Maktaba! Maktaba! Maktaba!

Seeing the students sitting on the striped mat in the ‘chill-out corner’ of the Isevya Secondary School library whilst reading physics, geography and mathematics text books really helped me put the last 12 months into perspective. Looking around I stared at the Tanzanian mural which had only been a blank wall five days previous, I saw the lino on the floor which had been painstakingly nailed and glued down the previous afternoon and groups of young people were standing next to the newly filled bookshelves flicking through textbooks we had brought from the UK.

It’s been a long week in Tabora preparing for the grand opening ceremony of the library. At the beginning of the week, and since my last blog entry, we had only paint on the walls, and cement on the floor. By Wednesday, the “2 Mihuri Boys Painters” had completed the mural of Tanzania we had commissioned and time was truly ticking as we still needed to allocate our books to Isevya and pick up our bookshelves.

Time management is really quite difficult here in Africa. It’s easy to make an action plan of jobs to do, but when time isn’t on your side you can be guaranteed things will happen six hours later than you absolutely need them to. Thursday evening saw us still not have the shelves in the library, and once they were in, it was a mad dash to stock the shelves with our books; we never seem to learn to plan ahead of ahead. Fortunately, we have made some lovely friends at the Golden Eagle Guest House where we are staying, and we were able to draft them in to help as well as a surprise cohort of students who suddenly appeared in the right place at the right time.

And so we opened the school library yesterday morning, and after three weeks of serious ups and downs it was all worth it. We were joined by the headmaster, a couple of teachers, the District and Regional Education Officers, as well as the local and national news reporters (our faces could have been broadcast over the whole of Tanzania by now for all we know!). We also had about fifty students who were able to see an atlas or flick through a novel for the first time in their lives. Young people milled around for the whole morning, filling the library with an electric atmosphere that the room may never have seen before. One boy, a Form III student named Casper, thanked me for helping bring their library alive once again, a word which captures perfectly for me the feeling of the new library: ALIVE!

For every READ International volunteer who may read this entry, for any school teacher who may have donated books from their school, and for those who may have given any money to our cause in the past year: a HUGE thank you! I was asked to pass on the greatest thanks to everybody back in the UK from all of those at the regional education office because the resources and environment that READ has provided wouldn’t have been possible without the work of volunteers in the UK. Looking at the work READ has carried out in Tabora in previous years has seen a visible increase in exam performance and prospects for their young people, so by continuing to support and volunteer at university is genuinely making a difference to the lives of these inspirational young people who are poised to become the next doctors, scientists and politicians of Tanzania.

Our last two weeks in Tabora will see us working with students to help them get used to the idea of having a working library in school. We hope to take some of the young people to the local regional library to get a feel for how a referencing system and how a library should function. It has been a real pleasure to work with such fantastic young people once more and I am really looking forward to getting to know more students now that the physical work of the library is complete.

It has been difficult, as evidenced in my previous blog, but I feel deep down that the extent of the impact that READ has across the whole of Tanzania is something I will never fully appreciate. I can’t know exactly how students will perform once we leave Tanzania or whether they will enjoy sitting in the ‘chill-out corner’ whilst reading some fiction. But one thing is for sure; that providing or sorting one textbook back in Edinburgh changes the life of a Tanzanian student forever as it is helping to unlock the potential of each and every person, enabling them to go on after they leave school to big and bright things helping them to ultimately reach for and achieve all of their wildest dreams.

There are always challenges…

It’s been a really interesting week in Tabora trying to get everything set up and ready for the library which we’re hoping to open a week on Friday (August 24th). With the help of a very kind local named Amrat, who is in Tabora on official government business, we have been able to haggle our way down our prices in order to provide for the library in a way we could only have dreamed of than if we were trying to buy things as regular “wazungu” (white men).

The highlight of the last 10 days was definitely seeing our shipment of books arrive from Dar es Salaam which seemingly took a lot longer to arrive than we were expecting. The truck arrived at Tabora Girls School (a school who has worked closely with READ International in previous years) where we were given the help of the girls to carry the boxes and help arrange them into subject areas. It is curious as to why Tabora Boys wasn’t chosen as a storage location as many of the girls decided it would be better for their biceps to simply drop the heavier boxes anywhere in the classroom (near the door) rather in their appropriate sections.

But at last, the books are here! There have been a couple of hiccoughs as we somehow received boxes from other projects and a few of our boxes didn’t make it but we are just happy that now we can begin to allocate the books which we have spent so long collecting back in the UK.

Over at the library at Isevya Secondary, we have been facing some challenges of a different sort. Due to the census taking place, as predicted, we have struggled to interact with students in a way I was truly hoping. Yesterday we arrived ready to paint the library, only to find out the fundi (handyman) had done it all for us, thus missing out on a key interaction with students.

It has proven much more difficult to get students involved than I was anticipating. On one hand, the library is progressing very well; our shelves are finished tomorrow, the walls are painted and the windows are in. On the other hand, we have failed (so far) to engage with enough students for them to feel like they have ownership over the project.

Yet I am still optimistic, if we have to compromise and we either have the choice to not engage with the students whilst renovating the library, or not engage with the students during activities once the library is open, I would definitely be choosing the former. The beauty of only carrying out one renovation is that we truly do have enough time to work with students on more important matters, how to use the library.

We are here for another three and a half weeks, so by putting extra advertisement in school and around the place, we will be able to have some fun with the young people and get them up to speed with the renovation, which in fairness, has been designed based on the ideas which came from a group of students gathered at the beginning of last week.

No matter what, we are still making a difference in the community and I know that once the books move into Isevya, they will attract the curiosity of students enough to get them involved with the library. A few young people have even already asked me to help them with their maths homework, so there’s always that!

The start of our Tabora journey…

The sun is blazing and all around us people zoom by on their bicycles, the must-have mode of transport here in Tabora. There aren’t many cars on the road, or motorbikes, and everyone seems to drive a bicycle whether they are young or old, student or business man. We’re staying in quite a sleepy town: tall trees line the side of the road casting shade where you step, it’s not as busy as the hustle and bustle of Dar Es Salaam and everybody is very friendly, greeting us with “Karibu” (“You’re most welcome”).

We arrived into Tabora on Sunday (“Jumapili”) afternoon quite a few days later than we were expecting. We had planned to leave on Wednesday, stop overnight in the neighbouring region of Singida and leave for our region of Tabora on Thursday. However, Chami, one of my fellow READ volunteers from Nottingham University, fell ill for 48 hours and so we had to depart on Thursday instead. Upon arriving into Singida bus station we were further told that there wasn’t another bus to Tabora until Sunday, so we had to stay in Singida for three nights instead of one.

And so we weren’t able to meet with the Ministry of Education until yesterday (Monday/”Jumatatu”) morning. We weren’t quite sure where we were headed, but after about 45 minutes of walking we stumbled across the Ministry buildings and into the hands of the very friendly and accommodating Regional Academic Officer: Mr Kafuku.

Our responsibilities in Tabora are two-fold. Throughout the year back in my university town we have been collecting textbooks from schools in and around Edinburgh. These textbooks are no longer used in schools as exam boards may have been switched or syllabuses simply updated. After the schools donated the books to us, we spent several months book sorting and boxing to ship them to Tanzania where they will meet us in the coming days.

Our first responsibility is to allocate which of the boxes from Edinburgh and Nottingham will go to which of the 10 schools assigned to us for this year’s 2011/12 book project. Yesterday morning we had a long, but very successful meeting with Mr Kafuku to gather the necessary information required of the schools we will be donating our books to. As the schools are closed for their summer break, and because of a nationwide census (“Sensa 2012”), we will be unable to visit all 10 schools and so they will collect the books in the coming weeks with the help of local Tanzanian sixth form volunteers.

Our second, and main, responsibility this year is the renovation of one of the libraries from the list of 10 schools. This morning we visited Isevya Secondary School to see what the state of the current room is to assess whether we will be able to work with their students to set up the library. As it is, it’s entirely possible for us to start volunteering there to get them set up with what they need. As well as providing the necessary resources they need for their students, we will be able to transform the working space to create a conducive learning environment.

Outside of the physical work needed, we will be able to work very closely with a group of library prefects and other young people from the surrounding community in Isevya. We will be able to run with them a series of group builder and learning related activities and workshops to get them used to the idea of how they can keep their library sustainable once we leave, how they can use peer education to learn from each other using the books and give the students a sense of ownership that this is their library and not simply one READ International has provided.

It’s a very exciting time for us, especially as we have spent the whole year building up to this trip, and after two weeks in Dar Es Salaam we are simply raring to go! The library in its current state is basic, but with all the fundraising we have done this year, we will really be able to provide for this small, community funded school exactly what they need to promote and provide for their education which is crucial for the future of Tanzania.

Olympic dreams?

The last few days have been fairly relaxed. After a packed week in Uganda, I arrived into Tanzania last Tuesday afternoon quite a few days before training begins. I have spent the last days relaxing with some really lovely people, getting to know each other before we all head off to our regions.

Yesterday we linked up with two Tanzanian locals who had become friends with the first group of READ volunteers who have been training over the last few days. We took a local Tuk-Tuk into the centre of Dar Es Salaam which was the first foray into the central area as we have been staying in a relatively built up area on the fringes of the city.

After walking for a very long time, we took a bus for 8p and ended up in a small village on the opposite fringe of the city. We weren’t really sure where we were going; all we knew was that the place was called the “Happy Centre”. It ended up being a place which had been set up to train young street children and teenagers in the art of drama, music and acrobatics. We were treated to a show firstly from the younger children who were just starting up, as well as a very impressive performance from the men who had ‘graduated’ from the Happy Centre. They showed us backflips, acrobatics and an extremely amazing show on two tall poles.

It was extremely inspiring to see people in the local community setting up an initiative to provide an outlet for the gifts and talents of young people who have few opportunities in their lives. The young people are encouraged to go on tour and are given opportunities to make a living for themselves. The unfortunate thing about their situation is that many of the children are not in education because either their parents cannot afford the fees or they are told they have to stay home and work.

I only hope for the dreams of the young people, that they can be actualised in a way which is fruitful for them. I hope that they are able to, at some point, have access to an education which is much part of the reason I am in Tanzania in the first place.

Last night we found ourselves sitting on a beach in Dar Es Salaam watching the opening ceremony to the Olympic games. It was surreal enough being there thinking of how much talk and hype will have been surrounding the presentation let alone the whole bar erupting when the Tanzanian Olympic team joined the parade towards the end of the ceremony. It made me wonder how many young people will be given an opportunity to perform in the games and how many will train and never get there.

It made me smile to see there were 7 people representing Liberia and quite a large team representing the Philippines, places which I have huge affection for. Yet, I am left wondering how many were given the chance of an education and how many athletes in developing countries have missed out on joining their team and still haven’t had an education.

It made me realise the importance of providing time and effort using our own gifts to help those who don’t have anything. I have never considered the goals of READ in this way before, and I have a refreshed motivation for providing the resources we have collected to provide a necessity for young people, so they have the freedom to practice their sporting, or musical, or theatrical ambitions and achieve a well-rounded experience so that they can truly live their lives to the full.

We begin training tomorrow morning (Sunday 29th) before myself, Chami and Yemi head to Tabora in Western Tanzania for the beginning of the project.

Two months ahead of me…

Deciding how to communicate with people back home was somewhat of a decision I had to think about. In the past I have had blogs posted onto the YMT website, as well as the blogs I have written for CAFOD. As I’m not officially blogging for my up-and-coming trip to East Africa, I decided to set up this page to let you all know what I’m up to. I have also copied previous blogs from my time in Liberia as well as my summer in Madrid in 2011. I hope to continue using this blog in the future for anywhere I may find myself in the world.

ImageTomorrow I travel to Uganda where I will spend a week staying with a good friend of mine who I lived with during my time spent with the Youth Ministry Team in 2010. Following that, I will then move onto Tanzania where I will spend six weeks working in the western region of Tabora with local young people helping them to establish their own libraries resourcing them with textbooks we have managed to collect from schools in Edinburgh over the course of the year leading up to this trip.

In my life, I feel called to help those in the world who haven’t been provided with the amazing opportunites that I have been blessed with. I study mathematics at one of the leading institutions in the world, and I have only been giving that opportunity because of the random country I was born in. So if I can look around me, see a maths textbook going to waste in a cupboard somewhere in Portobello or North Berwick, then through my involvement with READ International I can absolutely make sure that that book is being utilised to its full potential. It will end up in the hands of an aspiring maths student, whose only difference to me is that I come from a rich country, and he or she comes from a poor country.

ImageAnd so I want to continue to write blogs independently because I want to share my story with all of those who aren’t able to make the trip to Tanzania. Not everybody has the desire or opportunity to take part in these projects, so if I can capture a glimpse of some of the stories and testimonies of young people on the other side of the world, then I bring us a step closer to the realisation that although we may be thousands of miles apart from each other, we are still one community.

Although I am unsure of quite when or how I will be able to access the internet whilst on my travels, I will endeavour to update as frequently as I can. I’ll see you in Uganda!