So, I’d got approval from my school, I’d been out to the KYGN school in Tanzania and held various meetings about the various logistics involved in building a library (£8000, 1000 books to catalogue the old-fashioned way and lots of poring over blueprints). What was there left to do? Why, advertise it to my school and pick a group of lucky young ladies to join me on a trip and experience of a lifetime of course!
I’ve talked about KYGN in some detail in a previous post, so it makes sense that I talk a little about the school where I work at. Surbiton High School is an all girls’ school in the outer reaches of South West London. An independent school, it’s heavily oversubscribed, and I have a lot of time for the girls and staff alike.
Our school’s motto is Amor Nos Semper Ducat, which is Latin for “May love always lead us”, and we support many charitable causes. SHS also aims to give its girls opportunities that develop potential and facilitate personal growth.
To that end, overseas expeditions with a humanitarian bent to them are very much encouraged at our school. There have been expeditions to Mongolia, Ghana, India and Peru in the past; as of this summer, Tanzania will be added to the list.
If I’d just said ‘hey girls, fancy coming to Tanzania for a few weeks?’ I would have had been snowed under with interest. It was important to ensure the girls knew exactly what this expedition was all about, and the realities of what an expedition entails – i.e. forget five star hotels and fancy restaurants.
Oh, and they’re the ones responsible for the itinerary and us getting around the country.
Most importantly, we are going there to open up a library for the school because we want to make a positive difference to the lives of the girls (and boys) who attend the school. The best way to do this? Why, standing up in front of 1000-odd kids and leading an assembly on the subject of course…
Most people don’t like public speaking, and I’m sure I lost at least 5 kilos thinking about doing this assembly. I felt under pressure to do the great KYGN cause due justice; if I failed to sell it well enough the whole thing could so easily have fallen flat on its face.
The library we build in Tanzania might not look quite as posh as this one…
Taking the Swahili proverb ‘when you educate a young girl you are educating an entire nation’ as my starting point, I discussed the dire situation of girls’ education: according to UNESCO, 38% of all African adults are illiterate and two thirds of these are women. Given that the area where the KYGN School is located is one of the poorest areas of Tanzania, itself one of the poorest countries in the world, and you can see how they fall in to this bracket.
So having suitably fired them up to address this gender imbalance, only then did I say that they would have the chance to come to Tanzania in the summer of 2016 to open up the library. I made no bones about there being much hard work to do before, during and after our time in country. But of course the rewards would be fantastic.
And, quite pleasingly, this had the effect of sorting the wheat from the chaff so that when the lady from Wilderness Expertise – the company who specialise in facilitating overseas expeditions for young people – came in to outline how the expedition itself would work, there was a more manageable number of interested participants (about 50).
Of course, we couldn’t take 50-ish girls out with us, so it was time for a further wheat-from-the-chaff test. Yep, they had to fill in the dreaded application form! If nothing else, it’s a good way of seeing how interested they were in the project. Because, after all, it is the library we’re going to Tanzania to build; we’re not there for the fun of it…and even the non-project side of it isn’t exactly package tour stuff either!
So after sifting through the applications I had my 14 girls – Louise, Rosie, Jessica, Natalie, Annabel, Claire, Sarah, Molly, Simran, Leila, Ellie, Hannah, Mandy and Emily*. They’re a nice bunch – not perfect by any means, but all with their heart in the right place and strong personalities. You’ll be getting to know them better as this series progresses.
With the girls selected, and an awareness of what we needed to do, it was time to get on with the preparations. First things first – where are we going to get the £8000 from to build this library?!
*Names of the girls have been changed