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