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Posts tagged ‘peace corps library development’

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

Why you should fund my school’s library — Project Amandla

It’s that time during my service where I have to fundraise! As I’ve written plenty of times on my blog before, my main secondary project has been getting my school’s library functioning. I took on the challenge to help coordinate a Peace Corps library project – Project Amandla (power in isiZulu) — with an American nonprofit called Books for Africa. Books for Africa will send a container of 22,000 English books to anywhere in Africa if the recipient(s) fundraises the shipment costs. My school will receive 733 books through this project to enhance our library. Additionally, the secondary school in my village will receive 733 books. I plan to allocate a few months next year to developing the secondary school’s library.

“Amandla” means “power” in isiZulu – because reading is an infinite and undeniable power any child can harness if he or she has access to grade-level appropriate books. Through Project Amandla, my learners and approximately 16,000 other South African students will be given the power of literacy.

I could write anecdote upon anecdotes of heartfelt service stories about why my kids are deserving of these books. Here’s a few:

  • The day I opened my library, my grade 5 girls were skipping around the library (and doing some Zulu traditional dances) because they were so excited that it was finally opening.
  • Dumsani, a grade 6 learner with “special needs”, checks out a book from the library nearly every day.
  • Nolwazi, one of the brightest grade 7 learners, read the only series of chapter books we have within two weeks.
  • That one kid Sebetsang, who I’ve written about before, has been reading Roald Dahl stories that are giving him inspiration for more of his stories.
  • Spheamandla, the learner I detailed in my project’s description, is in the library during ANY free time at school – reading anything and everything he can get his hands on.
  • My grade 5s will have read every book my school owns that is at their level by the end of this school year.
  • My grade 7s need a library at their secondary school to continue reading and exploring a world outside of the very routine days (i.e. copy notes, answer questions, repeat)
  • Two libraries in my community will help these kids take ownership of their education by enjoying reading and thus developing their English vocabulary and comprehension skills.
Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

To donate funds, view our project link on the Peace Corps Website here:$20 will send 15 books to my learners!

For more information about the nonprofit Books for Africa please visit:

For more information about my secondary library project please visit: Liz’s Peace Corps Secondary Projects

For more information about Project Amandla, please read  the Peace Corps Partnership Program Grant I wrote that explains the background of my community, project implementation, sustainability of the project, desired outcome of the project, etc.

Thank you for helping me make a difference in the lives of these kids who I love dearly and believe deserve a shot at a decent education. We hope to have these books in South Africa by October!

Nolwazi, Sebetsang and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Nolwazi (center), Sebetsang (far right) and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Small heartYours in Service,