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Books, books, books: support and flexibility

Remember our library project? Well, it’s FINALLY happening. Twenty-five thousand library books for 30 rural communities will be delivered to my primary school tomorrow. I have a headache, am a little flustered and not sure if I’m prepared. My Peace Corps Battlefields crew, my school and the David Rattray Foundation has got my back for unloading these boxes off the truck. I called out for help, everyone responded, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the support.

But better yet, we received support from an American couple that I never had met prior to last week – Claude and Barbara Mayfield – from Atlanta, Georgia. I mentioned this in a post from September about our books being packed and shipped, but they found our project online and got in contact with me. They are Books for Africa volunteers and are running a BFA project in Zimbabwe – the Zambezi Schoolbook Project.

They had a business out here in South Africa, traveled back in forth between America and South Africa and are well-versed with Africa. They go where they can help, which brought them all the way to my area – Rorke’s Drift, South Africa.

The Mayfields flew into Durban a few weeks ago and were staying at a hotel right by the Durban port awaiting the arrival of Sophie – our beloved cargo ship that decided to take her sweet time. We expected Sophie would reach Durban around 22 October, but that didn’t happen due to engindifficulty. She stopped in Walvis Bay, Namibia, had to get fixed up, then kept chuggin’ along down to Durban.

The plan was to have all the PCVs involved in this project come to my site once the books were delivered, sort the books into the specific orders with the Mayfields. Then, the Mayfields planned to take two orders of books to the Mpumalanga province to my Peace Corps friends George and Lilly. This would have significantly helped with delivery of the books, and it was so generous of them to offer to do.

Unfortunately, the books didn’t make it here in time for that to happen; as with anything coined with the title “Peace Corps”, flexibility is the key. I canceled book sorting all together and my team of support in the Battlefields improvised for the Mayfields’ visit. They still came out to the Battlefields, had refreshments with the Peace Corps Volunteers, had lunch with Ben (CEO of David Rattray Foundation), and toured all of our schools with Jonelle (a PCV who extended for her 5th year in South Africa at DRF!) and Diana, a PCV from my cohort who lives in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The group at Rorke's Drift Hotel (photo cred: Claude Mayfield)

The Battlefields PCVs and the Mayfields at Rorke’s Drift Hotel (photo cred: Claude and Barbara Mayfield)

The Mayfields and Diana wanted to see how our libraries ran on the ground. The Battlefields PCVs — me, Monica, Will, Katie and Laura – all have functioning libraries with a similar organizational system. The system we have adopted from previous PCVs is pretty easy to figure out and implement, which is essential for rural African schools where many of the kids and educators have never used a library before. (Side note: Monica won an award from the district for the best library in the province! So amazing!) The Mayfields can use our material and ideas for their Zimbabwe project and future BFA projects; Diana can adopt it for her school once she gets the books from our project. (Big thank you to Jonelle for driving everyone around to the schools and giving a tour.)

Claude, Jonelle, Diana and I discussing the plan for once the books arrive. We will sort the books in the hall behind me at my school

Claude, Jonelle, Diana and I discussing the plan for once the books arrive. We will sort the books in the hall behind me at my school (photo cred: Claude and Barbara Mayfield)

The Mayfields are now off to Zimbabwe to meet with rotary and discuss logistics of their BFA Zimbabwe project. One of our Peace Corps South Africa supervisors is a RPCV from Zambia, so we were able to set the Mayfields up with Peace Corps Zambia to possibly assist in bringing a container of books there if Zimbabwe doesn’t work out. Ironically, the supervisor at Peace Corps Zambia has worked with their fellow BFA volunteer/friend on a BFA project in Botswana – it’s a small world, yet again.

Although things haven’t gone that smoothly (and fingers are crossed they do tomorrow), everyone involved in this project has been extremely helpful and flexible; I appreciate it so, so much! The Mayfields, PCVs and DRF still got something out of this past week’s visit, all had a great time, and it was refreshing to meet Americans who are so invested in helping educate our world.

The Mayfields’ grandchildren actually donated many of their books from their personal libraries for our project, and they also packed many of the books they collected from their Zimbabwe project from book drives from local schools and organizations in America. The Mayfields showed me pictures of their grandchildren going through their home library and holding up some of the books – the books that my grade 5 learners will be holding so soon! We plan to get some of my grade 5s connected with them. I will take pictures of my grade 5s and their grandchildren’s final book destination.

I’ve said this plenty of times during my service journey, and I’ll say it again – you’re never alone. There’s always a solid support system of people working for a common purpose worldwide, and a lot of the work PCVs do in the village would not be possible without it. We can’t forget I’m smack dab in the homeland of Ubuntu – because MY humanity is tied to YOUR humanity.

Feeling grateful! But also – is it December vacation yet? I’m pretty burnt out. Ah, soon enough…

Updates to come on the books within the next week.

Check out the Mayfields’ blog and more pictures from their visit here: http://cbmayfield.wordpress.com/

For more information on the Mayfields’ Books for Africa presence in Africa, here’s their Website for the Zambezi Schoolbook Project. Inspired? Support them!

Yours in service,

Small heartLiz

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