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