Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Seasons Greetings!

25th December 2013

It's Christmas time and this weekend the project in Kitwe decided to partner with the Talent Community Club to celebrate Christmas with the visually impaired and their children.  This club focuses on building skills and encouraging the visually impaired and their children to move off the streets and make a living by using their skills. 

The visually impaired women and men whom we invited for Christmas lunch live in the corridors of Kitwe town begging for money and help from passers by. Most of them have children who are affected by their parent’s disability and have to sit by their parent’s side the whole day directing them to a better spot to sit or to walk them to a car to beg for money. The sad part of it is their children and their children’s children have become part of this street life.  About two thirds of the 40 children of the visually impaired go to school but their classes are often interrupted by their parents or grandparents need for a guide on the streets. Christmas is about sharing and we decided to share our day, love, smiles, fun, and food with these precious children of Kitwe to give them a Christmas to remember.

The children seated alongside their visually impaired grandparents.

One of the highlights of the day was a visit from Zambia’s first ever Track and Field world champion, Samuel Matete. Having grown up in a small township in Chingola he encouraged the children to polish up their skills and talents to attain greatness just like he did. 

Zambia’s first ever Track and field World champion, Samuel Matete visits Book Bus Charlie
After all the fun and games and eating the children took time to talk about the importance of school and knowing how to read and write.  It’s during these interactions that I asked the children “do you know what a library is?” one answered “it’s where they park cars” none of the children had the correct answer or any clue what so ever. With that we took them on a tour of Book Bus Charlie. The children felt extra special to have Charlie come out on a Saturday just for them to have a fun reading day and for those who couldn't read they still felt encouraged and happy to be part of Book Bus day. Some of the children go to school and were extremely proud to have a book as a Christmas gift; one could easily see the smiles on their faces, the excitement to own a brand new book and their visually impaired parents and grandparents were pleasantly surprised.  Some of the kids were eager to show off their reading skills. This Christmas lunch and the Miles Kelly Books are probably the only gifts they will get this Christmas.

Children of the visually impaired reading their new Miles Kelly books
One of our favourite things to do as individuals is cooking and the book bus team and talent community club all got together for a big Christmas lunch cook out. 
Happy Christmas and New Year  from Kitwe to all of our supporters around the world!
Monica (Kitwe-Zambia).

Doc cutting up vegetables for the master stew he was cooking for the children of Kitwe Christmas lunch (Doc is part of Book Bus and has been driving our bus Charlie for years)

Ethel volunteered to help with the cooking

Time to eat

The Children of Kitwe waiting to say a prayer before they eat their food.

The Book Bus team make sure everyone gets a plate full

Drinks anyone….?

Our youngest reader enjoying her meal

Monday, 16 December 2013

Charlie in Kitwe, Zambia

After a week of working in Kitwe, the book bus has become popular and we have received requests from a number of schools to visit them. This week in particular, I am excited as we are going to visit a small community school called Manyando Community School which was started in the year 2000 in a compound called Bulangililo. The school has a total of 310 pupils and has grades 1 to 7, with only 3 class rooms and one block of toilets. Located in a highly populated area, the children who attend school here can barely afford basic education. The community school is free. The pupils are expected to wear a uniform but most of the children come from poor families and cannot afford to buy the uniforms.

Manyando Community School children.
The teachers are all volunteers and are not qualified but have been trained in basic education through workshops held by the Ministry of Education. The community school runs their operation solely on the donations received from a charity named Blessed to Bless Australia that supports the school. The donations are used to pay the teachers a basic subsistence allowance.

This community school is a rundown block of three class rooms, but of the three rooms two rooms are subdivided to make them into two classrooms using a curtain. The picture above shows a broken wall which marks the division of one of the class rooms. Otherwise these classrooms are used as a prayer hall at the weekend.

The picture above shows the children at Manyando
community visiting the bus for the first time.
 These children have never been to a library and The Book Bus Charlie was their first feel of a library. When we arrived at Manyando Community School and had our first interactions with the children they were very reserved and one would assume they don’t speak a word of English or the local language. And so Charlie went back every week to visit the children who were free to take part in reading, singing, dancing and doing other crafts and drawing.

In the third week of our visit the children came enthusiastically to the bus and were saying “we have come to learn to read please give us books” you could see the smiles and they were talking this time around.

Children drawing their favourite characters from
one of the Tinga Tinga books they love.
On this day the children had excitedly suggested they would tell us about the stories we had been reading over the past weeks and decided to draw what they liked from the Elephant Book. This made us proud, the children had been paying attention and with each visit they had become more and more self-confident.  The children had over a short period of time transformed from being reserved to confident girls and boys who could tell us about the stories they read and explain why the liked the characters from the books they read.

It’s time for the holidays in Zambia and our Zambian school calendar starts in January and ends December. For Mayando School we went in the first week of December to say bye to the children, on this day we gave away 110 Miles Kelly Books to the children who had come for The Book Bus to take home with them. Oh… the children were happy and they sang and danced with us.

Three boys reading their new Miles Kelly books.
 You could see the joy in the children’s faces when they got a book each. One said “wow, a book of my own” and he sat down reading through and shouted in our local language “Monkey” then he looked up and said it in English “teacher Monica my book has monkeys”. This boy had learned the word monkey on one of the book bus days when he read a Tinga Tinga Tales book “Why Monkeys Swing in theTrees”. And with that we said good bye, happy holidays to one of our schools.

- Monica. (Kitwe-Zambia)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Breaking the ice in Malawi

It took us about 40 minutes to drive to St Paul’s School in the Nankumba district. We had to use 4x4 vehicles as the road to this remote school is narrow with steep hills, dried-up rocky river beds and isolated villages to navigate through.

Despite the fact that this was the first visit of the Book Bus to the school, we were warmly welcomed by Head Teacher, Jonathan Siliya.

St Paul's sits at the foot of a mountain overlooking the beautiful Shire Valley. Despite its remote location, more than 650 pupils (or learners as they are known as in Malawi) attend the school. Up to two years ago the school buildings were shacks, bamboo and grass shelters, like so many of the other rural schools the Book Bus works with in Malawi. Funding for a brand new brick school came from a Swedish Community that included new airy classrooms, teachers housing, a kitchen to prepare porridge for the children and even a Pre-School nursery currently attended by more than 50 under 4’s.

We were shown into the Head Teachers office so that we could give him an insight into the Book Bus and how we might be able to assist him, his teachers and pupils.  Mr Siliya was delighted with our suggested programme and personally set us up under a shady tree whilst he went off to collect the children.

A few minutes later we had 20 learners sitting on the reed mats with us. Our programme usually lasts about one hour and we try and deliver about three sessions in a morning.

The children were a little shy at first  - the school is so remote that it rarely receives visitors  - never mind a whole team dressed in bright yellow t-shirts carrying red bags full of books, puppets, glitter  and all sorts of other goodies!

Singing and dancing usually helps break the ice so we launched into ‘Shake, Shake, Shake Banana’.  That proved a great hit and the kids eagerly awaited what was next.

Children attending in rural schools in Malawi rarely have access to books so we try and ensure every child in our groups have a book each so they can follow the story, look at the illustrations and turn the pages as we progress through the book. The Loin Hunt was a great hit and soon every child created their own lion mask with paper plates, crepe paper and lashing of glue!

As we cleared up I could hear chants of ‘I can do’ in the distance. This is the Malawian version of ‘Simon Says’ and a great way to introduce new English words into the vocabulary.

“The Book Bus has made so many of my pupils happy today,” said Head Teacher Mr Siliya. “I can see them proudly showing their beautiful artwork to their friends. I know their families will be so impressed when they take these back to the village. This is a real treat.  I hear their friends asking when will the Book Bus be back so we too can read the books”.

“Soon we hope, soon” I said.

As the Jeep climbed up the first hill out of the school I looked back and the pupils were still waving us off.

It’s a wonderful privileged to be working with the Book Bus and to see the joy that reading and bringing stories alive mean to the children of Malawi. I can’t think of a better project to volunteer on.

- Marian Forkin

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Keep those wheels - a - rolling

We travelled to Chipepwete School in the Nankumba district today.

Matilda, our faithful and trusted bus is back on the road after some minor repairs.

International volunteers Andy and Sarah were delighted, as it’s their first trip out on the ‘real’ BookBus since they arrived at the weekend. Andy even played his guitar to us as the bus climbed up the hilly terrain towards the remote mountain school we were visiting.

Chipepwete has around 440 pupils (or leaners as they are known as here in Malawi), with Standard 1-8 being offered. The school is run by Noel Lunguja a Head Teacher with more than 19 years teaching experience. The school faces many difficulties: poor infrastructure, few teacher or leaner resources, no electricity and it’s water pump is now broken. This means leaners have to walk more than 2kms to get fresh water.

Despite its problems, the learners of  Chipepwete are engaged happy and eager to learn.

The BookBus crew were welcomed at the school assembly with the Malawi National Anthem. Each day we all try and remember a few more words so by the time we are going home we can sign it correctly in Chichewa. It has quite an emotional at the end with all the children curtsying.

We split into three groups and each found a spot in the shade.

Sarah’s book choice was ‘Monkey Puzzle’ which was a real hit with the kids from standard 4.

Andy’s group read, “Wheels on the Bus’ (in celebration of Matilda’s return)  and the children were then wowed by Andy’s guitar playing whilst singing the infamous ‘Wheels on the Bus song’. Almost the whole school looked on - a record crowd of over 500 for Andy!

Andy singing wheels on the bus in celebration
of having Matilda on the road again!

My group were engrossed in an African fable called Moonshine - a tale of why the moon is silver and cold.

We were all supported by our wonderful local translators Barnes and Chip and even BookBus driver, Douglas also gave a helping hand. Although some children can read English, very few understand what they are reading so translators are essential.

As we work with small groups, we always try and play games at the end of the school morning to involve all the children. Today’s game was goats and hyenas where the hyenas have to catch the goats running around a large circle. The whole school erupted with joy as a pupil from Standard 6 outran Andy and Sarah (he was VERY fast). Eventually the game was won by Sarah and Andy working together as a team!

Chipepwete is a great community school, where teachers, learners and the local community work together to provide the best education they can with what they have and help improve the lives of their children.

The BookBus makes regular visits to the school and we are always welcomed as old friends.

“You’re part of our community, “ said Head Teacher Noel Lunguja “We look forward to your visit and so do all the children. They are always asking me “when is the BookBus coming?’”

As he turned around he had a calendar in his hand so we sat down to plan our next visit…..

- Marian Forkin

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Another fun fortnight!

The final weeks of holidays in Livingstone saw many activities on the Bookbus. We spent 3 days at Sinde parked up in the centre of the village, with more and more children coming each day to read, play games, make art and learn new things. The older children spent a day learning about volcanoes and then did a science experiment making their very own exploding volcano; Which had to be re-enacted at the end of the day for all their younger siblings.

We also spent 3 days at a new village, Delevu, about 1 hours drive from Livingstone. Many of the children here don’t have any formal education as the nearest government schools are too far away. There is a small community school, run out of a small church and when we arrived the first time the children piled out of the church to see what was going on. They were quite shy the first day but they soon got into the stories and the activities. The loved playing with our homemade parachute, they all have a look inside the Bookbus and joined in with all our favourite songs.

And each day we arrived the line of children running behind the bus got longer! On the final day we gave each child their own book to take away and they were thrilled, waiting in a very orderly line for their turn to get their name written in their book.
It is also a great pleasure to see them engrossed in their books, even if they aren’t able to read. You can see there is a real sense of pride in owning their very own book, something that without the Bookbus is almost unobtainable in these rural villages.
On the way to these rural schools we are often lucky enough to spot elephants, giraffes, impalas or zebras. This week we saw a whole family of sable antelope, which is very rare. It was just a taster for our weekend safari in Chobe National Park, Botswana. We all spent the weekend being amazed at the sheer number of animals, there were literally thousands of zebras and impalas and hundreds of giraffes and elephants. We also saw lions and in the evening a leopard, which was pretty close to our overnight bush camp.

Two days each week we went and spent time at Lushomo Home, in Livingstone, a refuge for young girls that have been sexually abused. It was a big contrast to the big groups of noisy children in the villages but it was a fantastic experience getting to know these girls. They love to read and do crafts and it was obvious they rarely have the opportunity to do these things. They grew more and more confident each day, their shy smiles turning into genuine laughter and huge grins. We also left them with their own books, which I know they will treasure, share and keep on rereading.
Kelly September 2013


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

One week - Two New Schools.

The first week of holiday club on board the Livingstone Bookbus 2013 has been one of the busiest but most memorable ever. We visited 2 new schools, for 3 days each, even going in on Saturday. Both schools were rural, around 30km from Livingstone and the turnout for the Bookbus was exceptional.

The first three days were at Kamatanda Village, where there is a community preschool and school with grades 1, 2 and 3. The nearest government school is 9km walk, this prohibits the younger children beginning school until they are older, so the local community, backed by a retired teacher, started their own school. It is in a straw and mud hut but the children flock in and love to learn.

When the Bookbus first arrived, they had never seen anything like it before. There was a lot of open mouthed staring but we just jumped straight in reading some classic stories and getting the kids and teachers to join in with the actions. Being far from town and not on the tourist trail, villages like this seldom get visitors and if they do it may just be a fleeting visit, As Ann the headteacher said to me, “If anyone visits us, they are soon come and gone. We can’t believe that you have spent 3 days in our village. Thank you. Our children will never forget this.”

Lots of curious parents and onlookers were always around, coming to see what we were doing. There were also some older children from the village who joined in and in one morning we turned Kamatanda Community from this

to this!! 

Fun was had by everyone and the teachers were busy learning by doing. They thanked us for teaching them new skills and ways of interacting with the children.

Each day we returned, the welcome would get louder and the number of kids following the bus would increase. We read stories, sang songs, made elephants, lions, butterflies, fish, crowns and windmills. We made new friends and many memories for many people. It was a great 3 days and we rounded it off by giving the 150 children each their own book to take home. They were so proud and eager to look at the books. The teachers were amazed that the books were for the children to keep. We left accompanied with waves, smiles and lots of requests for a return visit.

The second three days were at Siandunda village, on the banks of the Zambezi River. The journey to school involved some off-roading, down sandy tracks through Mopani woodlands. Here the number of children was over 200 growing 260 on day 3. There is only a preschool in the village, with the nearest school almost 10km walk, but being summer holidays there were children of all ages around. This village was actually featured on the Comic Relief program last year where celebrities walked with some children to school to see the distance. They promised to build them a school, so we shall have to see.

We set up shop outside the headman’s house. He was delighted to have us and sat watching everything from the shade. The older children had a library corner and were happy reading a variety of books, many adults joined them and they were all fascinated by the wordsearch puzzles we handed out. The crowd of younger children enjoyed the stories and the crafts, on Saturday 220 lions and windmills were produced. Once again the teachers were super keen to join in and loved learning how to make things and read the books in a fun and interactive way.
One volunteer teacher told me it was the best teacher training he had ever received. On the Saturday as we rolled up the mats and packed away the crayons for the last time, we were constantly asked if we were coming tomorrow and if not tomorrow then when. The headman thanked us for bringing joy to his village and we left each child with their own book to continue reading until the Bookbus returns again.
Kelly August 2013

Monday, 12 August 2013

Literacy in Motion. (and P.S. Giraffes CAN dance!!!)

The last week of term has come and gone in Zambia and holidays began today. During last week we carried on with our book in every hand scheme where we aim to give each child their own book to take home.
At Muke the children were delighted with their story books and even if it may be too difficult for them to read, they delight in looking at the pictures and discussing them in their own language. Seeing them busy buried in the books is a delight.
And they will take them home, where other members of the family and community will be able to read them. Giving the children books is giving them something they wouldn’t otherwise have access to and brings them into circulation in the community. This is really literacy in motion.

At Twabuka School we handed out more of the Miles Kelly Bookbus branded fact books to all the children in grades 3 to 7. They were extremely happy, especially the grades 3 and 4 for who it was their first book and as we left we could see them all busy pouring over the books, discussing the pictures and pointing things out to each other. Another fantastic sight and great to know hundreds more books are circulating out in the rural communities.

There was also a surprise for the grades 1 and 2 at Twabuka, they are not normally taught on Bookbus days.


But every week when we arrive they hopefully hang out the windows shouting ‘are you coming to Grade 2 today?’ and I always have to say ‘No’. But this week the answer was yes and to say they were happy is an understatement. There was a lot of jumping up and down and cheering! And magically, after reading “Giraffes Can’t Dance” and “Dear Zoo”, they were transformed into classes of dancing giraffes!
Kelly August 2013

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Another Fantastic Day!

Today we had a fantastic day on board the Bookbus in Livingstone. This morning we went to Simoonga Primary School and as usual we worked with the 80 children in grades 5 and 6. Normally the children take home whichever crafts they make. The teachers have been trying, in vain, to make them leave their things to brighten up the classrooms but the children always wanted to take them home to show their families. Even though Simoonga school is a government school, the classrooms are still very bare and the teachers work without any resources. So today we planned a day to please the teachers. We decided on making wall friezes and collages to decorate the classroom, which each child doing a section and basing them on facts we learnt from some of the Miles Kelly donated books.
We started with a class quiz, where the children had to find the answers in the books. The competition was fierce but lots of fun was had by all. Then we all worked on the collages. The end result was amazing and completely transformed the classroom, leaving lots of facts on the walls for the kids to learn.

Then they got to keep the 2 books we had worked with to take home. So much excitement in one morning!


Then this afternoon we visited 2 new community schools which we are hoping to work with in the holidays. These are villages where the Bookbus has never been, about 25km from Livingstone. There was much curiosity amongst the villagers and the teachers are really enthusiastic to have us come. It is amazing to see the difference in the colour of the soil from the villages we work with nearby. There the orange soil produces terracotta houses, here the grey earth makes ash coloured houses, what a contrast! One school is quite a way off the tarred road and is in a small mud walled building but right next to the Zambezi River, a stunning location and certainly worth the long, bumpy and dusty ride. We are really looking forward to working in these new villages very soon.
Kelly. 1st August 2013


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Education In Zambia!

In the 5 years Bookbus has been active in Zambia we have worked in a variety of schools, from preschools to high schools, government funded to volunteer run, from 35 pupils to 1800 but one thing is always common throughout, the eagerness of the children to learn.  They see education as the key to improving their situation in life.  Even on holidays and through teacher’s strikes the kids turn up at school just to see if anyone will teach them.  Nearly all prefer term time to the three, one month, slots of holidays they get!!

The education system in Zambia suffers from a severe lack of funds, materials and teachers. But that said, the pupils are some of the most willing and keen to learn that you will find anywhere. And everywhere we have arrived with the Bookbus and taught, within Zambia, we have been greeted with enthusiasm, curiosity, open arms and big smiles.

Basic state education begins when a child is 6 or 7 with grade 1.  Grade 1 to grade 7 comprises basic education which should include every child and should be free.  This is, however, not the case. Many children do not attend school either because of the cost or because they have to work, take care of a sick relative or new baby or do chores around the homestead. To attend a basic school the pupil must have a uniform, school shoes and bag, exercise books and pencils and this list obviously excludes many children and there are often unofficial “fees” to pay. These can be monetary or in the form of “donations”, for example a child must bring a bag of cement or a ream of paper before he or she can enrol for the school year.

At the end of grade 7 a pupil sits exams and only if passes are obtained can they continue to grade 8 & 9 and the same happens in grade 9 to be able to complete school up to grade 12. There are relatively high fees to be paid every year from grade 8 upwards so many intelligent children end up leaving their education early.

The students take 7 subjects up to grade 7. These being: English, Mathematics, CTS (creative, technological studies - where there is no actual creative work done – it’s all theory!), SDS (social development studies), Tonga (or other local language depending on the province), Literacy and Science. Almost all learning is done by copying from the board and children are rarely asked for their own opinions or to use their imagination. ALL exams in grade 7 are multiple choice, they don’t have to write anything. In theory a pupil who can read and write very little English can pass grade 7.

As well as the government schools, Zambia has a large number of Community schools which were originally developed for children who could not afford to attend government schools. They were started by members of the community, often under a tree or in a church building.  These schools are under-funded, under-resourced and operate with a lack of trained teachers, they have to have finished high school but have no formal teacher training although they mostly have real passion to teach the children. Nowadays the government has realized the importance of these schools, especially in areas where the population is growing and some are beginning to be integrated within the ministry of education, operating with a mixture of paid trained teachers and volunteer teachers, who mostly obtain a small salary from the community.

Basic government schools are usually a little better equipped and resourced than the community schools but the classrooms are just as bare, the teachers often have huge classes and very little materials but the children are keen to learn wherever you go.


Whichever type of school we visit it is important to always bear certain things in mind which are very different from what we are used to in the UK and the Western world.  Classes can be huge with a normal class being 40 to 50 pupils but anywhere up to 100 is possible.  The children aren’t used to being asked for their own opinions, being creative or working in small groups, education in Zambia is very much learning by rote.  They aren’t used to any creative subjects, things like art, drama or music.  There simply aren’t the resources, training or equipment available and no provision in their curriculum, and because the classes are overcrowded small group work never occurs.


Classes may have a wide range of ages.  This is because some children do not start school until they are older, maybe it is too far to walk when they are 7, sometimes they have to miss a year to two if their family needs them to work, or care for a sick relative or maybe they can’t afford the fees.

There is always a very wide ability range in the grasp of English, some pupils may be fluent whilst others struggle with the simplest sentences.  You also find that many can read out loud but then have no understanding of what they have read. It is often that the ability of a child’s English is greatly influenced by their home situation (whether they speak English at home) and not just by their schooling. It’s important to remember that English is not their first language, most of them speak 3 or 4 African languages perfectly but they ALL want to learn English. It is the official language of Zambia and without a good grasp of it jobs with good prospects are out of reach.

And one important thing – do not equate Zambian children’s ages and their interests with those of children at home. Teenage boys are just as fascinated with the storybooks and the art supplies the project brings, as the preschoolers! They have never had access to the things which we take for granted. The enthusiasm for learning is everywhere and joining the Bookbus as a volunteer will let you experience this all first hand!

Kelly July 2013.