Saturday, 6 January 2018

An Elephant On My Lap!

For a while now I have been returning to a 'Life Lesson' I heard by chance one day. 
How do you eat an elephant? 
One bite at a time!
Why do I consider that to be a life lesson? and not a joke? 
Children enjoying the Farm area of the Primary School
Because life seems to be full of 'elephants'. Everywhere I turn there are situations that appear to be too big to deal with. Needs too vast to be met. Injustices too deeply embedded to be changed. 
When I took on the role of Principal of The King's School it felt like an elephant had sat on my lap. So many things to be done. Issues to be addressed. I had to start eating my elephant 'one bite at a time' or risk being totally squashed by it. 
I want to tell you about one of my 'Bites'. This is a bite I need to hand to some one else to deal with for me. 
(By the way the photos are mostly unrelated - but each represents a 'bite' )
What a difference a raincoat and boots make -  If you are
walking miles through muddy hills -
It means you can go to school on rainy days.
Contributions of £4 from supporters in  England -
change lives in rural Bujumbura.
Like so many people in this world, I am a reader. I read to get to sleep at night. If I wake in the early hours, I read to get back to the land of nod. If I want to grab a few minutes break during the day, I read to relax.  If I want to know something, I Google it and then read until I have an answer. I am not unique, I know, the world is full of ‘readers’.
 A number of years ago I discovered some statistics that radically changed my attitude towards children and reading. I had always been keen on engendering an interest in reading with my own children and those I taught through school. But this discovery changed my ‘keen’ into 'passionate'.
For many years I taught in an area of England where the children came from homes caught in the ‘Benefits Trap’. A significant proportion of the pupils I taught were 3rd Generation Benefit Recipients. Home life often meant living with alcoholics, drug addicts or gamblers. The more fortunate just suffered the effects of living without aspirations or hope for the future. The children had access to education, financial support, social initiatives, but it seemed to account for nothing in the long term. I watched bright eyed little 5 year olds grow through years of living with substance abuse into 16 year old substance abusers. They were trapped in a life without Emergency Exits. 
Developing a love of reading can be more important for a child’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic background (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
This made a huge amount of sense to me. If there was one thing I could do, I could work towards developing a love of reading in the pupils I taught. Thus it became a foundational principle for my life. I would always encourage children to explore the world of books.
In 2012, I moved to Burundi (with my ‘love of reading’ passion). Now in 2017, I remain as committed as ever, but have discovered some enormous HURDLES to the sharing of my passion, that did not exist in the UK.
Saturday English Lessons, for children from the poorer districts
Bujumbura. 
First and foremost – the availability of books in Burundi. 99% of the books available in this country are second-hand books, shipped in from the UK, Canada and the USA. Burundi publishes very few books each year. It would take 20 years for Burundi to publish the same amount of books published in the UK in one month.  It’s not easy to get the books you want, you just have to want the books you get.
It's not much - but the mothers of these children say, that it boosts
their confidence and they have seen improved results at school
Secondly - language and contextualisation. Most of the books that arrive here are written in English (3rd or 4th Language for many). The children’s story books are about a life style and society that is almost totally alien to most children here. It’s not that we don’t want those books, but we would love to be able to offer children the chance to read good books in Kirundi, Swahili and French as well.
Thirdly- the absence of reading material for the last 20 – 30 years, means this is not a ‘Reading’ culture.  Education is not based around a reading mentality. Learning is executed through the ‘chalk and talk’ or ‘dictation’ methods. The only reading required is that of the notes made during lessons. A student reads the notes, learns them off by heart, then regurgitates them at test time. We need to educate the Educators, into discovering the value of reading.
Despite these huge hurdles, I have come to believe that the principle regarding a love for reading remains true even in this culture. Those who develop a ‘love for reading’ are those who are most likely to rise above the difficulties of their life situations. It’s just a huge task to provide the reading material for those who want to read.
In April 2017 the Community Library Project began at The King’s School, Bujumbura. Phase 1 involved bringing all the books of the Primary school together under ‘one roof’. Organising and recording every title, setting up a systematic approach to the provision of reading material to the pupils of the Primary school.
September 2017 – Phase 2 : Up-grading the Library stock and reading areas.

Aim:       To provide appropriate books for all the study themes across the school
                To provide books in French/Kirundi/Swahili
                To provide furniture for a study area and ’relaxed’ reading area

Action: Employ a Librarian to continue the process of assessment and evaluation of needs
                Purchase or procure relevant books
A young man in the UK - sacrifices a little each month
which makes a huge difference to these
young ladies.
                Design and build Study area and Reading area
Outstanding needs:
Funding for Librarian
Funding for books or contacts for sending books
Funding for new furniture

Phase 2 Objectives achieved:
·         Librarian and Assistant employed – courtesy of a gift from an American supporter
·         All books have been logged (handwritten system)
·         Large mats and small furniture moved into the Reading rooms
·         Weekly reading sessions set up for the school and New Generation Street Kids Project
January 2018 should see us attempt to complete Phase 2 and move into Phase 3. But our biggest problem now is securing funding. The gift that carried us through Phase 1 and most of Phase 2, is just about finished.
Probably for many of you reading,  the first question that spring to mind will be, ‘Why can’t you fund the Project from within the school’s budget?’  If you believe it so vital, surely it should be near the top of your agenda for spending?’
There is a phrase in Kirundi that I often find myself using, ‘Buke, buke’. It means , slowly, slowly. After the crisis of 2015, we are gradually picking up the pieces and moving on as a school. But 2015 left us with a huge hole in finances.  Just getting back to where we were has taken time. Buke, buke.  Moving into new areas, requires reaching outside our own boundaries and seeking assistance from the world beyond Burundi.
My hope is this…that there is someone ‘out there’ who feels inspired to change the lives of some of the children in Bujumbura. It won’t have an impact on the whole world, it probably won’t make you famous. But I can guarantee there will be handfuls of children whose lives will change direction, if they have regular access to a vibrant, working library.
I’m looking for someone to be The King’s School Community Library Project – International Partner. 
The role would involve raising funds for the Project – 
  • to pay the Librarian and Assistant (£300 a month), 
  • to improve the facilities 
  •  to stock the Library with books.

Another set of sisters whose lives have been turned around
by small acts of kindness from abroad.

The International Partner would also be more than a Fundraiser. It would be someone who could inspire and develop the role of our Librarian and Assistant. In turn, to facilitate them to go on and motivate the staff of The King’s School and others in the Community.  Someone with the time and passion to develop the Project to its fullest potential.

We have so many dreams for the Library Project – but at present they are all on hold, until we find our ‘Partner’. We can’t stand alone on this one, we need help and support.

My prayer is that someone, somewhere will read this and will know the identity of our International Partner.

If would like to help, but don’t feel you are called to be our ‘Partner’ your contribution would be very welcome.  Although, we do have many offers of books, but without funding we have no way to get books here.

Please contact me on liz.stephen@thekingsschool.edu.bi  and we can explore any ideas you have.
               

 
Hamish - Please can he have access to a first class library in the coming years?