The road from Moshi to Mabogini, site of the KYGN School, is long, winding and bumpy. This is nothing exceptional for Tanzania – certainly not in its most rural locations, anyway – but we were travelling in a minibus fitted with a roof rack that had all our baggage, equipment and supplies tenuously strapped to it. Not to mention some teenagers susceptible to travel sickness riding as passengers on the inside!
Once or twice we had to stop enroute because of bags falling off the roof. On one such occasion some kids passing by leapt on to the ladder and banged on our windows before our driver shooed them away. They weren’t being threatening, I hasten to add; they were simply being warm and friendly, as so many African people are. Indeed, we had plenty of children waving at us as we trundled by, whether they were walking to school, helping on the picturesque rice fields that line the route or simply sat in their ramshackle houses.
When we finally pulled up at the KYGN School, the girls all seemed to let out a squeal of delight in unison. The one remark that stood out – I can’t remember who said it – was ‘they all look so happy’. A common observation from many of us from the ‘first world’ who have visited such places, and one that always holds true. The girls all had big smiles on their faces; when I turned round for a closer look I noticed that one or two of them were even crying.
As the kids broke off from the various games they were playing to swamp our minibus it was a reminder for me that, unlike me, the girls were all experiencing this for the first time. I had to transport myself back to my experiences in Uganda several years previously to try to remember the visceral, powerful feeling you get when you first encounter something special like this. But try as I might, I was never going to really know what they, as teenagers in a developing country for the first time, were thinking and feeling.
The moment we stepped off the bus the KYGN children surrounded us and sang us a welcome song. As our girls stood, smiles of utter delight on the faces, I took the opportunity to greet the KYGN project manager Anna, who I was actually meeting in person for the first time. It was something of a moving moment for the two of us – we had exchanged countless messages over the last two years, and now we were at last meeting to get this library up and running.
Once the KYGN kids had finished singing they charged en masse in to the waiting arms of the girls, cries of ‘teacher, teacher’ on their lips. As expected, they bombarded us all with enquiries about our names, showed inevitable curiosity at cameras (for those who were brave enough to produce them so early!) and played with the girls’ hair, which they invariably found fascinating.
It was just as well that the girls lapped it up, because the kids were clinging to us all quite ferociously and, with those big happy smiles and puppy dog eyes, it was very hard to extricate ourselves. But I had a job to do, so I had to disengage myself from the crowd and also had to pull our leader for the day, Rosie*, along with me so that Anna could show us around. Later, the other girls said to Rosie how they felt guilty that she had to go off with us. This went to show just how in love with the kids they were…as well as how in tune with the needs of each other they were too.
The KYGN School had come on a long way indeed since I had visited it two years prior. Then it was just the main building and the toilet block. Now, the latter had significantly improved – they were even in the early stages of putting in flushing toilets (so not ready for us, alas!) – there was the brand new boarding house for all those children who didn’t have a home to go to, and then, of course, there was the library building.
We had spent a lot of money on this building, and it didn’t disappoint. It was well-structured and the library space itself was good. It was all just rather bare and Spartan and…they had got in more shelves than I asked for. Plus there was no desk for the librarian to work at. No matter, those were problems that could be overcome.
The rest of the first day we allowed the girls to hang out with and get to know the KYGN children better, through an exchange of games and songs (the KYGN kids absolutely loved the Duck Duck Goose game and the Hokey Cokey, whilst they taught our girls a couple as well!). Of course, we had a few things we had planned for them before we had arrived in Tanzania, but we decided to keep these up our sleeve…
After the KYGN kids had gone home we set up our tents and the girls went about cooking their first meal on the stoves/with the equipment we had previously hired. We were camping on the KYGN grounds, and the ground was hard – putting up the tents was a bit of a mission – and the terrain a magnet for swarms of mosquitos and other creepy crawlies. It was simply a case of telling the girls to man up about this. They had no choice!
The dinner turned out pretty well, all things considered, and after some reminders to be doubly hygienic with both our eating and toilet habits, it was time to turn in. It was going to be a long day of hard work tomorrow!