Opening the library and farewell to KYGN

Opening the library and farewell to KYGN

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…

20160715_112042Their 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.

20160712_124901And here’s how it looked after.

20160717_095626Anna, 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.


20160717_103718*Names of the girls have been changed.



  • Amanda

    September 12, 2016 at 7:55 pm Reply

    Wow! What a wonderful thing to do! I see how much my kids love the library and I would love to bring this joy to other children around the world too.

    • Joe

      September 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm Reply

      Thank you Amanda 🙂 Libraries are wonderful things, and one of those things that some people in the developed world have become blasé about. You only need to see how the kids responded to the library we built here to see what they can mean to those who use them – glad your kids love libraries too!

  • priya

    September 12, 2016 at 10:56 pm Reply

    Wow, what an amazing thing to do for the kids, the mural makes the place so fun and I bet the kids love hanging out there and reading more now!

    • Joe

      September 13, 2016 at 6:07 am Reply

      Yep, the mural is probably the centrepiece – you do indeed to have to make it visually appealing if you want to draw the punters, namely the kids, in 🙂

  • Annemarie

    September 13, 2016 at 7:42 am Reply

    Wow, you’ve done an awesome job at the school room transformation!! Books are so important, it’s great to see you being so dedicated.
    Annemarie recently posted…Altes Land – Germany Like You’ve Never Seen It BeforeMy Profile

    • Joe

      September 13, 2016 at 4:20 pm Reply

      Thank you very much 🙂 It was decidedly hard work, but all worth it when you see the finished product!

  • Naomi

    September 13, 2016 at 6:49 pm Reply

    What an unforgetable travel experience!

    • Joe

      September 13, 2016 at 9:05 pm Reply

      Very much was, and it’s a trip that will stay with us all forever 🙂

  • Plushy

    September 13, 2016 at 6:49 pm Reply

    Awesome people making other people’s lives better. Hats off!

    • Joe

      September 13, 2016 at 9:05 pm Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  • Anita

    September 13, 2016 at 8:01 pm Reply

    It’s a very special and valuable work you are doing. Thanks for this. I love photos. Thanks for sharing.

    • Joe

      September 13, 2016 at 9:07 pm Reply

      Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words 🙂 It was a very humbling experience and it’s fair to say that we learnt a lot from them too while we were there.

  • Sanne - Spend Life Traveling

    September 14, 2016 at 1:28 am Reply

    Wow, well done! And what a great experience. I volunteered at a school in India several years ago and still see that as one of my most meaningful experiences abroad.

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:50 am Reply

      Thank you! India is a beautiful country, and would love to volunteer there one day. Not at all surprised it’s one of your memorable travel experiences – where in India did you go?

  • Dylan K Myers

    September 14, 2016 at 2:12 am Reply

    What a touching story! It is amazing how much we take for granted every day with libraries and access to such vast knowledge. It truly is amazing helping those in need.

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:51 am Reply

      Thanks 🙂 Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone, as the song goes, and it’s only by taking away those things we take for granted that you can learn to fully appreciate them.

  • shayan Naveed

    September 14, 2016 at 4:52 am Reply

    Such an incredible and amazing thing you are doing. So much love and emotion can be seen and read in this post. Great work!
    shayan Naveed recently posted…5 Fears that Stop us from having Better Travel ExperiencesMy Profile

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:51 am Reply

      Thanks very much 🙂 It was a very emotionally affecting trip, one that will linger in my memory.

  • Shorty

    September 14, 2016 at 8:24 am Reply

    Great initiative! Well done, it looks really good on pictures! And totally worth every effort when you get to see the smiles on children faces!

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm Reply

      Thank you, and yes, all the blood, sweat and tears were definitely worth it when we saw how happy the kids were 🙂

  • Kaylene Chadwell

    September 14, 2016 at 9:36 am Reply

    This is so amazing! I bet this was such a wonderful experience! It’s nice to read about people making a difference while traveling, keep up the great work!

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 11:56 am Reply

      Thank you, and it was a great experience 🙂

  • Steph of Big World Small Pockets

    September 14, 2016 at 1:56 pm Reply

    Great video and wonderful to read about the excitement of the kids. What a life changing experience and I can sense it was with a heavy heart that you said goodbye … for now!
    Steph of Big World Small Pockets recently posted…10 Best (and Cheap) Things to do in Cooktown, AustraliaMy Profile

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:39 pm Reply

      Yes it was difficult to leave, but the knowledge that we could well be returning was some consolation. We’ll have to wait and see…thanks for dropping by 🙂

  • Julie Cao

    September 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm Reply

    I was moved by those kid’s curiosity and their happiness to learn new knowledge. I am glad they had a great time with you. Are you there to travel and volunteer or it is part of your job to finish the library? – Julie

    • Joe

      September 14, 2016 at 5:43 pm Reply

      It’s an expedition that came about from us establishing a link between the school I work at in London and KYGN. We pledged to build them a library, and it was a two year long labour of love as we had to raise the money necessary, catalogue 1000 books and make other preparations before finally heading out there. So technically, it was our job to finish the library…but we’re volunteering and travelling at the same time. It’s a unique one! The whole story is documented on this website through the ‘Tanzania Library Project’ link on the main menu 🙂

  • Kallsy Page

    September 15, 2016 at 2:47 am Reply

    Wow! Truly, such a beautiful testimony of love. I am a teacher so I was extremely moved by your hard work and dedication along with the others who helped out as well. In college I was able to participate in mission work across the globe and like I know you feel, it forever changed me! Thank you for sharing your heart with others. 🙂

    • Joe

      September 15, 2016 at 5:52 am Reply

      Thank you very much 🙂 Great to hear that you have also got involved in humanitarian work, certainly more than I have by the sounds of it! Look forward to hearing about your own experiences some time 🙂

  • Christine K

    September 15, 2016 at 2:05 pm Reply

    How wonderful that you have made a difference. You have left a legacy that will forever change the lives of others; how incredible. It must have been so sad to leave. Thanks for sharing your journey.
    Christine K recently posted…5 African Wildlife Safaris You Can Experience in the U.S.My Profile

    • Joe

      September 15, 2016 at 6:56 pm Reply

      Thanks, and whilst it definitely was sad to leave, the fact we knew that we left behind a lasting legacy was definitely some consolation 🙂

  • Brianna

    September 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm Reply

    Such an impactful way to spend a week- both for you and for the kids. They all look like they’re having so much fun with that parachute! Is the school going to be getting more books?

    • Joe

      September 15, 2016 at 6:57 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂 They certainly will be getting more books, as the library is only just begun really. Still plenty of work to do with it!

  • Danielle Des

    September 16, 2016 at 3:14 pm Reply

    I love that you made the executive decision to have the kids come in an experience the library despite not being as complete as you’d hope. I would have loved to see the looks on their precious faces!

    • Joe

      September 16, 2016 at 5:23 pm Reply

      I think the word is priceless 🙂

  • Cristal

    September 17, 2016 at 3:17 am Reply

    Looks like you did an amazing job. Loved seeing the enthusiasm about reading. Definitely worth opening it up early. Great work!

    • Joe

      September 17, 2016 at 5:39 am Reply

      Thanks, and yes, so glad that we did open it early. Would not have been the same otherwise and we would have regretted it…

  • Erika Bisbocci

    September 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Congratulations on finishing the library. It looks wonderful and I love the interior painting. It is so wonderful to see the kids devouring the books! It reminds me of when I lived in Namibia and brought shipments of books to the fledgling library at the school I taught at. The kids were checking books out of the library every day in the following weeks!
    Erika Bisbocci recently posted…Gili Air Sunsets and the Art of Doing NothingMy Profile

    • Joe

      September 17, 2016 at 6:07 pm Reply

      Thanks Erika, and that’s really great to hear about how you did something similar in Namibia – will have to read about it on your website! It’s heart warming to see the kids react as they do to the library isn’t it? It doesn’t always work like that where I’m from, sadly…

  • Lisa (Klipdrifters)

    September 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm Reply

    This is so awesome, love reading post like this. Congratulations, this is an amazing experience and even a better accomplishment!

    • Joe

      September 20, 2016 at 5:01 pm Reply

      Thanks 🙂

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