Sunday, 8 February 2015

Climb abroad the Book Bus in Zambia

Book Bus Volunteer Adrian Thompson shares his experiences in South Luwanga 

Over the summer of 2014, I was lucky enough to be involved in a charity project in the wonderful Luangwa Valley, in the East of Zambia.

"A welcome for Book Bus George" 
The Book Bus, the charity I went with, was founded by publisher Tom Maschler in 2007. Having seen the problems caused in Zambia by a lack of literacy resources (from the age of seven, children in Zambian primary schools begin to learn English and, from then, most of their lessons and exams are in English – so they speak one language at home and in the playground, and another in the classroom), Tom’s solution was to buy an old Leyland Tiger bus, ask Quentin Blake to decorate it, fill it with books, and take it out to Zambia. Since then, the charity has grown until there are now six projects – three in Zambia, two in Ecuador and one in Malawi. 

Beautiful sunsets after a hard day at school
Flying into Mfuwe in Zambia, the smallest international airport I’ve ever been to (international only because of one flight a week from Malawi), reveals a dry, dusty, and parched landscape. This was July. It hadn’t rained since March, and would begin raining again in October. Once ensconced in camp, the first thing to do was to prepare dinner. Chopping vegetables on the edge of an African National Park, while keeping an eye out for the opportunistic monkey thieves, got slightly surreal as a soft grey trunk, complete with the rest of the elephant, snaked under the thatched roof, and began to hoover up the food. After a while it wander away. Welcome to Africa!

Sharing stories
The next day was the first in school. We spent four hours working with different groups of children, reading with them, sharing stories – both written and oral. “Why the sky is so far from the Earth”, a West African story, went down well, as did traditional Zambian stories – for example, Why Zebra has no horns, The Rhino and the Turtle, and the Bell and the Lion. 

Through the time I was there, we traded stories with children and teachers – as well as other members of the community. Teachers enjoyed the oral storytelling, as well as the written stories. Written stories obviously develop reading, and comprehension, which are vitally important, but speaking in English to native speakers, and listening to stories along with general chat, is as important in many ways.

"Visiting Zambia with Book Bus makes you a valued member of the local community".

Over two weeks, we visited six different schools, and worked with more than six hundred children, aged from 3 to 16, sharing stories and books including ‘Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain’, ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ (and Lion Hunt – this worked well, as the children only had a vague idea of what a bear was, but knew exactly what a lion was!), the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and more.

All part of the daily commute
Visiting Zambia with Book Bus makes you a valued member of the local community – you get locals chatting to you as you shop in the market, you get invited to local organisations, and you get to see things which ‘normal’ tourists don’t. The Luangwa, and its closeness to the South Luangwa National Park (It’s the second largest national park in Zambia, and just across the river from the site we were staying at) opens up intriguing possibilities for Safari drives, and walking safari, at very reasonable prices. 
Mfuwe market- a great place to shop
Overall, it was a life-changing experience. If you’re interested in sharing stories of all kinds with enthusiastic, engaged, children, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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This article first appeared in