Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Music for books

Richard Mundando left school at 14 to play the guitar. He believed that education had very little to offer him. 

“Classrooms were overcrowded, I had little interaction with the teachers, I found the subjects boring as we had no books to help us understand what we were being taught," says Richard.

“ I wandered around playing guitar and just hanging out," he continued. “I placed a very low value on education."
Richard:swapping music for books

Books on the street

As the years went by Richard spent more time in Livingstone and every day passed street vendors selling self-education books for a few Zambian Kwacha. Street vendors are common in many African countries selling clothes, sweets, mobile phone cards and books. As most books are expensive (more than a months wages for a single book), street vendors sell small, pocket-sized books that are affordable for local people. “At first I started talking to the vendors asking them what was in the books and why would anyone buy them.” A vendor then gave Richard a book on geography and that was a turning point for him.

“ The small book was packed full of information. My reading wasn’t so good at that time, so I bought a couple of small leaflets to improve my English and that’s when I began to understand the importance of reading, the importance of education and how it is the bridge to allow you to take control of your life.

“I simply could not get enough of them,” Richard continued. “I kept playing my guitar so that I could earn money to pay for more books. I then started to swap them with other keen readers. I even set up my guitar next to a bookstand so it would attract more customers. In return I could choose one small pamphlet.”

Like most Zambians, Richard never completed his primary school education.  He continued on his road of self-education and eventually managed to pass his primary school exams in his mid-twenties.

Learning from each other

Richard now runs the Adult literacy classes at the new Book Bus Reading Room in Dambwa, Livingstone.
Alice attends weekly literacy classes

‘There are so many in this community that cannot read or write,” explains Richard. “I believe this just isn’t right. It’s always the poor that are at a disadvantage – unable to go to school and that means they’ll be disadvantaged for life.”

In the mornings Richard teaches children and in the afternoons he runs free adult literacy classes for anyone in the local community that wants to drop in.

Alice has recently joined the class. “I never learnt to read at school. Each time I go to the market I cannot read the signs on the stalls. I decided that I will now learn to read. I’m looking forward to the new classes in the Reading Room. It’s great,” she concludes.

Explains Richard, “The new Reading Room is a great asset for this community. We now have a cool, dry and safe place to hold our classes. The children see adults coming in for literacy lessons and the adults see the children immersed in the new library. My hope is that one will learn off the other and together we can help make our community literate. I gives me great hope for the future,” he concludes. 

Big love for the new library

"Our new library is just fantastic not just for the children but for our local community as well," explains Claudia Lubinda. 

Claudia is the coordinator for our latest new-build library and Reading Room. “The library is always packed full of children exploring new books, reading and doing their homework. Demand is so high that we often open at the weekends too,” says Claudia.
Claudia is delighted with the new library

Located in the Dambwa Compound near Livingstone Zambia, the library opened its doors to the local community in September this year. The three-roomed sturdy building consists of a children’s library with the two surrounding rooms used by the community for homework clubs, tailoring classes and adult literacy classes.

Dambwa is a densely populated area with no government school for the hundreds of children that live there and a lack of community facilities for its population. The Book Bus has been working with two community-based schools for five years often teaching under trees or in shelters with little or no protection from the sun or rain. The community teachers worked either under trees or in a single-roomed structure that would flood during the rains. 

Readathon raises funds

The Reading Room and library was funded by a number of donors including St Mary’s College, Hull, Hill House School, The Irish Association from Kingston-upon-Hull, former Book Bus volunteer Fiona Gillies and several volunteers visiting Livingstone during 2014. Between them they raised over £6,000 enough money to erect a solid brick building that would not only be the home of a much-needed children’s library but would also give the local community a schoolroom and two dry airy rooms to hold classes in. Hill House school donated more than £2,500 by having a readathon with their pupils where more than 600 books were read over a month. Marathon indeed! 

Book Bus Project Co-ordinator Kelly Geoghegan supervised the build and jumped right in getting the rooms decorated in bright, inviting and warm colours.
A great place to enjoy the joy of reading
“Getting a community resource built here is of such great value to local people. At the heart is a new inviting library full of books to help develop that much needed reading culture. The kids are so enthusiastic about reading. On the day we opened every seat and cushion was taken as the children settled down to read a choice of books. For most, this was their very first experience of a library.” said Kelly.

She continued, “Local communities need more resources like this. A learning place that they can call their own and develop projects that will bring income into local communities."

Using local labour to build 

Sustainability at its heart

The Book Bus used locally paid labour to build the Reading Room and together with the local community designed the building to ensure it matched local needs. Local coordinator Claudia now manages the library and Reading Room on behalf of the local community.

“It’s important that the Reading Room and library are run by the community for the community,” says Claudia. “ We are grateful to the people who donated money, time and books for our library. As a community we will now take great care of it” she said.

More than 1,800 books were shipped out to stock the library – a great start but many many more books are needed.

The Book Bus plans to open more community Reading Rooms and libraries in 2015. Reading is life-changing for many people. Help us spread the joy of reading. Donate now  

Meet Kelly..

It was an advert in Wunderlust that changed my life forever,” explains Kelly Geoghegan, our Book Bus Coordinator in Livingstone, Zambia.

“ I had always been a traveller and bought an annual subscription to Wunderlust, the travel magazine.

“I came home from an exhausting day, got into bed and was flipping through the pages dreaming of far away places in the world when I came across an advert for a Project Coordinator for a small charity called The Book Bus. I applied, was interviewed two days later and, one week after that I was sitting on a plane destined for Zambia and a new life,” Kelly explained.

That was back in 2009 and some five years later Kelly is still are the heart of the Book Bus project in Livingstone.

Kelly with the children of Livingstone 

“I wake up every morning and look forward to work. I love my job,” she continues. “I love the children and their enthusiasm and enjoy being part of the communities we work with. Meeting and working with all the volunteers is amazing and their commitment and dedication make the project such a success.”

The thirst for learning

Anyone who has met Kelly will find her passion for children, books and Zambia infectious.

Over the years Kelly has also led Book Bus projects in Malawi and India.

“Each project is different, but what is consistent across them is the energy and enthusiasm of the children. They really want to learn. That’s what the Book Bus is about; giving the children a chance to learn in a fun and interactive way, using books and bringing them to life. We bring books to children that have none, help them to read and to understand what they are reading. Our volunteers bring the stories alive through art, dance, songs and puppets. We use quizzes, puzzles and projects based on factual books to help engage the children but above all we make it fun. Most children say the Book Bus is their favourite activity during the week,” explains Kelly.

According to UNICEF more than 30% of boys in Zambia leave school unable to read and this figure rises to a shocking 40% for girls. Most schools in rural areas have either no books at all or very few books, many of which are totally inappropriate for Zambian children.  Zambia was the very first Book Bus project started back in 2007 by publisher Tom Maschler.

Meeting real Elmers

The Book Bus now works with five community schools in Livingstone some located right in the middle of Mosi oa Tunya National Park.

“Seeing animals on the way to school is quite common” explains Kelly. “It’s not unusual for a herd of elephants to block the road. Giraffes and Zebras are all part of the daily commute, ” she explains.  
Meeting the real Elmer

That’s a real treat for the hundreds of volunteers that have joined the Book Bus in Zambia. There’s not many situations in the world where you can read the book Elmer with children in school and then see a real herd of Elmers on the way home.

Says Kelly, "Charlie our Book Bus in Livingstone is so well known that shouts of ‘bookbussy’ or ‘just one book’ are always heard as we drive down the road. There’s lots of waving from the volunteers saying ‘hello’ to the children every day. That certainly beats the tube ride each morning,” she says.  

Kelly is in full admiration for all the volunteers that have joined the Book Bus with her. “A big thank you to all the fantastic volunteers I have worked with during the years. You make it happen!" she says.

2014 was particularly busy for Kelly as she project-managed the build of the new Book Bus Reading Room and library in Dambwa financed by group of generous Book Bus donors and supporters.

Steep learning curve

 “Managing the build was exciting and challenging, I have never done anything like this before. It is unusual for a woman in Zambia to be involved in this kind of project, so that brought with it different challenges, ” Kelly explains. “Every day I learnt something new. It was a steep learning curve but it was 100% worth it. When the Reading Room was finished and the wider community first saw it, the looks on many faces and the smiles of the children were priceless.  This was especially true when the community knew it was free for them to use."

Libraries in Zambia are far and few between and people have to pay an annual membership fee to borrow books. 

Children love the new Reading Room 
“Whenever I visit the Reading Room and library and see the kids on cushions tucked into a book, it’s so rewarding,” she says proudly. “A big thanks to all those donors and volunteers who contributed in many, many ways to making the Reading Room possible.”

The home of the Book Bus in Livingstone is a campside located in the grounds of the old Governor’s house. Kelly spends every year from April to October in a tent. “It's my home. I guess I’m so used to living in a tent that it does take me a while to get used to a house at the end of the season“ she says.

“I do like coming back to England each year to visit family and friends, but as soon as the plane lands at Heathrow I’m thinking about returning to Zambia. I guess Africa is now in my blood – it’s certainly in my heart!”

The Book Bus project in Livingstone opens again for 2015 on 4th May.
To find how to become a volunteer:  

Call  01822 616191