We’d been at the KYGN School for nearly a week, and time was running out. So much so that I could even hear Matt Bellamy’s screeching voice and picture diplomatic/military delegates doing morbid synchronised dance moves around a table (my brain likes to play random association games sometimes, especially when stressed).
We only had one day left with all the kids still at the school and the paint was still drying on the walls and we were not at all ready to run the fun activities we’d promised to. It was looking increasingly like we wouldn’t be able to experience the much-anticipated buzz of the kids being able to use the library that we’d been working so hard on the previous two years for…
It was the girls’ expedition, of course, but sometimes you have to make executive decisions. So I called it and said, OK, so we haven’t finished painting the walls but the KYGN kids had been excited for months. There was no way we were going to miss out on seeing their faces when they were let in to the building for the first time.
So even though our lovely logo on the outside wall was incomplete, and our grand rear-wall mural even less so, we barricaded off the wet paint areas, gave the floor one last clean and let the kids come in…
Their enthusiasm bowled me over. They swarmed the shelves and grabbed at the books with unbridled joy and energy. So much so that we had to limit the numbers of kids who were in the library at any one time, and employ the teachers at the school to help us keep order and ensure the kids were borrowing the books properly , rather than walking off with them and risking them go missing!
The girls sat down to do some story time with them, which they loved, and once they’d borrowed books they spilled outside and started reading them anywhere and everywhere. One girl asked me if I would sit down with her and read with her to help her improve her English. Ah, if only there was enough time…
Watching all the kids enthusiastically devour the books reminded us all not only of the power of books to change lives, but to not take the things we have at home for granted. Our own school library contains approximately 15000 books, compared to the 1000 the kids here had, and yet the girls of our school do not see the knowledge at their fingertips in quite the same way as the KYGN children do. For the Tanzanian children, the books and the library offer whole new possibilities, through access to worlds they had not even knew existed.
The kids got in to the books so much that we ended up not having time for the planned day of fun activities! But we had brought over all sorts of things, most notably a parachute and some medals, so it was important to put them to use (and needless to say, we left them behind for future usage!).
We also had a toy truck, rather randomly, which one of the girls, Ellie*, had the bright idea of giving away in a game of pass the parcel. She used all of our remaining food bags – much to the chagrin of one of the adults in the team, when she found out later – to create the parcel layers…well, let’s just say it didn’t go too well. The plastic bags were shredded in seconds and the kids were immediately squabbling over the truck.
Luckily the parachute was able to save things. This the KYGN children loved, and had endless fun with. I think this video speaks for itself…
Then it was sadly time to say goodbye to the children, and to give out the medals to them. This was undoubtedly the hardest part of the week, and there were tears from both parties. A lot of the girls had notes and messages passed on to them by the KYGN kids, and the effect this had on them was profound and long-lasting. They were talking about those notes for the rest of the trip.
It wasn’t easy to pick ourselves up after this, but we had a library to finish off. So there was one last, all-hands-on-deck, concerted push to get everything done before we left for the next part of our expedition.
Our last day was a Saturday, but the girls’ work ethic didn’t falter. Mishaps – such as paint being spilled on the floor – were dealt with in a calm and measured manner, and everyone chipped in, whether painting the grand mural, finishing the quotes on the wall or simply tidying things up so there was no trace of all the stuff we had dumped in there.
Eventually we were finished. As a reminder, here’s how it looked before.
Anna, the KYGN director, could not have been happier with how it turned out, and ended up getting very emotional. The girls looked on with justified pride at a job well done; indeed, they wanted to linger as long as the could, and a few even suggested perhaps changing plans and staying the at the school for a bit longer. The promise of the upcoming safari lured them away though!
So, with a heavy heart, we left one last goodbye message for the school on a blackboard in one of the classrooms, and set off. As I looked round at the faces – some happy, some sad, all tired – of the girls, sat in silence as our dalla-dalla drove us toward Moshi, I could tell they had all ended our week at KYGN as very different people to the ones who had started it.