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Posts tagged ‘peace corps and books for africa’

Month 18: suck it up kid, it’s needed

[Insert post about being on vacation for ten days in America.
Oops! I mean Little America. No. That’s not right. Oh!  The touristy part of Cape Town sounds more like it.]

Vacations don’t really relate to my service and thus, I don’t see the point in writing about them. But hey! School has started up again. I’m ready for my last six-seven months of service!

What do those months entail, you wonder?


That. Cataloguing, categorizing and shelving all the books we recently received. I’ve catalogued 1,000 books or so now, and I’m only half way done. I can power through one box (about 100) books a day. Sitting in the same position.  At the same table. Listening to the same music. Like a robot.

Yes, it drives me crazy. I’m not the type of person to have a desk job. (Unfortunately, my co-workers can’t help me with this process because it involves Microsoft Excel; many still don’t know how to use a computer.)

But in the Peace Corps,  sometimes you just have to do things you don’t enjoy because your community needs it. My school needs a functional library, so I gotta suck it up!


Boxes that are done


Boxes to go

Anyone want to take a wild guess how long this will take me?  I’m hoping to have them all numbered and typed into Excel by the end of January. (Winner gets Shania Twain’s autobiography from the 90s I found in a box!)

At the end of the day, we PCVs understand why we are needed. We are flexible and open to such projects because we may have the time, resources and skills to do so and help our communities take a step forward.  We forget about the mundane process and remember the end result. This project is quite a big leap forward for my community. And after all, that’s why I’m here, even if it can be boring sometimes.

I’ll keep chugging along until these books are done. After that, guess what? We’ll be getting another container of books for more Peace Corps schools that didn’t benefit from our first container. No joke.  This is possible through a partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, Books for Africa and Peace Corps South Africa and a generous grant from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in Nigeria. I’m taking the back seat on this and just gave the DOE a list of Peace Corps schools to deliver to in due time.

The book craziness will dwindle soon; I know I have to plan more activities that are on-the-spot, hit the heart rewarding with my favourite colleagues and learners.

I plan on doing after-school youth development activities with my grade six girls, an arts and crafts club with my counterpart, teaching my principal computer skills, helping make English assignments for grade 4 and 5 and any other fun activity I can whip up. I’m not teaching a class this school year and will be focusing on secondary projects. (Hallelujah!) Sky’s the limit for project ideas!  If you have any for me, send ’em my way.

On the Peace Corps timeline, seven months is nothing. (Only two school terms until my close of service conference.) Wait, what? TIME! Hai bo! Uyaphi?! Stop it! Where are you going?

Back to the grind refreshed and motivated.

Yours in service,

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,