Part of our work is to encourage and assist the school to develop their own libraries so they are not dependent on us and then we can move to other schools we have not worked with. Char Char Trust has helped us with this effort by providing shelving and book collections for more than 10 of the schools we work with.
Friends in Ottawa have also sent us many children's books which either went into the book boxes or were donated to the schools for their permanent collections. Book Aid International has also been very instrumental in keeping our book stock up to standard. Unfortunately, although we do try to teach the children to take care of books, however good they are, books are not immune to wear with use and it is necessary to constantly repair and replace.
The International School in Luxembourg sends us new and partly used pens and pencils and markers at the end of each school term, and we have been able to give these to some of the children. The levels of poverty are such that some families can not even manage to buy pencils for their children to write with.
Children in Zimbabwean schools, both rural and urban, but especially rural, have very little access to reading material. For the past decade many of the schools hardly have had textbooks, so many of the children have never learned to read well.
Even when text books are available, it is important for children to consolidate their understanding and further develop their skills by reading supplementary material. This is what we try to provide. The books are managed by the school staff and a community librarian. We also hold workshops for teachers on the management of a library and, for the teachers of the early grades, on techniques of teaching reading.
Our aim is that children develop their skills and their love of reading both for pleasure and for accessing information. In a society where there are few radios and few newspapers and no computers, our book boxes become one of the few sources for accessing information.
In Zimbabwe, children are expected to learn to read in their mother tongue as well as in English. In Gwanda district there are three indigenous languages - Sindebele, Sesotho and Chivenda. We are trying to increase the amount of material for children available in the mother tongue languages, and have so far published five illustrated stories in Sindebele for Grades 1-3. Now we are attempting to raise funds for more stories, especially in Sesotho and Chivenda. We are encouraging teachers to try their hand at writing stories.
Learning to write without pen or pencil
In 2009 Kitchener Conestoga Rotary Club worked with the Rotary Foundation Trust to fund the purchase of textbooks in English and Ndebele for children in Grades 1 to 3 in ten of our primary schools. These were distributed at a time when there were virtually no textbooks in any of the schools and were received with great relief by both teachers and children. We targeted the lower grades as those are the crucial years for gaining the basic skill of reading, and we were finding out that there were high proportions of children who were not learning to read in spite of being in school - hardly surprising when there were no books to read!
Unloading the box from the van
Inside the classroom
A rural school library
In 2010 books were provided to all schools by UNICEF, but these have now effectively passed their usefulness and there are no new texts on the horizon. Government provides nothing to the schools except staff salaries and all other costs have to be met by parents. This essentially means they are not covered I such impoverished communities. The books we provide are often the only ones they see.
President of Bulawayo Belmont Rotary Club giving teachers the textbooks