Remembering our Patron – books as seeds for change
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was our Patron for 55 years. He was a great reader who believed in the power of books, so this week we are remembering him by sharing stories of people who used books to change their lives.
Below, hear the story of how Jackson, the Director of Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library, and some of the women in the Gwanda region of Zimbabwe, have used books to help develop their ‘nutritional garden’ and support their families.
We get a lot of assistance from reading books that help us to manage the garden.
Jackson: Our work at Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library includes supporting schools in rural areas by donating books from Book Aid International. We discovered that communities around these schools were not gainfully employed. The majority of people there has very little to do in terms of generating their own income. The whole area is almost 100% unemployed and people live on subsistence farming.
Tofiro: Life was very difficult. If your child or grandchild came from school and said “I don’t have a pen or pencil to write with”, we didn’t have any cent, any penny with which to help the child. Even if you felt sick, you had no money to use to go and buy tablets. Or simpler still, you couldn’t even have money to buy sugar so that you have tea.
Life was very difficult, even at our homes. Our husbands were not employed and we were looking at each other to say “who will solve the problem?”
Jackson: So we went into deep discussions with villages – what would they possibly do on their own that we could support. We invited them to form groups.
Tofiro: As women in the village, we were realising the difficulties of getting fresh vegetables, so we came together with a common challenge of getting fresh vegetables. We agreed to ask for this piece of land to start a garden so that we have got a supply of fresh vegetables.
Jackson: The initial stage of forming the group was to suggest they engage in reading.
They discuss two books at a time – one is about growing crops and the other is about a topic such as health or how to get a birth certificate.
Jackson: At the beginning of the year, the women will come up with a plan of what they will discuss each month. At the moment they are reading about HIV and AIDS. They have also done a lot of reading around rights – rights to education, rights to health, to water, to inheritance. It gives them more security. All these are topics they can now raise on their own and defend themselves. Whatever topic they discuss, they will have a supporting book to use as their foundation.
Jackson: They will also use books to look at what to plant. At the moment they are looking at planting potatoes. So using a book, they will discuss why grow potatoes, do they have enough water, the soil you need for potatoes. And once they agree they will plant potatoes, they then agree when is the best time to plant them.
Tofiro: We get a lot of assistance from reading books that help us to manage the garden. We take the books from the school library. When we come to the garden, having read about a particular disease and find our crops showing the symptoms of what we have read, we quickly come up with the solution.
We would have serious problems if we had no books. It would mean we would have to depend on someone to tell us what to do all the time.
Jackson: They have got schools and business people coming here to order vegetables and it’s generating income.
Tofiro: We are now able to sell what we are growing here and we have got money with which we pay school fees, we are able to run our households with the income we are getting here. Now we have a friendly home where we sit together with our husbands and provide for each other.
In the future, we hope to leave this project to our grandchildren.
We are working hard to make sure that we create an impression with our grandchildren so that they take over this garden when we are old.