Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Perfect Partnership: working with the youth of Zambia

On a fateful day back in March, Kitwe’s Book Bus George met a special group of people at the Youth Day Exhibition at Copperbelt University. Like the Book Bus, the Piggy Bank Campaign—run by students at the university—was working towards aiding literacy and education in local school and communities. So wouldn’t it make sense for the two initiatives to work together?

Zambian Youth Day exhibition
“They had people, we had resources,” Monica Mulenga, Book Bus Country Director in Zambia explains. And thus a perfect match was made.

Fuelled by the mantra, ‘Your change can change lives’, the youth-run Piggy Bank Campaign raises funds to send Copperbelt University students to small underprivileged schools in the area. With them, the students bring their own laptops and a wealth of knowledge—IT skills, maths, engineering, economics, biology—to aid teachers in the classroom. Similarly, the Book Bus program in Kitwe relies on local volunteer power to visit schools Monday to Friday, reading and running arts and craft activities for the kids.

“The Book Bus has books, our bus George, and plenty of materials, but needs more people,” Monica elaborates. “Piggy Bank has plenty of students willing to volunteer, but lacks resources. So we work together to bring extra help and resources to the schools and communities.”

Piggy Bank Youth Group help with Book Bus reading sessions
In the first four weeks of working together, the partnership blossomed, engaging school kids in fun and educational activities every Friday. “We played games, danced to various songs and most important of all, read for and with the children. Parents and teachers took part in these activities too!” says Bwalya Caroline Chimba, Book Bus Kitwe Reading Coordinator.

The partnership has other benefits too. While the Piggy Bank initiative currently only has the capacity to visit schools on Friday, the Book Bus provides an extra opportunity for willing students to come help at schools on any weekday.

As well as providing support to teachers in classrooms, the Piggy Bank team also use their volunteer power to build community schools and classrooms in small villages.

Celebrating a perfect partnership 
“Education is the biggest weapon one can use to fight poverty. It is the silver bullet that both empowers the citizens and develops the country,” 

No-one can argue with that...

Book Bus Alfie: A shining star in Ecuador earthquake aftermath

"Book Bus Alfie has been the star for us. Everywhere we went, Alfie brought books for the kids.”

Back in April, a huge earthquake rocked coastal Ecuador, impacting many small communities including Puerto Lopez where our Book Bus programme is based. According to UNICEF, over 150,000 children have been affected.

In the wake of the earthquake’s devastating damage, the Book Bus and its volunteers have been working tirelessly to bring emotional and physical support to affected children and their families.

“After the earthquake, there were many people living unsafely in their destroyed houses,” says Arturo Rodriguez, Book Bus Project Manager in Puerto Lopez. “Now they are becoming homeless due to local municipalities needing them to move. The number of people living in refugee camps is increasing daily, but some families don’t want to move to the camps, so they stay outside, in the street…”

Homelessness is only one of many issues arising from the earthquake’s damage. Puerto Lopez and surrounding areas are also experiencing educational, economic and emotional instability following the quake. So how is the Book Bus helping?

“Book Bus Alfie has been the star for us,” Arturo goes on. “Everywhere we went, Alfie brought books for the kids, as well as help, people, balloons and everything that’s needed to try to get things back to normal. The objective is to give kids and their families emotional support.”

The Book Bus is also working closely with partner organisations, such as Fundacion Ecuador Tierra Viva, who are running a project in Las Lagunas—a small nearby community—bringing donations and small temporary houses to families whose homes were destroyed. The Puerto Lopez Book Bus team have also helped to distribute hundreds of copies of “Trinka yJuan: el día que se movió la tierra (Trinka y Juan: the day that the earthmoved”) – a book and social initiative started after the earthquakes in Chile and Nepal, intended to help families and children deal with the emotional stress following an earthquake. 

But there’s still more to be done. “We have a project to rebuild small schools around the province,” Arturo explains. “We also need to continue our project in the most affected zone. This work requires funds for gas, mechanical equipment for Alfie, materials for the kids and other expenses.”

Arturo and the other generous Book Bus and partner volunteers have seen first-hand the difference the project and donations can make in the wake of a disaster.

“Not much would have been possible without Alfie and the Book Bus programme,” Arturo continues. “Once the situation is controlled from the damage, it’s time to work towards getting back to normal.”

You can help Arturo, Alfie and the Book Bus team in Puerto Lopez make that happen. Donate today 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Voices of Africa - Roseby Gadama, Librarian in Malawi

Voices of Africa is a new monthly Book Bus feature, sharing stories from inspiring voices in the various Book Bus communities. Each piece will be brought to you in the storyteller’s own words. We hope you will enjoy the series.
Malawian Librarian, Roseby Gadama

“My name is Roseby Gadama and I am a Librarian at Malawi National Library Service in Blantyre . My first job was in teaching. I was a primary school teacher for some years but I thought of exploring other avenues. I applied at the Malawi National Library Service as the job itself was not very different from what I was doing in teaching. As a teacher I was imparting knowledge and information to the pupils and as a Librarian my main duty is to share books and information.

"I’m Head of the Extra-Mural Service Department in the Southern part of Malawi which is comprised of 13 districts. The department mainly deals with outreach programmes like establishing and organising new libraries, distributing books from different donors to the National Library centres and other beneficiaries in the region, monitoring and assessing libraries and also equipping other people with library basic training.

"I joined the National Library with a little knowledge of Librarianship but wanted to develop this knowledge to become who I am today. My main challenge was the time I went to study for my Degree in Library and Information Studies. It was very challenging because I had to leave my family, husband and two children behind to study in Botswana. We also had to find all the fees for this degree. It wasn’t easy for my husband who had to support me, the family and lots of other financial commitments too. It was worth it though as now I’m qualified and in a stable job.

"The library I work in serves a community of more than 100,000 people. It is the largest public library in Blantyre. The library has 200 seats and everyday every seat is occupied with people studying. Other readers sit on the floor and the ground outside the library as so many people want to use our service. Efforts are being made either to extend the recent library or to erect some chalets outside the library so that readers who could not find space inside could have some shelter but it is proving difficult due to lack of funding.
Encouraging children to read 

"I come from the village in the Eastern Region where many children don’t go to school due to the long walking from the village to school. In fact there’s no school in my village (no kindergarten or primary school or whatsoever) - to have a library or a resource centre would be a luxury.

"Being a teacher and now a librarian, it is my dream to have the children from my local area to have a school nearby and a library. A library would help them in many ways, because that’s where they’d learn more about health, farming, food and nutrition, human rights, academic information, current affairs or just leisure.
Roseby joins fellow librarian Nancy for a Book Bus storytelling session

"I appreciate the work being done by The Book Bus in Malawi by promoting education and reading to the needy children in the remote areas. Indeed it might look like things aren’t changing today when the Book Bus visits the schools and do some storytelling and some games. But in the long term children’s’ lives are changing little by little and at the end of the day they will never be the same.

"My message to the Book Bus? Keep it up THE BOOK BUS!!" J

Rose Gadama works for the National Library Service at Blantyre library.

Tom Maschler: The man behind the Book Bus

Founder of the Book Bus: Tom Maschler
As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations, we are sharing the stories of some of the people who have joined us on our journey. Our first feature tells the story of Book Bus Founder, Tom Maschler. 

Tom Maschler’s career in publishing spanned over 50 years. As editorial director at Jonathan Cape publishers he discovered and published some of the best known authors in the world including Ian McEwan, Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  He persuaded the Booker brothers to create the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize) to celebrate the very best in literature. He’s a man that clearly spots an opportunity and gets things done. 

"I had spent my life surrounded by authors, illustrators and books and as retirement approached I began to think about what was next," explained Tom as he settled down for a chat about how he founded the global literacy charity, The Book Bus. 

"I still had lots of energy and drive. Throughout my career I had always wanted to do some kind of charitable work but never seemed to have the time. Then as my retirement approached my wife, Regina sparked an idea in my head and that propelled me into action."

She told me: "You’ve spent your whole life surrounded by books. You’ve always wanted to do something of value in Africa. Now is the time. Why not share your love of books with people that don’t have any?" 

This stirred something inside Tom and inspired him to carry out his wish. 

"I began to think about all the children who’d never had the opportunity to hold a book, to look at beautiful illustrations and never had the chance to learn how to read. I began to think about all the lost opportunities that would mean for these children. I knew this was the time for me to do something that would help." 

Tom’s idea was simple enough: buy a bus, fill it with children’s books and bring it to a place where children don’t have any books at all. 

That was back in 2006 and ten years later Tom's idea is now a successful literacy development programme operating across four continents and six countries.
Tiger the 1st Book Bus in Zambia 

The Book Bus now has five mobile Book Bus libraries working in impoverished communities in Ecuador, Malawi and Zambia, bringing books and the joy of reading to over 150,000 children. It builds static libraries and reading corners in schools and employs local teams as reading champions who help spread a reading culture in their local area.  

How it started  

"I flew to Zambia with a colleague to do a bit of research about how a Book Bus might be received. I knew there was a need for books, but would a Bus be the right way to introduce books to local communities?" 

Tom’s concerns soon disappeared as support for his Book Bus idea grew and grew. 

"I was simply overwhelmed by the support I received from local communities, education representatives, church leaders and the government. I was confident that this project would work, so I returned to England to start making my dream a reality." 

Tom’s dream was to initially buy a double-decker bus. "Can you imagine that travelling through the streets of Lusaka? But I was (quite rightly) dissuaded against this and instead bought a single-decker Tiger Leyland bus. The idea was fill this with books and then ship it over to Zambia." 

Tom put out a call out to his hundreds of publishing colleagues for resources and the books came flooding in by the thousands. The bus seats were taken out and replaced with shelving to house the books.

Decorating the Book Buses 

“I absolutely had a sense that something wasn’t quite right as I looked at the bus – it was just an ordinary bus. I really wanted it to make an impact and then I had an idea to decorate it with beautiful illustrations that would be eye-catching and draw children to the bus." 

And who better to ask than the best children’s illustrator in the world Sir Quentin Blake? Tom’s instinctive talent for spotting literacy success brought Quentin Blake and children’s author Roald Dahl together in the 1970s to form one of the most successful partnerships that publishing has seen. 
Sir Quentin's illustrations adorn the Book Buses 

“Quentin was so pleased to be asked to decorate the Book Bus. He’s never provided artwork for a bus and was absolutely thrilled to take on the challenge. The illustrations Quentin created were simply beautiful and so perfect. They are bright, beautiful and each character has a secret story to tell that will enthuse and inspire curious children to step inside the Book Bus.” 

Tom’s life-long talent to make things happen didn’t stop there. "I wanted to make an impact and get as much publicity as possible for the Book Bus before it left the UK."  After many meetings and hours of negotiation Tom managed to persuade Westminster Council to allow the Book Bus to be driven onto Trafalgar Square for all to see before it set off for Zambia. 

"It was a great night bringing everyone together who had been so passionate about getting this project off the ground. Of course, being England, it poured with rain that night, but that didn’t stop our supporters from hopping on board our Book Bus to admire the thousands of books packed and ready for their journey to Zambia."
Book Bus Tiger in Trafalgar Square

In 2007 Tiger, the very first Book Bus was driven to Zambia to begin working as a mobile library. 

‘This was the time that I began to step back, the Book Bus became a charity and was run by a team of experts ensuring we brought the right books to the right communities, continued Tom. 

It wasn’t long before the second project was opened in Livingstone and then across the border in neighbouring country Malawi shortly followed by another two projects in Ecuador. 

As the project grew, so did the number of Book Buses all now named after Roald Dahl characters: Charlie, Matilda, George and Alfie. Since 2006 the Book Buses have travelled more than 250,000 miles working across four continents and five countries. Books have been placed in the hands of 150,000 children and they are now enjoying the rich experience that books and stories can bring.

Local & international volunteers 

"We’ve had so many reading volunteers from around the world who have joined the Book Bus in Ecuador, Malawi and Zambia, reading with children and having lots of fun. I visited the project in Livingstone myself and saw first-hand the joy, excitement and enthusiasm for the Book Bus as it rolls into a school. The children were running along side welcoming us. It was amazing to experience this." 
Volunteers from around the world help children to read

"I’m immensely proud of what the Book Bus has done. We’ve relied on the generosity of people who have donated their time, books and funds to get this project off the ground and to keep it going. These people understand the importance of literacy and reading and how being able to read really can change people’s lives." 

Nowadays Tom is still involved in the Book Bus as much as he can.  "Looking back some people said the Book Bus was a crazy idea, but it was a dream of mine and of course you should never give up on a dream,” he concludes.  

There’s no doubt 150,000 children out there who would agree with Tom…