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Posts from the ‘Liz’s Secondary Peace Corps Project’ Category

A month in photos: May 2014

  • Library renovating and the FINAL PRODUCT! We’re DONE!
  • Library opening ceremony at my school to thank all the donors that made our library possible (the David Rattray Foundation for the furniture and some books, Books for Africa for a majority of the books, and the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in Nigeria for even more of the books!) Department of Education KZN officials attended, whom I partnered with on our second BFA container here in South Africa that was funded through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. About ten Peace Corps Volunteers that weren’t part of our first Books for Africa project received books from this project, and then 32 other schools  identified by the Dept. received books. My principal was beaming with pride and joy, and I will never forget that day! In total, 71 rural libraries have been established since the start of all our Books for Africa efforts! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO WORKED WITH ME AND MADE THIS POSSIBLE!
  • Monica’s farewell function – one of my closest Volunteers geographically and friend in my cohort. She is traveling back to America soon, but I know I will see her! Her school put on an on-time, meaningful and beautiful ceremony for her. It was incredible to see how much her community loved her and the impact she has had.
  • Miss Molefe, my counterpart, graduated from University of South Africa with a bachelor’s degree in education in Durban. We traveled there with her family and friends from her house at 4:30 am in the morning to make the 10 a.m. ceremony. I am so happy I got to attend and see her graduate because she is one of my best friends here. I’m happy when others I care about are happy!
  • George’s 30th birthday/farewell function. In the course of a weekend, I took six forms of transportation to get to my best friend George’s site in Mpumalanga to celebrate his 30th birthday, attend his farewell, and help him finish his library before he moves to KwaZulu-Natal for his third year. Tiring, but worth it.

Month 16: expect the unexpected and never doubt

I always prepare for the unexpected. I always have a back-up plan. I enter a project blindly, usually with few expectations. I try to never doubt, but it’s not always possible.

In the Peace Corps bubble, I’m not pessimistic; I’m just being realistic. Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa – at least from discussions I’ve had with my friends – lower their expectations after sometime in-country. We are all masters of improvising in unstructured situations.

I’ll admit that when I first say or think about, “expect the unexpected” has a negative overtone.  This month of my service showed me that there is absolutely no reason that I should associate this phrase with apathy. It should and can be associated with gratitude, idealism, support, positive relationships and teamwork.

Organizing the Books for Africa project hasn’t been too fun, but I always kept the end result in mind: thousands of kids would have access to quality library books. I expected once the books arrived to South Africa it would be a nightmare – maybe I’d pull my hair out so much I’d have to shave my head again. I was nervous that the books would be stored at my school until God knows when because I couldn’t arrange transport for them to be delivered to other locations. I thought I’d run out of money in my budget to get these books to where they need to go. I expected that the PCVs who are part of this project and leaving the country in January would not get their books beforehand.

After writing all of my fears down, it does sound negative. I expected the worst with a cloud of doubt hanging over my head, but I got what I did not expect: the best.

Pretty much everything associated with the project has gone as I originally planned. Every PCV leaving the country in a few months got their shipment of books. I am still working on getting a few more boxes to some Volunteers in my cohort in a different province, but will have my Peace Corps program director assist me next time she is here in a few months. We aren’t leaving the country anytime soon, so I had a list of priority deliveries to do and knocked ‘em out.

I got in contact with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education a few months before our container arrived in South Africa to arrange transport to other areas of KZN. After they visited my school, they dispatched a vehicle within two business days to pick up the books and truck them six hours away to Manguzi. The drivers were supposed to pick up the books on Wednesday morning, but promptly showed up at my school early on Tuesday night. No worries at all; I’ll take it! My principal phoned me on the night and her and Simpiwe, our security guard, met me at the gate as soon as the DOE arrived to pack the boxes. My principal left her house mid-dinner preparation to lend a helping hand. Simpiwe has carried probably 400/560 of the boxes for me back and forth between trucks and storage rooms.

My school is my backbone. All the grade 7 boy learners have lugged so many boxes for me without being asked; they deserve a bunch of sweets and soda! My staff cooked delicious chicken every day for Katrina, Michael and I during our box sorting week. My teachers are eager to help me get the library books on the shelves. My principal has been there every step of the way – answering every phone call that relates to me, directing every school that came by to pick up books, organizing learners to help me and the list goes on. I did expect my school to be behind me the whole way, but all they’ve done for me and this project reminds me why every minute of my time is worth it here.

All the book orders – except three and a few lagging boxes I need to get to supplement the orders I shipped off to Mpumalanga — left my school and made it to their final destinations within a week and a half. A week and a half! I was expecting a month. Two months. Three months. Maybe forever. Nope – a week and a half!

I had to ship about 60 boxes of books to other areas of South Africa and a distant province (Limpopo). I envisioned this costing me about 18,000 Rand (1,800 USD) in my budget of 24,000 Rand allocated from the David Rattray Foundation for delivery. Nope – it cost 8,631.54 Rand (863 USD). That’s it! I know it’s still a lot of money, but these boxes were heavy and headed to far off lands. I still have to get two more deliveries to Limpopo, but they are going to schools that have recently been replaced with a SA 28 (the education class following mine that will close service in September 2015). Thus, I was also going to try to have Peace Corps eventually assist with these boxes. Now that I know I can get the boxes there under budget through a shipping service, they may be leaving my school soon now too!

Books for Africa recently reached out to Peace Corps South Africa to receive another container of primary books for free through a grant from a Nigerian foundation. We have to uphold some rules – like throw a book recipient ceremony – to receive the container, but it’s all doable. The KZN Department of Education officials I have been working with are very interested and enthusiastic about receiving this container. If we go forward with this project, more PCV communities in KZN will benefit and more schools too! I’m already overworked, but this is too good of a deal to let go. The books, books, books would kick back up again in January after vacation. More to come, as per usual!

As of this month, 29 (almost) communities have 700+ quality library books to educate rural children for years to come.

And it’s never been truer –

NEVER DOUBT that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

My group of thoughtful, committed citizens range from Peace Corps Volunteers, to my South African counterparts, community members, learners, the Department of Education, the Books for Africa staff, Americans who donated to our help cover our shipping costs, and every family and library in America that donated the books that are now in the hands of my little kiddos.

Always expect the unexpected, and NEVER DOUBT (NEVER DOUBT – NEVER EVA DOUBTTTT!) A month I’ll never forget.

Yours in service,

Small heartLiz

Books, books, books: sorting!

I originally planned to invite any PCV involved in our library book project to my site to sort books with the Mayfields. In the past, PCVs have taken all the books out of the boxes onto tarps and then sorted them into different boxes depending on what schools want. This time, we did it a little differently – and a lot quicker! All the books we ordered were “leisure reading” books, which means they are random assortments of children’s and chapter books. Each box was already labeled based on grade level, so instead of opening all the boxes, we just assigned an average amount of boxes per PCV based on grade level the PCV requested. We only opened really heavy boxes to double check that a PCV didn’t get a box of textbooks in lieu of library books. All boxes of books I’ve opened for my library are incredible; I can’t imagine the other boxes aren’t similar to mine since I pulled them randomly!

My partner-in-crime Paige, who has been extremely helpful with this project, crunched numbers for me and assigned each PCV a certain number of boxes. (All of these numbers ended working up perfectly. And as a mathematically challenged person, I am forever grateful!)

We originally had to store all the boxes into a spare classroom at my school because we couldn’t use the large community hall at my school until after the Grade R graduation. The hall opened up last week; two of my good PCV friends – Katrina and Michael —  came down from Manguzi to help sort the boxes and for a nice visit with me and my host family.

It took all week, but Katrina, Michael, and the older boy learners moved all the boxes into the community hall and placed each order under someone or a school’s name. Now the boxes are either ready to be picked up, or shipped off to another area of South Africa. Michael’s counterpart picked up Katrina and Michael’s boxes on Friday, and they have arrived safely in Manguzi after a comical road trip.

My Peace Corps program director, Lydia, visited me last Wednesday for her routine check-in. She took back a bakkie full of boxes to the Peace Corps office in Pretoria to be delivered to the two PCVs that lucked out on the Mayfield’s generous delivery offer. I keep expressing my gratitude with this project, but  here’s some more: I’m really grateful to have such a fantastic program director, who will always go out of her way to help us and make our loads lighter! (Literally and figuratively.)

On Thursday, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education visited my school to see our recent donation, expressing much enthusiasm and support. Many schools in KZN have room for libraries and books, but getting a hold of children’s books is rather challenging in South Africa. This never really clicked in my mind until I was rummaging through my donation boxes and found countless books I had when I was little: Disney, Golden Series Books, Spot the Dog (MY FAVORITE), Sesame Street, Clifford, Maisy, etc. American pop culture is so strong that children’s books and toys are readily available and easy to adapt into learning materials. Many other places in the world don’t have such popular children icons. Anyways, the DOE will arrange for transport in the next two weeks to bring the books from my school to Northern KwaZulu-Natal PCV schools in Manguzi.  Slowly, but surely, these boxes will leave my community hall.

Now I’m engulfed in the mundane process of numbering all our new books and putting them into my school’s accession register. I hope to have everything done by January and will work during vacation to ensure this happens. I enjoy being a busy bee!

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Books, books, books: unloading!

Five hundred and sixty boxes arrived at my school today! Thanks to the help of the Battlefields PCVs, David Rattray Foundation employees, my school and the secondary school we unloaded all the boxes in a timely manner. They’re now stored in a spare classroom at my school. Next step in the process: sort the books into specific orders. But what matters the most right now is all the books made it safe and sound from America to South Africa! Time to rest.

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:

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

Books for Africa books are packed and shipped!

Thanks to everyone who supported Project Amandla – our partnership with the nonprofit Books for Africa to ship 22,000 library books out to 30 rural schools. I hope you got the thank you card I sent you by now!

Two long-time BFA volunteers, Claude and Barbara Mayfield of the Zambezi Schoolbook Project  saw our project online and got in contact with me months ago to help in whatever way they could. They volunteered to pack our books from the BFA warehouse in Atlanta. They’ve been invovled in BFA shipments before to the Southern Africa region and have ties to South Africa. They’ve recently booked a ticket out to Durban, South Africa to come to Rorke’s Drift to help us sort and deliver the books to a few Peace Corps sites in the Mpumalanga province.  All for the love of books and volunteerism! It’s an inspiring story of people just wanting to make a difference in our world. Nothing more, nothing less. Incredible, right? I’ll personally meet them for the first time at the end of October — the estimated arrival time of our books at my primary school! Cannot wait!

Project Amandla - 3BFA Volunteers Pack for Project AmandlaProject Amandla - 2BFA Volunteers Pack for Project Amandla

Project Amandla - 1

These books are en route as you read this! Kids WILL read!

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

There’s no “fun” in fundraising, but I’m a believer

After the Peace Corps approved Project Amandla’s grant – our Books for Africa project to ship 22,000 books to South African schools – I figured fundraising would be smooth rollin’. A huge group of PCVs teaming up and fundraising $5,000 to start or enhance libraries in rural communities that otherwise won’t have access to library books – it sounds impactful and necessary. How hard can it be if you ask for small sums of money from our fellow citizens of America?

OH YO, HOLD THAT THOUGHT. That was naïve Little Liz speaking.


Still got a little more to go!

Still got a little more to go!

I calculated that if I asked 20 friends for $20 each, that would be $400. A project like this this definitely attracts a large Facebook audience, but then I think people forget to actually make a donation later. I’ve sent e-mails again to my friends again and got more responses this time around. We’re still a little less than $2,000 short. So, my dear friends from the east coast to the west coast: The cost of your Starbucks latte or Friday night beer, $5, even makes a difference and will send four books out here! ANYTHING helps! Be a global citizen and good karma will come your way. I promise you, I owe you a thank you card from my kids now and some traditional Zulu beads when I get back to the States in a year. I will also buy you a drink if we’re living in the same city — hold me to it! I hate having to ask people for things, but at least this is for a good cause and WILL make a difference for years to come. (Did I convince you to donate after annoying you for the 100th time? If so, here ya go: )

This project is becoming time sensitive because fundraising is not going as quick as I nor the Peace Corps presumed. As one of the project leaders, I have spent so, so, so much time looking into/applying to different sources of funding, coordinating the whole group of people and communicating with potential donors. On the other hand, things in South Africa are going well. My school kicked butt on raising R2,000 (200 USD) in one school term and schools are slowly getting in the money they fundraised to pay for half of the shipment costs of the books. Other South Africans or those with ties to this country have expressed interest in funding the project.

I applied to the Dundee Rotary Club for funding a few months ago; Dundee is the neighboring town to Nquthu and has an active rotary club. I chatted with on the phone with the president to introduce the project. A week later, I stumbled upon a braii with the Battlefields PCVs in the German community about 30 minutes from Will’s Peace Corps site. I met an American high school exchange student, Taylor, who was going to school for her junior year in Dundee. Taylor was an exchange student through the Rotary Club International and knew the Dundee Rotary Club members quite well. The braii was a fundraiser for the church and actually hosted by the Dundee Rotary President, his wife and other Rotarians. Taylor personally introduced me to them, and by sheer luck they were able to put a face to a name and a project. On Friday, a Rotarian who knows my school will pay a visit to talk to me about the project and see my library. On August 20th, Paige and I are heading to Dundee for the night to make a presentation for all the Rotarians at their bi-monthly meeting to decide if or not they will help fund our project. Fingers are crossed!

Out of the blue, I also got an e-mail from a couple based in Atlanta that lived in South Africa for some years and has business ties here. They are Books for Africa partners and volunteer to help pack containers of books in Atlanta before they’re shipped to Africa. They have also traveled around Southern Africa to personally deliver books to rural schools and took their grandchildren along with the hope of instilling a sense of philanthropy in them to continue their legacy (HOW AWESOME, RIGHT?). They’re currently working on a project in Zimbabwe, but are having a hard time coordinating it because Peace Corps Volunteers do not have a presence in Zimbabwe. They are interested in helping out with our project – whether that is packing the books personally for us in Atlanta and making sure our order form is correct or coming to South Africa and actually delivering some of the books. They also are putting me in contact with a personal colleague in a rotary club based in Durban for potential funding. I do hope they become involved in our project and I get to meet them to hear more about their lives. Whatever more they’ve done, I know it’s inspiring and I’d be interested in doing later in life.

All in all, there are some pitfalls and some blessings with this project. Really, funding huge projects like this is all about networking and luck. It seems as though I’ve got a good network of global citizens so far. I just have to be optimistic that we’ll be done with fundraising in mid-September at the latest and get these books in our schools by November. Help me make that happen, be a part of this inspiring network of people and and keep my hopeful spirit up!

Thank you to anyone who has donated so far. Please let me know if you have so I can get my little learner thank you troops on their feet.

Small heartYours in service,