Thursday, 4 February 2016

Two weeks in Malawi

Fancy spending your hard earned holidays helping children to read? That ‘s just what Scottish Primary school teacher Vikki Taylor did with our Book Bus  project in Malawi. 

“I wanted to do something a bit different with my summer holiday. I’d heard about the Book Bus and how it is helping children learn how to read. and I’d never been to an African country before so this was a great opportunity. 

“Although I did a lot of research before I left, nothing prepared me for the sheer numbers in primary schools and the very challenging conditions Malawian teachers work in. 
Volunteer Vikki helps get children engaged in reading 
However I was equally taken aback by the energy, enthusiasm and the insatiable desire to learn from the children. As a teacher it was a real joy to experience, “ continued Vikki. 

Malawi, located in sub Saharan Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world with 60% of the population living below the poverty line and over ½ of the population under the age of 16. Schools are poorly equipped, overcrowded and teachers face huge challenges to undertake even basic teaching in this developing country. 

The Book Bus brings books and other literacy resources to schools, builds libraries and reading corners and has a volunteering programme supported by teachers and librarians to up skill teachers and the local community. 

Vikki travelled out with another teacher for 2 weeks to join the Book Bus reading mentor programme in Mangochi, located by the Great Lake Malawi. 

As teachers our role involved creating simple lessons and activities around books with arts and crafts and games to reinforce learning, “ explained Vikki. “It was hard work at times but great fun. 

“As a teacher I learnt so much coming to Malawi. The sheer size of the classes (120:1), often no desks, chairs, few resources and no books.  The Malawian teachers do an impressive job though. 

Meet the real Elmers in Malawi 
“It wasn’t all work though,” continued Vikki.  “The project is only 2 hours away from the Liwonde National Wildlife park so we spent the weekend there on safari with all the animals Africa has to offer including, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and buffalo”. 

“It was a real privilege to be part of this literacy programme as it has so much impact on the ground. As teachers we also worked with the local Book Bus team, sharing our skills, and teaching techniques to help them continue deliver a reading support programme long after we volunteers have left”.  

“I was surprised at what can be achieved in 2 weeks. The structures were already in place so we knew how we slotted in and how our professional skills were used in the best way during the short time we had on the project, “ said Vikki. 

The Book Bus also has a small library that local children can drop into during the afternoons. It has lots of free reading sessions, story telling, arts, crafts and outside games. 

“I was astounded about how many children turn up to the library –sometimes they queued to get in – an incredible site,” continued Vikki. “The children get opportunities to do lots activities that they can’t do in school. It was wonderful to see the hidden talents and skills that they didn’t even know they had, as they can’t do these types of activities in schools. 

“You really feel part of the community on this project as the library is right in the centre of the market area. It’s an experience I will never forget and makes me realise how lucky I am. I always wanted to be a teacher and was given the opportunity to fulfil my dreams. So many people in the world can’t and that’s what this project does. It gives children an opportunity to learn to read. When you can read, it’s a crucial step to opening up a whole new world. I feel I did have a small, and hopefully a significant, impact on the lives of some children. It’s an experience that will remain with me forever” concluded Vikki. 

The Book Bus is 10 years old this year and is looking for experienced teachers and reading mentors to join its literacy projects in Malawi and Zambia from June to September 2016.