Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The empty library

Meet George Kapalamula.

He's the Head of Namayera Primary School in the Nankumba district of Malawi. 

He's a proud, enthusiastic, engaged and visionary head.  
Headteacher George & his learners
Namayera school is an hour's drive from the tarmac road through rough mountain tracks. By the time you get to the school your body has been tossed, turned and tossed again as Matilda, our Book Bus in Malawi climbs up and down the rock and sand tracks. 

Namayera has almost 700 pupils, five qualified teachers and when the Book Bus first visited the school in early 2013, it had exactly 35 books.  

“We had one copy of each of the main curriculum books for our Standards,” says George. “That meant each class, which can have up to 100 learners (as pupils are known as here in Malawi) would have one book between them and the teacher.”  

The teacher had to copy everything onto the blackboard at the front of the class. This is how most children learnt to read.  

“We struggle to keep children in school,” said George. “Especially as they get older. Keeping them engaged is difficult when we have so few resources to hold their attention.”  

The drop out rate in most Malawian schools is high. Fewer than 10% of children in rural areas complete their primary education and this falls to less than 1% for girls.  

George invited the Book Bus crew to wander around the school following one of our morning reading sessions. A library room had been built when the main school was erected in 2010 with a secure door and bars and glass in the windows.  

“Yes,” said George. “We’re very lucky to have had a library room built, but unfortunately we have never had any books to put into the library.  For now it lies empty.”   

We asked George what type of books would his learners like in their library.  

“Everything,” he said. “Non-fiction is important to help the learners understand how things work: nature, transport, science, history – they are all important.” George also asked for fiction books  “This will help the learners with their English. We expect our children to speak English as it is the route into any good job here in Malawi, but how can they do this without any resources to help them? My mother was a teacher so we did have a few books at home. I remember being drawn in by the colourful images and photos of countries and people far away from my world. It ignited my curiosity and here I am now, years later the Head of a School. That’s what I want my learners to experience. Just because we live in a remote area doesn’t mean we ‘re not interested in the outside world. We are.”  
1,500 books donated by the Book Bus & partners

Over the past eight years the Book Bus has helped resource many libraries and reading corners and the Book Bus team decided here was a school we really could help.  Over the next six months the Book Bus team worked with Namayera school, the Malawian Library Service, Book Aid International, Fisherman’s Rest and our own Malawian and international volunteers and together we managed to source over 1,500 books. 

A library team was appointed including teachers, learners and Book Bus volunteers and over two weeks we catalogued every book, got the younger children to draw book art to decorate the library and the more creative volunteers made colourful bunting from traditional African chitenjes. We also invited some the children to narrate traditional Malawian stories which were translated into English and then displayed on the walls.  
George appointed library monitors  - two of the older teenagers who had helped out stamping and ordering the books. Their role will be to ensure the books are looked after.  

We held an open ceremony on the last week of term and George invited key members of the local community.  

“It’s important that they see what is going on here,” said George. “They are the parents and elders of the learners here and they need to understand how important reading is.”  

The local Mothers' group arrived along with the Chief of the nearest village, all wanting to see the new resource for their school.  

“ My aim now is to have a reading club after school,” said George. “And maybe start an adult group too. So many of the adults around here have never had access to books, so here’s their chance.”

“We are all grateful to the Book Bus and all its partners to make this happen. I cannot explain how much of a difference this is already making in the school,” he concluded.  
Standard 7 explore the new library

1,500 books aren’t that many between 700 pupils plus the wider community but it’s a start. During 2015 working with our partners and volunteers we aim to equip more reading corners and libraries.

If you’d like to know more about our work visit www.thebookbus.org or email marian@thebookbus.org