Thursday, May 28, 2009

Operation Library

The school library was in pretty rough shape last term. What very few story books we had were all over the place, tattered and torn, and nearly lost among all sorts of random books and documents. Among these were an eight year old document from the Kenyan Electoral Commission, a Nokia phone manual, and a large political and legalese document on the Middle East Peace Process under the Clinton administration. There was a pile of old posters and teaching aids in the corner, random art supplies, cards, and bits games on every shelf, and torn soccer balls in a bucket in the corner.

There was a system for checking out books, and the teacher in charge of the library is a really committed guy – offering to help and go the extra mile for the kids all the time. Some of the kids used the library, but the fact is, it was so hard to find things that it made it nearly impossible. The kids have one English text book between four or five if they’re lucky in most classes – in my class we have one book for the whole class – so even in English class they rarely get practice reading. And yet, on their exams, they have two passages to read and answer questions about. I continually was tearing my hair out asking, "How can these kids learn to read if they don’t have any books???" Arrrrgh!Last term I started going to each class once a week to just read to them – a story a week – and they love it! It’s a good start (and a fun part of my week!) but they need to read for themselves! If they actually had BOOKS, and if they’re organized and neatly displayed, they might actually want to read! And when they read, their English will improve, and their writing will improve, and they can learn all kinds of new things, and their world will be expanded by leaps and bounds! And of course, if they read and understand story books for themselves, the hope is that they’ll read and understand the Word of God for themselves, too!

Ah! If only they had some BOOKS!!!

When I was raising support to come to Kenya, people were SO amazingly generous and I ended up with a surplus in my account that I could use for special projects and the like while I’m here. I decided to use some of that surplus to help with the library.

While I was in Nairobi in April over the school holiday, I went to as many different book shops as I could to try to find some books. It’s actually really hard to get good picture books for kids here in Kenya – reading for pleasure is often a foreign concept here, so the market for kids books is not great, but I was able to find a decent assortment to start with. (Ah, to have Scholastic deliver to Kenya!!!)

BUT, I really didn’t want to spend all this money (money people have donated in support of what I’m doing here, especially!) to buy books and throw them into the library as it was. It needed to be cleaned, organized, and the kids needed to be taught how to take care of the books and the space they had…

Thus began I think the biggest cleaning job I have ever undertaken. Thank goodness for eager helpers! We sorted books, pulled and repaired torn books, sorted posters and teaching aids and rearranged furniture. We organized art supplies, arranged sporting equipment, untangled skipping ropes, made posters, and threw away a lot, a lot, a lot of junk and old paper. We found teacher’s long lost notebooks of notes, sorted puzzle pieces into different puzzles and bagged them, labeled shelves, and put up photos. And then we swept. And swept and swept and swept and swept and swept. I’ve never seen so much dust in my life! The wind blows pretty much constantly, the windows have no glass, and the library has no door. The kids sweep the classrooms daily, but the library doesn’t get swept. Korr being a desert and all, that makes for a lot of dirt!

A lot of the repairing, sorting of books into vague reading levels (easy, medium, hard), and poster making happened over the break, but a lot of the cleaning I was able to do in the first week and a half or so of this term when I had spares. Many kids offered to help, which I gladly took them up on when I could. As they passed by the window and saw the library slowly getting cleaner and cleaner, their comments were so sweet and a definite encouragement:

– Woooy, madam, you are working hard today!
– Madam, now it really looks like a library!
– Madam, you are truly doing a good work!
– Madam, may God bless the work of your hands! (awww!)

– Woooooy, madam, you must really love us!

Bight and shiny new, it was ready to be opened, but I decided to keep the library closed until I could go around to each class and take them in to show them how things were put away and labeled, how to check books out, and how to keep the library neat. “If you can keep it aaaabsolutely PERFET like this until next Monday,” I told them, “THEN I can bring all the new books!” I had told them all that I had new books right at the beginning of the term, so almost daily somebody asks me “Madam, where are the new books? Can we see them???” I tell them, “Yes! But first I have to see that you can take care of what we already have. I don’t want to bring in new books and have them phoot! thrown all over the floor!”

I tell you, these kids can’t WAIT for these new books, and they’re doing a great job keeping the library clean. But the thing that makes me SO excited is that they’re ALL READING! Every break, every lunch, during morning preps, that library is FULL of kids! I think the other teachers might be a little annoyed with me, too, cause there are SO many kids coming to ask for initials in the check out book that they’re feeling more than a little overwhelmed! And I haven’t even brought the new books in!

There is still a loooong way to go with stocking this library, and I’m hoping that I can maybe strike some deal with shipping or SOMETHING to try to get more books to the school once I get back to Canada. Many things you can just buy in Kenya, but books are difficult. I don’t know… I’m thinking book drives, Scholastic coupons, whatever I can do to get these kids a decent library and get them READING!
AH! I’m SO excited!


nachtwache said...

That is so awesome!! You deserve jewels in your crown! Wow.

anne said...

As the daughter of a librarian, I can totally relate to your joy of this! It would have been a blast to be there with you sorting and getting it all ready to go!

Great job!

Tiffany Norris said...

As a librarian, I think this is my favorite post so far! This is wonderful, and I'm so proud of these kids I don't even know! Hooray!

Rachelle said...

that is SO COOL Hillary! Love to hear that kids are excited about reading!

Jean said...

It totally seems like Scholastic would jump on board with this! You've done a great job and seeing those kids loving those books is beyond words.

Raymond Rack Hyuck said...

I was introduced to this posting by Nature Park. Learned a lot about Trimm and their liabrary.
Thanks for the post.