There’s no doubt about it. Last summer’s expedition I organised and helped lead to Tanzania with the London School I work at was undoubtedly a special experience.
If I may be immodest: what we achieved was no small feat. It took two years’ worth of blood, sweat and tears for us even to get to a position where we could not only get 14 English teenage girls suitably prepped and ready for the rigours of three weeks out of their comfort zone in a third world country, but to also achieve our aim of building and opening the library. We needed to raise £8000 and acquire/ship out 1000 books, which all took a lot of time and hard work!
It was all so worth it in the end, and whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing either in the build-up period or during the three weeks in country, I can look back on the whole thing with pride. The girls conducted themselves impeccably and learnt so much, and the library is still going strong all this time later (check out the image at the top of this post, which was taken about two months ago). Indeed, I am getting reports through that it has resulted in an upsurge in the literacy achievement of pupils at the School, which is pleasing to hear.
So…job done right? We set out to build a library, and that’s what we’ve done. Surely, it’s a once in a lifetime, lighting in a bottle type of experience. You can’t manufacture repeats of those special experiences without dooming yourself and all those who you involve to feelings of sputtered anti-climax.
Which is why it’s important to state that we’re not going back to replicate the 2016 trip. Yes, we will have the opportunity to see the handiwork from that expedition again first hand – which is a neat thing for the next crop of girls who get to go – but it’s important to emphasise that the focus of the trip will be different this time, without deviating from the library which, after all, is our tangible connection to the KYGN School.
The primary focus of the 2016 trip was getting the library shipshape and ready for the kids to use, with a bit of (unexpected) teaching and playing with the kids thrown in. This time, teaching – both inside the library and classrooms – will play a bigger role, more specifically that with a reading/literacy focus, and we will be developing resources (think flashcards, games, that sort of thing) that can continue to be used in the classroom after we’ve gone.
The reason being, you see, that the library is so much more than just a room full of books. Of course it is that on one level, and there is much to be said for the kids simply being able to borrow and read books at their leisure, the sort of thing we take for granted in the ‘developed’ world.
No, we want it to be a dynamic space, with the means provided to lure the kids in, awakening their curiosity to the simple but so very important joys that books and reading can provide them with. So that means preparing and leading activities, ranging from story time to full on reading games, that bring the books to life and make them a shared, vibrant experience, rather than the solitary activity reading often is.
There is still some basic library operational work to be done, mind you. The walls could probably do with more decoration, and the shelves could definitely do with more books. We are very much in the process of gathering more, and suffice to say that we are very excited that the KYGN kids will be getting their hands on so many shiny new books next summer.
All of which, I’d like to think, shows what our returning will mean to KYGN and its children. There’s another crucial dimension to all of this too, though: what it will mean for our School and the group of girls who are following in their predecessors’ footsteps.
A one and done trip would have meant that our connection would be somewhat superficial. Returning for another trip shows that we are looking to cultivate longer term ties, and one step we’ve made toward solidifying this is to sponsor Primary Three, one of the classes at KYGN. Our girls have already written letters to them, effectively becoming pen pals, and this will hopefully result in a more profound and emotional connection this time around.
As I write this the build-up has begun, with preparation and training sessions underway on our way to a departure date in July 2018. Stay tuned for more updates soon!