I spent today at Mwendakulima Secondary School, working with the teachers and students on our library program which we will be launching in early July at their school.
With every school we donate to, we always incorporate a small goodwill donation of books that accompanies the workshop phase of our program. During this phase, we go through the books with the students, teaching them not just about book care, but also book identification and classification. We have come to realize that these are critical tools that the students must possess, and pass down to new students, if the library program is to be successful. This is because most schools in Africa lack the funding and infrastructure that a western point of view would automatically include into their project projections. There are simply not enough trained teachers, and extra-curricular cohesion, to make these programs stick without working directly with the students. You cannot depend on someone else teaching them these skills. Everyone must work together.
I always try to do these workshops without any teachers in the room, so that the students feel comfortable asking questions or providing recommendations or requests for their new library. As I expected, they were very shy these first few days, which is something I have experienced at every school we have worked with. I find that as they get used to me they become much more comfortable.
Another aspect of this phase is sitting in on classes to better understand the curriculum and learning environment of the students. This also helps me get to know the teachers, which makes an enormous difference when I have the teacher meetings. I used to find these meetings intimidating, as the teachers often have concerns and hesitations about the library which they voice comfortably. However, I have found these come from a concern that they won’t be involved, or that their subject area will not be reflected and supported. We have designed the program however, to make sure that both of these concerns are addressed sufficiently, as in fact teacher input forms one of the basis from which we design our book list. And it is our fundamental belief that all subjects have their place in the library, which we make sure is reflected in our book choices.