made a refreshing change to find someone in authority being so hands on. The school also showed us it’s “Library”, a very dusty room filled with junk and a few shelves of donated books that obviously hadn’t been touched in a while, the dust and cobwebs on them, proved that. 2 small girls were washing the floor under the eye of the “librarian” as we entered. Most schools seem to have a room they call the library but it is almost always the same story, these rooms are under lock and key and the students have no access to whatever books there may be inside. I do not believe that this is done for bad reasons; I think that it is simply the fact that there is no library culture here and as the librarian at Koche School said, they have no training in how to go about operating such a project.

The lessons went well despite it being the hottest day we have encountered so far with the thermometer reaching 38 degrees. The PEA was very impressed with the way that the project runs, especially the emphasis on small group work, something that is nigh on impossible in Malawian schools. She was especially encouraged by our use of non fiction books which we often link to globes and world maps. The sad reality was that hardly any students, even those in standard 7 and 8 could show us where Malawi was on the map, but they ALL love looking at the world and hearing about other countries, people and places.

Wednesday afternoon saw us making a trip to Mangochi. The market was a vibrant bustling centre where you could buy almost anything you could imagine. The fruit and vegetable section was, as always, a riot of colour and full of all the produce that can be harvested at that time of year. After visiting town we stopped at Open Arms orphanage to pay a visit. This orphanage is specifically for babies and children up to 2 years. We all immediately fell in love with the residents and everyone had at least 2 children in their arms or hanging onto their knees! The idea is to care for the babies until they are about 2 when then can be returned to their extended families, usually grandparents or sometimes older siblings or aunts and uncles. Other family members taking care of orphans is common practice throughout Africa. We were welcomed to the home by the matron and all the carers singing to us and it brought a few tears to the eyes having to leave.

On Thursday we went to Ulande primary school, only 1000 learners so positively tiny after the last few days! The setting was amazing. You could see the lake from the school and it seemed to be set right in the middle of the village, so everyday life was going on all around during lessons. We actually bought 2 “bunches” of fish off a man on a bike(the fish were hanging on the handbars!!) who had just caught them in the lake. We also bought lots of fresh vegetables and ate them that night with typical Malawian ‘nshima’, this pleased Douglas, our Malawian driver, no end, after all that m’zungu food!
We taught standards 7 and 8 at Ulande in small groups under the mango trees but what we were doing was so exciting, all the smaller children were crowding around, so out came Giraffes can’t dance and I read to my biggest audience yet, probably about 300!! I lengthened it by getting them to name all the animals and do animal impressions!! They sang me some songs afterwards and then we played some games! The diversionary tactics worked and the others finished their sessions in peace!

Friday was a public holiday so no school but we took the opportunity to tidy the bus and get some things ready for our inclusion in the outreach project of Lake of Stars on Saturday. Friday also saw the start of the festival! The campsite wasn’t as crowded as expected and miraculously the new showers and toilets were ready on time! The festival was taking place on 3 stages, all dotted along the beach. They each catered for different types of music. The programme was only published that morning so there was much discussion about who wanted to see what! Once it got dark the whole place was looking great. There was a 24 hour bar, lots of food and craft stalls, both inside the festival (tourist prices) and outside the gates (local prices!) I tried goat for the first time and there were EXCELLENT home made chips(Zambia doesn’t do chips!!)!

This is a festival without mud, without rain, without disgusting toilets or stupid queues for the bar but it still has all those attributes that make a festival fun. Dancing on the beach with the lake behind and the stars above, I could see how it got its name! For me the highlights of this first night were the legendary Zimbabwean Oliver Mutukudzi and a new British guy called Tinashe, whose acoustic guitar was only accompanied by a guy on a beat box, amazing!

Saturday was the Bookbus’ turn to do something for the festival. In previously years the festival has been criticised for doing things exclusively for people who can afford to buy the tickets (well out of the price range of any normal Malawian.) So this year they were running an outreach programme for the villagers who live near to the festival site. Details were sketchy and plans very vague but basically we were supposed to be going to a local football pitch with the truck and doing our thing!! Unfortunately our driver Douglas had to rush off so we were left without a driver, this meant I spent the morning trying to find someone to drive the truck, finally I did and they were supposed to arrive at 2.30! 3pm he arrived accompanied by a rake?? (we still don’t know why and today it still sits in the truck!!) We then didn’t know how to start the engine…eventually after pressing everything we managed, and then the door wouldn’t shut, but we tied it together with wool!!!! (T.I.A!!!) So we arrived and the afternoon went so well. We had the Noisettes and Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly on board the bus reading with kids. We had dozens of kids on board, enjoying rading, being read to or just browsing themselves. We made a huge lake collage, where every child (or adult!) could write their name on a star and then stick it on! We sang songs, both Bookbus ones and Malawian ones, we danced, we played football and we read. The children had a great time and despite its shaky start it was a great success! As the sun set we did one rendition of the banana song and then it was time to wait for the driver..again!!!

Saturday night and Sunday were free for people to enjoy the festival. There was always a very chilled out atmosphere whatever was going on. It was strange seeing the Noisettes perform on stage after having had them on board the bus that afternoon. But their impromptu Sunday night acoustic set with a local school choir was much cooler than their big headline Saturday night performance, in my opinion. There were some great musicians from Malawi and even Zambia and there was music to suit every taste. My personal favourite was on Sunday afternoon and it was an acoustic set by t

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Oct 2010

Our Malawi Debut!

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Week 2. Chipata, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi then onto Mangochi and Blantyre.

Part A

So Saturday morning saw the Bookbus truck and crew ready to negotiate the international border between Zambia and Malawi. Everything went without a hitch and we were soon in Malawi! Changing money from Zambian Kwacha to Malawian Kwacha was offered to us by nearly every single person we saw! The Malawian money is in much smaller denominations than the Zambian, with $1 being worth 175 instead of 5000!! However the biggest note is only worth approx $3 so changing a few hundred dollars makes it look like you have robbed a bank, with all those bundles of notes that you get given!

So after financial transactions, we were on our way, direction Lilongwe for a quick overnight stop before heading for the lake. One small hitch….the police! Barely 5 minutes into Malawi and we were stopped! “Steve” the policeman seemed very grumpy at first and wanted to give us fines for not having the correct insurance, which we absolutely did and a hundred other little things. After a bit of “chatting”, (I told him he was the first Malawian I had spoken to and that he wanted to rid me of my money the minute I entered the country, and that wasn’t making me feel welcome, but unfortunately I couldn’t give him my phone number as I had just arrived and hadn’t yet got one (small fib there!!)) his frostiness soon melted and we got away with a small fine for our reverse light not being bright enough!!

After a quick overnight in Lilongwe, where we picked up 2 more volunteers, we set off, direction of the lake, to Mangochi where the bus would be based for a week of school visits and the famous Lake of Stars festival. The landscape here is much hillier than that of Zambia, the winding roads with hairpin bends that took us up and down the valleys, were great and the views spectacular. In Zambia you can often drive hours without seeing many signs of life but here human habitation is evident everywhere. Also noticeable is the lack of trees due to massive deforestation. En route we stopped at Dezda and visited a local pottery, where many souvenirs were bought. The road out of Dezda is interesting for the fact that the houses on the left of the road are in Malawi and the houses on the right of the road are in Mozambique!

When we reached our new home at Nkopola campsite, we were again impressed by the location, right on the shore of the lake and very peaceful! We pitched our tents, had a quick drink on the beach, gazed at the water, which was very much like the ocean and wished we could swim without the risk of a nasty snail borne disease and then went to prepare for our first Malawian school visit.

Mtonda Primary School was the first school in Malawi that the Bookbus rolled into. There are 1600 children with only 12 teachers! An average class size is 120! There are not enough classrooms so many lessons take place outside under trees. Malawi Primary Schools cater for standars 1 to 8. We worked with 7 & 8 and the lessons were well received and the project was given the thumbs up by all! The children clearly weren’t used to small group work but soon came out of their shells when faced with exciting activities! I spent a long time talking to teachers to try and find out the basics of the Malawi Education system for the purpose of this project and also to prepare and contrast it with Zambia.

Some of the things that I learnt are;

Children are called LEARNERS and not pupils or students.

Classes are called STANDARDS and not grades or year

Primary Education is free for all and no uniform, books, shoes or bags are required. Learners start school with 6 years.
Primary Education is from standards 1 to 8
1-2 is Infant
3-5 is Junior
6-8 is Senior

One of the biggest differences from Zambia is that here the children are taught up to standard 5 solely in Chichewa, the local language, except for their English lesson. In Zambia they start being taught in English from grade 2. From standard 5 they learn 9 subjects, which are: Maths, English, Chichewa, Science, Social & Environmental Studies, Life Skills, Agriculture, R.E and Expressive Arts.

Exams take place at the end of Standard 8 and those that pass can continue to Secondary education but for this fees are payable. Secondary education is for 4 years from Form 1 to 4 with exams at the end of Form 2 and 4. The school year begins in September and is made up of 3 terms of 3 months with a month of holidays in December, April and August.

But the biggest shock is the class sizes and the lack of teachers and classrooms. It is not uncommon for a teacher here (who earns less than $100 a month, with no housing provided or allowances given) to have a class of over 150 pupils that is taught under a tree. When it rains there is no class! The classrooms that exist often have over a hundred learners inside, many sitting on the floor and when the outside temperature is 40degrees and there is just a metal roof covering the room, you can only imagine the heat inside. Despite all this the pupils are smiling, engaged and willing to learn.

Tuesday took us to Makawa school, our biggest ever, with 2290 learners and 36 teachers! We were warmly welcomed but faced with MASSIVE standards. We took standard 7 which has 183 children between 3 teachers, but divided into 2 and then standard 8 which was smaller as the children are streamed after 7 at this school and only those which have a good chance of passing the exams are allowed in standard 8, this is to improve the schools results! One shocking thing that I noticed was when we were taken into Standard 8 class there were about 90 learners, there were some desks but only enough for about half the children. Only boys were sitting at the desks and all the girls were sat on the floor!!

Both of these schools we were the star attraction for all the childeren, teachers and passers by. The old faithful songs came out to entertain the masses of small eager learners and Gerald the Giraffe, in large format, made his Malawian debut!!

Continued in next blog.

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Oct 2010

Mufwe. Part B. Lions, Libraries & Hippo Sausages

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Week 1 – PART B!

Wednesday we drove to Kakumbi Basic School, our first government school in the area. The drive we were told was 4km was actually 12km down a very narrow, pot holed track, it told nearly 1 hour!! Lots of locals kept stopping us and were amazed that we were attempting to do this, but despite these warnings and hundreds of overhanging trees whose branches threatened to knock our heads off while we sat in the back of the truck, we managed to arrive at the school, thanks to our excellent driver Douglas!

Kakumbi has 400 pupils and teaches grades 1 to 7. We had a great morning with the kids from the top three grades, teaching as usual in our small groups on reed mats under the mango trees. The headteacher was very impressed by our methods of teaching and how engaged the pupils were. She was extremely surprised to find that many of our volunteers came form different backgrounds than teaching and that the age range was so varied! The kids were so enthralled with our books and other resources, many of them hadn’t ever had access to such supplies before.

Wednesday was Alice’s, one of the volunteers, birthday, so we decided to organise our evening game drive for that day. We set out at 4pm and stayed out until 8pm. It was amazing the amount of wildlife that we saw. The highlight for everyone was the lions. We saw a male and some females, sleeping on the riverbank not far from the carcass of a buffalo that had just killed, which was now being picked over by the vultures. We also saw herds of elephants, buffalos, giraffes, warthogs, hippos, lots of birds and a porcupine. Then right at the end in the dark we saw a lioness, only metres from the car. When all the lights were turned off, we all sat there in silence, not sure where she was and not feeling too safe in our open vehicle..but then with the red night light we saw her laying down just in front of us, totally unaware of the feeling of amazement she was creating among this group of humans! When we got back to camp we had organised to have dinner at the restaurant. Alice had ordered ‘hippo sausages’ and what came was a bowl of just that and nothing else!! Certainly a birthday to remember!

Thursday took us to Chiwawatala basic school, just on the tarmac road, so no perilous journey today. This school is grades 1 to 8 with 600 pupils and has one of the most forward thinking and progressive headteachers that I have ever met. Mr Zulu was interested in our program and its aims and objectives. He was keen to meet all the volunteers and to observe the way we interacted with his pupils. I ended up with my own small school lesson with a group of random kids that took place on the steps of the truck. We talked about geography, music and looked at every page in our WOW picture encyclopaedia. It was a real pleasure spending time here. Chiwawatala also has the best school library I have encountered in Zambia. It has a full time librarian, Patience, who also joined in with our lessons. She was a former pupil of the school and was keen to hear about how we use libraries in the UK. The library was set up in memory of a British girl, Carly Pinder, by her family after her tragic death. It is a well used facility and means that the children at this school have access to books in the afternoons and after lessons, unlike most school ‘libraries’ in Zambia which are kept under lock and key. It was a great day enjoyed by all and hopefully we can continue supporting the great work being done here in some way in the future.

The last school of the week was another community school. Malimba Community school has a paid government head teacher and the rest of the staff are volunteers. In this school the teachers were so full of commitment and they joined in every session that we did. The school is grades 1 to 7 and has 300 pupils. It was formed a few years ago by a couple of local people, one of which, Akim, still works as a teacher there. He is very intelligent and was telling me how his father used to be a teacher and regarded education as the biggest key to improving one’s life, but unfortunately he was killed by an elephant when Akim was still in school and the family had to move back to the mothers village and Akim became responsible for all his siblings. Most of them are on scholarships at various stages in their education and for Akim his biggest dream would be to go to college to become a trained teacher, so he could get paid for doing what he loves and what he does so well and with such obvious passion. We did lots of sessions based of the world here and the atlases, globes and maps were well received. Team games in finding flags or countries are proving to be very popular and competition is always highest when it is girls versus boys! This school runs a feeding programme with food donated by the World Food Programme, which helps encourage families from this very poor community to send their children to school.

Straight after school we hit the road, well… track, back to Chiapata. Another rough, dusty and bumpy 6 hour ride later we arrived. At least the books were safe this time after some emergency carpentry work done by a carpenter I found at Croc Valley. We spent the night at a guesthouse without the fear of hippo attacks or elephant feet, getting ready to cross into Malawi the next day.

The week spent working in the eastern province of Zambia, in the Mfuwe district was a very rewarding one. The pupils and teachers had never seen a programme like ours and they were fasinated by the vehicle, the books, the coloured paper , the volunteers and the stickers!! I have seen that the standard of education was very much similar to that in Livingstone but I was surprised by the progressive outlook of many of the staff encountered out here in the Zambian bush! Once again the commuiny schools and their volunteer teachers impressed me with their commitment and their passion for the children in their community. Very often they are struggling to survive themselves but they go to school everyday and give their all. I admire the positive outlook on life that we encounter everywhere in Zambia. So now it’s on to Malawi.

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Oct 2010

Mufwe. Part A. Potholes, waving & munching hippos!

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So the Bookbus is on the road on the way to Blantyre in Southern Malawi but en route we will be spending a week in South Luangwa national park in Zambia and a week on the shores on Lake Malawi working with schools along the way and culminating in the Lake of Stars festival which we hope to participate in, in some way.

I anticipate thousands of kilometres on roads in varying states of disrepair, hundreds of Zambian and Malawian children waving wherever we go, Cries of M’zungo echoing through the air, rising temperatures and new adventures everyday…..Let’s see what happens!!

Week 1 – PART A!!

Livingstone to Lusaka to Chipata to Mfuwe! – Zambia!!

The journey was long and very tiring and took 3 days, the torturous bit being the 125km between Chipate and Mfuwe, the gateway to South Luangwa, which took 6…yes 6…hours!! Top speed was 25kmph and we still managed to dislodge all the books from the shelves and some volunteers from their seats! Potholes are an understatement but we were greeted with smiles and waves all the way which buoyed spirits. The newly painted truck was getting a great reception, mostly open jawed amazement followed by frantic waving! Just a note for anyone thinking of joining the Bookbus next year, ability and commitment to wave is certainly a prerequisite!!

But when we finally arrived at our new home, Croc Valley camp, we were wowed by our riverside setting. We, immediately, were warned, by the owner, of the dangers of living in a real life African Safari park and true to warning, that night we encountered hippos munching grass around our tents and even leaving trails of hippo slime on our canvas!! Other nights we had elephants wandering through camp and a giraffe eating leaves right by the bar. One afternoon we could even see lions just across the river!! Amazing!

But there wasn’t much time to admire our natural abode, we were off to school that very afternoon. We visited Uboya Community School (Uboya is Nyanja for paddling!) just a few km from our camp. We were greeted by the middle grades who attend school in the afternoon and the teachers who were eager to see what we were up to! This school is only up to grade 6, as to qualify for grade 7 you have to have a classroom with a secure lockable office attached in which to store the exam papers. This has just been built and Geoffrey, the acting head, told me in 2011 they will be able to offer grade 7 and they expect a huge turnout because many of the children in this area just drop out after grade 6 and are just waiting for the chance to sit their exams! The school has only 3 other classrooms, one of which has no roof! The teachers here are a mixture of paid government workers and volunteers, something which is becoming more common in Zambia and is leading to some ill feeling, especially as sometimes it is the volunteers who seem to have more passion and commitment.

We decided to treat the afternoon as one large group session and we read some large books to the giant circle of eager faces. Gerald the giraffe got his first of many outings on this trip as did the old crowd pleaser, “We’re going on a bearhunt!” We sang some songs including “Down in the jungle”, the banana song and “I said a boom!” Thanks to all previous volunteers who have stocked my mind with such useful clutter!! After donating some books and chatting with the kids and teachers we returned to croc valley to put up our tents and prepare for the days ahead!

Tuesday took us to Victory Community Preschool. Here 106 children attend preschool lessons in a med and straw classroom built by a local pastor, James, who founded the school. He has one teacher, Emma, and between them they give these Zambian children a head start on the ladder of Education. Pre schools are usually only for children whose parents can afford the fees and then consequently those who start grade 1 without any form of education or exposure to English before the age of 7 are at a serious disadvantage. James knew this and wanted to do something to help the children of his community. The pupils are fanatsic and know more songs than even my ipod contains!!! There is even a song about drinking a coke, with the necessary sound effects! All the volunteers and I had a great morning at Victory, reading, playing, singing and drawing with the kids!

In the afternoon we hired a driver and vehicle to take us to Chipembele education centre. This is a project set up by a couple from the UK. It aims to teach local children about the importance of living in harmony with nature. It is an amazing project and so well thought out and run by Anna and Steve. Anna is the lady who helped me source the schools for this week of the project. And it is the Chipembele(which is Nyanja for Rhino) trust which pays for Emma at Victory. The site is 1 hour drive into the bush and gets completely cut off by road in the rainy season. On the journey we saw herds of elephants and some giraffes! We were made so welcome and Steve then took us on a walk across the river bed to get a very close up view of a pod of hippos..some of us were a little reluctant wading through the small streams still winding there way over the dry bed, as at the back of our mind was the thought of crocs..but we were assured we were fine and we took the plunge even with that nagging doubt!! No one was eaten and we returned to camp to hang out with our own nocturnal munching hippos!!

Continued on next blog!

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Oct 2010

Time to leave Livingstone!

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So the final few weeks in Livingstone have been very hectic but, as always, very rewarding! The children have been enjoying the last sessions of the Bookbus season. Grade 7 are preparing for their exams but are still keen to join the crew, who seem to be useful resources for last minute questions. The bush is dry and brown, the falls almost empty, the weather is really heating up and it’s time to jump straight into the pool when the bus reaches the grotto. We have been using the buts again these past weeks as the truck is being painted and prepared for it’s trip to Malawi.

As well as lessons Bookbus volunteers have been getting involved in other aspects of school life. At Linda Community we have built shelves to accommodate the books we donated last year and then again this year. The teachers at this school really have a concept of what a library is and how to use it for maximum pupil benefit. At Zweilipili we have helped them to start repairing the collapsing roof before rainy season arrives and have donated cement to construct new floors. At Cowboy cliff preschool we accompanied the whole school on a jolly day out on the Zambezi and we became the waiting staff for the children and their parents.

It is really sad to be saying goodbye to the schools again, especially the grade 7s who will have left by the time the Bus comes back in 2011. I have heard some very moving songs and speeches and received lots of letters and cards all saying thanks and please come back! The confidence and imagination and ability to think independently has certainly been increasing in the classes throughout the year and if we can feel we have inspired a handful, however large or small, to view reading as an enjoyable, rewarding and necessary pastime, then I feel we can say we have done a good job!

The hardest goodbye is at Lubasi home, and as a treat I organised a day out for all the children and staff. We went on a boat cruise on the Zambezi and were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants. For many of the children this was their first ever trip on a boat and their first ever elephant sighting. We then had a bbq on the riverside and finally an interactive drumming workshop. We used the truck and Grubby’s rafting truck to transport them and over all it was an amazing day, enjoyed by all!! I used the photos from the trip and the holiday programmes to make them anther giant collage!

So now the tents are all packed, the truck all painted and we are ready to roll to Malawi. It is sad to say goodbye to Livingstone, as this year has been amazing, with so many cool volunteers, engaging children, exciting books to read and sparkling glitter to sprinkle, but a new challenge lies ahead…Let’s go to Malawi!!

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Sep 2010

The Book Bus in Meheba – Group 2

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We are back in Meheba with a new group and a lovely new toilet to welcome us! It is now the school holidays so we have been doing fewer, longer sessions with the children and playing games outside. Duck duck goose gets very competitive. The new group are slightly OCD about preparing materials (some more than others 😉 ) and spend afternoons preparing templates, models, word games, pipe-cleaner glasses to spark up their reading activities.

Pippa has mastered the perfect pom-pom caterpillar to complement reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Andrea has been playing rhyming word games with pupils and even the little one get very excited by it when they get the gist.

In the first week attendance was a little patchy as children are expected to help harvesting or fetching during the holidays, and many leave Meheba to visit relatives in town. There are also initiation ceremonies going on which takes boys out of society for a few weeks (apparently circumcision is being advertised as a preventative for HIV by the UNHCR…). But children always turned up and numbers increased the second and third weeks. School F is our favourite school to visit and school holidays have not affected attendance, in fact more children turn up each week. Children come pouring out of their homes when they hear the truck, legging it to school to be ready for us. The volunteers were very taken with this school which is much poorer than the other basic schools. Many kids turn up in ratty pyjama bottoms or ripped nightdresses and babies are seen playing with condom ‘balloons’.

In an effort to curb the spread of HIV condoms have been hugely subsidised down to only 1p each, making them a perfect toy for a grouchy baby! A single tennis ball generates euphoria at this school.
In the afternoons we sometimes watched football matches on the playing field opposite our campsite. Each goal was accompanied by dozens of toddlers scooting onto the pitch screaming blue-murder. The kids here all know us as we sometimes go over to play frisby with them, and Becky gave some of the boys a karate lesson in the afternoon. Back in camp Pippa and Doc are engaged in a war over whether or not to feed the resident cats who have adopted us and sit loyally on top of our tents. We are also ’surveying’ the possible root of alcoholism in the camp, by trying out the notorious tujilijili. These are sachets of potent spirits (a double shot of 45%+) in brandy, gin or whisky ’flavours’. Our favourite is Rough Touch; a sketchy imitation of Baileys. One of these sachets is 1000 kwacha – only 15pence, and we find they liven up a smashing game of scrabble no end.

At the weekend we took a trip to nearby Lumwana mine 10 kms from Meheba. A friend who worked there supplied us with reflective gear and took us to see the copper mine and conveyor belt (apparently the longest in the world). The most interesting, and disturbing, part of the visit was witnessing the social structure of the mining community. Only 10 kms away from Meheba is a compound equipped with swimming pools, squash and tennis courts, a gym, bars and landscaped housing estates. The junior Zambian miners were paying over 80% tax on their earnings, on top of which they are as good as forced to take out a huge mortgage on temporary houses (the lifespan of a mine is only 30 years) put up for workers. We were disturbed by this revelation but it was an insight into the capitalist mentality behind this industry. Many miners boasted how much Lumwana has done for the nearby community, especially the schools, but its hard to see evidence of this in Meheba. Meheban teachers talked about Zambia’s ’wealth’ of natural resources with wearied cynacism.

The last week at in Meheba was fantastic with the biggest turn out of pupils and ever inventive lessons given by the volunteers. Diane was using a book about the body and had the students giggling by getting them to pin paper cut-out organs to the correct part of her body. After lessons we were treated to a little cultural dancing, very provocative if one is not used to the dancing style here! At G there was more singing, including a tear-inducing song with all our names in. ?Sally we’ll miss you! Remember to create a better life in UK!?

It was hard being parted from the cats and our friends, and our last journey proved to be a little stressful. The traffic police were out in force and, well, we hardly blended in with the truck and Doc in his Maasai outfit. Apparently they can fine you for having some mud on your number plate. Then when we finally arrived at our lodge in Ndola the owner apologised to us for the lack of hot showers. ’There is a problem with the power. If we turn on the hot water, the lights go off.’ Good times! I will miss Zambia!

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Sep 2010

Amazing times at Zweilepili

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So the final week of the holiday is over and we have had the best week at Zwielepili Centre of Excellence! (Zwielepili is the Lozi word for progress)The posh sounding name belies the true state of this small community project. Zwielepili has been founded by the deputy head of Nakatindi Community School, Mr Stanley Mwiya. He realised that in his community of Moorlite there were many children who weren’t attending school at all or who were falling behind in their own schools and needed tuition but can’t afford the fees so he founded the project. At present it is just 3 grass classrooms, one without a roof and one with a roof that’s caving it! This is a place that has NO resources and many of the children here have had no contact with books, art materials or M’zungos before! I went for a walk around the compound with one of the teachers and people kept asking him if they were allowed to shake my hand!

The teachers here are mostly trained teachers that are waiting for postings and Mr Mwiya pays them a small salary out of his own government salary. The teachers are committed, hard working and dedicated to helping the underprivileged children of their town. I personally can say that few of the government employed teachers show as much dedication to their jobs as people like we have encountered at Zwielepili. They have already become firm friends of the Bookbus and we will visit them once a week for the rest of this season. One of the teachers gave us some notes when we left on Friday saying how much she valued what we had done. One of these notes read; “Your visit and being kind to me and our little school has made me realise that we are special and made us know that you girls appreciate what we do.” That made us all feel very privileged to have been part of the week.

On the Monday morning I was feeling nervous as we have never attempted to visit a non recognised school before and it was the fourth week of the holidays and people weren’t so aware of what we are doing. So I wasn’t sure how many children would turn up, how would we organise them? Would it be a poor turnout or would we have chaos on our hands?! I needn’t have worried there were plenty of children and the volunteer teachers were all there to help organise and participate themselves! As word spread the number grew each day and we had to add and extra 30 minute session at the beginning of the morning for all the preschool children that were turning up! We then did one hour with grades 1 to 3, one hour with grades 4,5 & 6 and finally an hour with grade 7 and above! The children had come from all over the area, some were full time in school others not at all. The ability was wide ranging but they all enjoyed their time with our volunteers.

Friday was “glitter” day again and after reading all the children received a handful of glitter, there were even some adult learners and they didn’t want to miss out on the sparkles!! We tried something new to the Bookbus this week, and that was some adult literacy classes. Many of the women in the community can’t read or write well and they were saying that when they go across the borders ,or into an office they have to get other people to fill in forms for them. So one of the teachers and myself devised a few worksheets for the ladies. These were done in both English and a couple of Zambian Languages, as it isn’t only English where they struggle with literacy. The reception was very favourable and we hope to continue with the program. These same ladies are part of the women’s club that weave mats etc to try and earn themselves and the community a little money. This is another initiative that has been sponsored by some of our volunteers. Helping people to help themselves and their community is a really positive aspect of our work here in Zambia!

At the end of the week Stanley confided in me that he’d also felt apprehensive on the Monday morning but it just proves that you shouldn’t be afraid of the unknown or trying something different and give them a go, sometimes they can turn out amazingly! Just like our time at Zwielepili!

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Aug 2010

Chaos to calm and back again!!

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Over four months without rain now and the days are getting hotter and hotter. Winter is over and the summer is well on its way here in Zambia!
Two more weeks of holiday have passed and they couldn’t have been more different. The first week was our second week at Maanu Mbwami and team chaos continued. We had so much fun and the kids and teachers were turning up everyday. The number didn’t drop at all, if anything it increased! The trail of children “escorting” the bus into school was growing each day, so much so that I had to get off and walk on several occasions just to stop them getting so close to the wheels! Apparently I looked like the Pied Piper of Livingstone! And if I ran, they ran, if I sang they sang it was great fun!

We did lots of different activities from making sunflowers, after reading how a seed turns into a flower to the life cycle of a chicken which led to the debate of which came first the egg or the chicken?!! Lion masks, Alien headbands, rockets and butterflies were all made coupled with books such as We’re going on a lion hunt, How to catch a star, Man on the Moon and the ever popular Hungry Caterpillar! Anyone who has been a member of team chaos can voucher for the fact that you can make ANYTHING in the world with masking tape, paper plates and streamers!!

When Friday came around the children were all saying “Tizaunana milo” meaning see you tomorrow, but we had to tell them that was the end of the holiday programme, which was really sad. There were a few damp eyes among the volunteers! However we left every child with a pencil, a handful of glitter (which found its way onto faces and into hair!!) and some great memories! We got some fantastic group photos that really capture the spirit of the fortnight!

Last week we spent a week at Lubasi Orphanage! It is exactly one year since I first visited and everytime I go there I feel like I’m going home! The welcome that we always receive is so warm and genuine, everybody gets attached to the children here. After the huge groups of the last fortnight it made a refreshing change to just have small group of 3 or 4 children. The atmosphere is usually pretty calm and the kids are eager to learn! Maps of Africa, feather covered chickens and more sunflowers were produced. And it was only the discovery of some wool that led to a mini riot! So on Friday we bought each child a ball of wool (or cotton as they call it!) Some are going to knit, others I have no idea what they will do with it, but no one wanted to be left out! Some kept trying to sneak back for another ball, claiming they didn’t have, or it was lost!! Children are just as creative and cheeky wherever you go!!

It has been really nice to see the development of the children over the last year, especially some of the shyer ones. And it is easy to see the different characters and individual traits of each once you get to know them! There is something special about working with the children here, and anyone who has been will know exactly what I mean!!

Next week is going to be the biggest challenge of the holidays. We are going to visit a small community project (not a recognised school) which has been set up by the deputy head of Nakatindi. He founded the school in the very poor area of town where he stays and it aims to give children who don’t go to school some basic education, it gives free tuition to others and runs some adult literacy programs. I think that on Monday there will be many people, keen to read, waiting for us. So let’s see what happens…I predict a return to team chaos!!

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Aug 2010

Team Chaos at Maanu Mbwami!!

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The holidays have begun. We spent the first week at Maanu Mbwami community school and we had one of the best weeks since the Bookbus began! Monday we arrived at school not knowing what to expect. How many kids would turn up? What kind of reception would we get? How much chaos would be waiting to greet us and would there be teachers there as promised?

The turnout was amazing! Children from all grades from 1 to 7 were waiting for the bus and greeted us by running along side, waving and cheering! All 7 teachers were there too and were keen to get involved in our activities! We divided the younger children into 2 groups, grades 1, 2 & 3 together (which numbered 70!! This group become known as team chaos!) and the 4’s and 5’s together! (about 35) These sessions lasted for an hour and three quarters and we did a mixture of reading, colouring, games, songs and craft activities! The longer the week went on the more settled our routine became! Trying to teach 70 kids “what’s the time Mr Lion” (the Bookbus altered version of what’s the “what’s the time Mr Wolf?!!”) took a long time but now they love it! They also taught us one of their songs and laugh at our attempts to follow their moves. We based our team Chaos sessions on the alphabet doing 5 letters each day. We read books like Going on a Bear hunt, Elmer and the Rainbow, The Nickel Nackle Tree, Handa’s hen and Giraffes Can’t Dance and the silence in the room and the concentration on the children’s faces was amazing!

One of our favourite activities was making posters of whatever we were teaching that day, colours, shapes etc and then standing in a big circle and getting the kids to run to the thing we shouted out! They loved it, especially when the teachers joined in! The teachers have been amazing this week, all turning up everyday and getting stuck into everything we are doing!
The grades 4 and 5 made a book during the course of the week also based on the alphabet but more advanced, they had to think of as many words as they knew beginning with certain letters and put then into their books. At the end of the week they got to take their books home, which thrilled them!

Then we had the grades 6 and 7 for an hour and three quarters. About 50 students turned up. They are having revision lessons whilst we are teaching the younger ones. The headteacher told me that he tried to get the pupils to come for revision last year but few turned up but because of the lure of the Bookbus many more have come this year! The volunteers have had the same small groups of children each day and have therefore built up close relationships with the kids! And you can see the improvement in performance, concentration and confidence the longer you are with the same group. We based our activities on the world, so did topics ranging from Africa to Polar regions, from oceans to China! The children have learnt a lot but had fun whilst doing so!

Just before we left on Friday we had a huge group sing-song/dance outside which attracted a lot of attention from passing locals, some nearby builders and the police who are supervising voter registration in one of the school classrooms. You could see on their faces a look of surprise at these crazy yellow clad “m’zungos” but everyone was smiling and having a great time!

In fact we had such a fantastic time and we feel like we have made such progress that we have decided to come back for a second week starting on Monday. The teachers and the children were overjoyed! So as I write, Team Chaos plus new arrivals are spending their Sunday planning lessons for the pupils at Maanu Mbwami!

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