With around 300 students to teach, lecturer Prisca tells us how books donated by Book Aid International impact lives for those at St John of God College of Health and Science in Malawi.
Healthcare in Malawi is under constant strain, with the threat of HIV, malaria, TB and many more diseases the daily norm. Add to this the pressure of Covid-19 and you have a healthcare system stretched to its limit.
With very few doctors and poorly established community-level health services, it can be hard for patients to get the care needed. That’s why Prisca and many other lecturers believe in empowering communities at the grassroots, to create the next generation of health professionals in Malawi.
But for lecturers like Prisca, educating her students provides its own range of challenges.
I think most colleges have libraries, but the standard of the books was not up to date. 1993, 1992, they were old books.
Without up to date information, students are taught outdated content, which continues to hinder healthcare development in Malawi, and for Prisca, it doesn’t stop there.
Libraries are small, and students many.
With such few books, students often have to share between sixty of their peers, loaning for an hour or so before they need to pass it on.
At Book Aid International, we believe every student should have the right to quality information. That’s why, with your support we’ve been able to send a total of 4,708 books to date to St John of God College of Health Sciences in Malawi, allowing all students to access up-to-date information.
With more books available, students can take books out of the library and have access to quality information both at home and on campus, something which remains critical to learning during Covid-19.
Without this service, students this semester are unlikely to graduate, leading to a potential shortage of doctors and nurses in the coming years.
2020 without Book Aid International? It would have been a disaster. They would have even less information and both teachers and students would have had problems accessing information. So, the value of the books we receive is priceless. It really helps us to do our job and for the students to learn.
Books have made a huge difference to both teaching and learning in Malawi. It’s with your help that we can continue to send up to date and relevant information to schools and colleges like this one.
Supporters like you made 2019 another brilliant year.
Your support helped to send an astonishing 1,211,423 brand new books to 136 partners in 26 countries, reaching an estimated 25 million readers!
2019 brought a series of book-destroying disasters and your support helped us respond to global events.
When Cyclone Idai devastated schools in Zimbabwe and Malawi and Hurricane Dorian hit The Grand Bahamas, you helped to send brand new children’s and higher education books, enabling learners to continue their education in the face of disaster.
Since 2014, players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised an amazing £1,850,000 to support our work. Their support is changing the lives of millions of people around the world through reading.
This week we’ve been celebrating the difference that players’ support is making. Here, we’ve gathered together some of the highlights:
Opening doors to reading for even the most marginalised children
In 2014, players helped open a Children’s’ Corner in Blantyre, Malawi. Today, that library is still opening doors to a world of reading for the children who need books most. Here two street children read during the day. They are unable to attend school, but thanks to players they can still discover books and learn to read.
We thank you for making our library to be beautiful and giving us books.
– Young reader, Blantyre Children’s Corner
Reaching readers across Liberia
In 2017, players enabled us to begin supporting readers across Liberia – and here kids at the Pentecostal Global Mission School show off the books they’re reading as part of a library lesson. When you’ve never held a new book before, a school library is really something to celebrate!
The children love the books so much. They want to borrow them all the time!
– Helena D. Kemokai, Principal, Dominic K. Hena School, Liberia.
Enriching under-resourced classrooms in Ghana
Last year, we expanded our work to Ghana where we’re collaborating with AfriKids – another player supported charity. Here AfriKids staff unpack their very first shipment of books and enjoy exploring the stories that they’ll now be able to use to enrich under-resourced classrooms across northern Ghana.
The books have enabled us to set up mini libraries in 45 schools. Pupils can now borrow books to read. Before, these schools didn’t have reading books.
– Linda, Early Years Project Coordinator, AfriKids.
Enabling people to learn to read at any age
People’s Postcode Lottery players’ support helped establish a library in 60-year-old Florence’s grandson’s school in Kenya. Florence hadn’t had the chance to finish her education and so she had never learned to read. When her grandson started bringing home phonics books, she saw an opportunity. Together with her neighbours, she formed an adult literacy class – and used the books players enabled us to send to learn to read!
Now I can read prices, so I get a fair price when shopping, and I can use a mobile phone!
– Florence, 60, Kenya.
Supporting refugee children in sheltering in Uganda
1.4 million displaced people are sheltering in refugee settlements in Uganda and hundreds of thousands of them are children. Through players’ support, we’re establishing reading spaces in children’s centres and schools in these settlements – providing story books selected to help children process the trauma of what they have been through and training teachers and children’s centre staff in how to lead reading activities and introduce children to the joy of reading.
I like reading the stories in the books with my friends. I also ask for books to read from home and the teacher allows me. Now I know new things.
– Stephen, 13, South Sudanese refugee, Adjumani settlement, Uganda.
We would like to say a huge thank you to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for their ongoing support.
Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries. The majority of people are subsistence farmers and 62% live on less than $1.25 a day.¹ Girls often miss out on education and child marriage is common.
We talked to Bernadette, a lecturer in Gender Law at the University of Malawi and passionate advocate for women’s right about how books can help women and girls change their futures.
What is life like for women and girls in Malawi?
The situation in Malawi for women and girls is not easy because we have a lot of challenges, mainly cultural challenges. Cultural practices affect girl education – it is not really valued. Child marriage is still rampant in Malawi, most of the girls being married off, so that is a challenge.
Also, the way we live in our homes, the girls are doing much more than the boys so the pupil match in school is not really good.
How does a lack of education affect girls’ future prospects?
In many ways. For example, small traders are usually women rather than men. Taxes on small traders are very high. Also the customs rules are complex. The literacy levels of the women are usually low so they hardly understand the rules. So most of the time they are not using the formal borders, they are using illegal routes to bypass the borders.
The women traders should be consulted, they should have a voice in making the rules but in most cases they are side-lined and it is the elite who are being involved.
So I am advocating for the situation of women should change.
What is the role of books in addressing these challenges?
They are really important because they expose girls to what is happening outside [where they live]. So if we install a reading culture in young girls, they will see what is happening in town or outside Malawi, how important school is – it will open up their understanding. So we can do advocacy and also target them through books.
Is there a role for inspirational women’s stories?
Girls love role models. If they see all the women are married off, they’re not working, they think that’s normal life and that’s the way things should go. But if they read somewhere or the teacher comes with a book and says ‘this is a real story, this is what happened … you should read the biography of this woman,’ that can do a lot. So we need role models whether they come physically or through the books.
Now things are changing – we are advocating that people should be sending both boys and girls to school.
¹UNICEF State of the World’s Children Country Statistical Tables 2015
For many of Sister Clara’s pupils at St Martin’s Community Day Secondary School in rural Malawi, being in secondary school is a big deal. Many come from families of subsistence farmers who cannot afford secondary school fees. So to be in secondary school, their family may have sold a valuable asset such as a cart or animal or they have won a scholarship through our partner Gumbi Education Fund. Either way, education presents these children with a rare opportunity to make a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Pupils will soon be using books you have helped to send to make the very most of their education: the Gumbi Education Fund is currently building a library for the school and our brand new books will fill the shelves when it opens.
Sister Clara teaches English at St Martin’s and will be one of the teachers looking after the library. We talked to her to find out how she thinks the books will impact her pupils’ education.
How do you think these new books will affect the school?
English books assist learners to get more knowledge. English is a key subject in our country, it’s very important as it’s the language of instruction in schools. So if you have more books, especially English books, they really assist in understanding that key subject and understand other subjects better. Without English nobody could understand the other subjects.
You also took part in some librarian training – tell us about that.
The training was interesting. We did practicals – how to arrange the books, how to take care of them, how to display them, how to register them and how to help learners find the books they are looking for. We have really gained a lot and are able to assist our learners now.
How did you feel when the books for your new school library first arrived?
I was really, really, really happy. I have already used one of the books which you have sent when I was teaching spellings. There is some information which is very important for the learners. So when I was teaching how to write some of the words, I used the book.
When the library is up and running, how do you intend on using the books?
We will encourage the learners to use books in the library, for the books to be safe. But maybe in the week, they can borrow them and we can give them a specific time to bring the books back after they have used them.
What is it like for you as a teacher to have new books?
The books have information on the topics we are teaching and there are so many books. There is very good information in those books. These new books will add more knowledge to what the learners have already.
Thanks to your support over 123,000 children in under-resourced primary schools in five African countries will soon be enjoying brand new books in class as part of our Inspiring Readers school library programme!
Each participating school has received a Book Box Library packed with brand new UK donated books plus local language titles and teacher training in using books in the classroom. Schools are also connected to a local public library which has a thriving Children’s Corner where children can access more books, reading activities and the expertise of professional librarians.
In addition to Cameroon, Kenya and Malawi, Inspiring Readers is now up and running in Uganda and the programme has also just launched in Sierra Leone.
Librarians at the five hub libraries participating in Inspiring Readers Sierra Leone have just attended training. They are now leading workshops with 75 teachers from 25 schools to show them how to manage their Book Box Libraries and introduce children to the joy of reading.
Once the workshops are complete, the schools will receive their Book Box Libraries, giving children the chance to read for pleasure in school, some for the very first time. Many of them do not have books at home.
The impact of having brand new books in classrooms is already beginning to show. Our recent evaluation of the 2016 Inspiring Readers pilot in Kenya found that almost all participating schools have seen an increase in pupil attainment since their libraries opened.
Inspiring Readers has been so popular in Kenya and Malawi that the programme is being expanded in both countries to reach more schools and readers. Pupils at 25 more schools in Kenya are now enjoying brand new books and the programme will expand into 25 further schools in Malawi in October 2018.
Next, we hope to expand the programme to Zanzibar.
We would like to thank players of People’s Postcode Lottery who have funded Inspiring Readers in Kenya, Malawi and Sierra Leone and the trusts, companies and individuals who have supported the programme in Uganda and Cameroon.
In November of last year, a small village in the rural Dowa district in Malawi opened its first library and many people saw new books for the very first time. Our Head of Communications, Emma Taylor, was there and in this blog she reflects on the experience and our excitement to be part of the next step in a journey toward reading and learning which began in 2002 with one simple article in the Guardian.
In 2002, Malawi was gripped by famine. Like many villages across the country, the rural community of Gumbi in the Dowa district found itself with little food. That year, journalist John Vidal travelled to the country to report on the famine. He was inspired by the community’s determination to build a future free of hunger through education and wrote about his experiences in the Guardian.
Here in the UK, Guardian readers responded to the article in response to John Vidal’s article and the Gumbi Education Fund was born.
Today, much of Malawi remains desperately poor and food insecurity continues to be a challenge. Across the country adult literacy stands at just shy of 66% and the country ranks 170 out of 183 countries in the Human Development index. Yet, in Gumbi and the surrounding villages there is huge hope for the future. Thanks to the Gumbi Education Fund, the area has schools, teachers, university students and thanks to a partnership between our charity and the Gumbi Education Fund, school and community libraries stocked with brand new books.
Last year, I travelled with John Vidal to witness the opening of one of the libraries the Gumbi Education Fund built in the neighbouring village of Mphako and see how the brand new books we provide are helping people change their own lives for the better.
Mphako and Gumbi are located several hours from the country’s capital, Lilongwe. For most of our journey there, we bumped along unpaved roads. The vast majority of buildings in Mphako and Gumbi were built from mud bricks with thatched roofs and the electricity poles had ended miles ago at Lilongwe’s city limits.
Schools around Gumbi and Mphako are very poorly resourced and the vast majority of families can barely afford to feed their families, so purchasing books is simply not possible. As a result, most of the people in the area would only ever have held a textbook or newspaper before. On arrival in Mphako, it was clear that the prospect of the library opening was causing huge excitement.
The village elders had been gathered, traditional drummers and dancers had been summoned and dozens of children were gathered waiting curiously to see what might be in the new library for them. Before the library’s ribbon was cut, we were treated to traditional dances and singing with a real carnival atmosphere!
While I have visited several locations where we provide books, this was my first time seeing a community experience books for the first time – and their response was truly inspiring. Despite a burst of rain, children poured into the library as soon as it was opened, much to the alarm of the volunteer librarians who struggled to keep order and stop them walking mud into the freshly cleaned space!
But it simply wasn’t possible to contain the children’s excitement and in the end we all simply let them pull all the books out. They explored them together, scrambling over one another for the chance read about the adventures of Peppa Pig, look at pictures of helicopters and read aloud about astronauts and tractors. The wonder on their faces as they saw children’s books for the first time was incredible and was an experience that I will not soon forget.
Mphako with its dances, packed library and singing is a powerful reminder that books are a cause for celebration. Many of us live in a book rich world, accustomed to instant access to the vital information, beautiful illustration and interesting photography which ignited such excitement in Mphako. Their enthusiasm reminds us not to take that access for granted – and that the power of books to open doors, enrich lives and help ambitious communities build a more prosperous truly is something to celebrate.
We would like to congratulate the Gumbi Fund on their fantastic success building libraries, supporting education and changing lives in Malawi. We hope to support the fund’s work creating more libraries in the future – and even join in a few more celebrations!
To find out more about how books are changing lives in Malawi, join us at Hay Festival on 26th May where we’ll be appearing alongside John Vidal, Gumbi Fund Administrator in Malawi, Patrick Kamzitu and author Bettany Hughes.
Head of Communications, Emma Taylor will be joined by the former Guardian Environment Editor John Vidal, historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes and Patrick Kamzitu from Malawi. Together they will chart the inspiring true story of how a small rural village in Malawi has, over the past 16 years, set itself on a path out of vulnerability to drought and famine using books and education.
The village of Gumbi first came to the attention of the British public when John Vidal wrote a piece about the Malawian famine of 2002. He was so moved by the plight of this village that literally had nothing that he ended up visiting four times in the space of a year. As the months went by, help arrived, the rains came, the village rallied – and villagers decided to pursue a new way of taking on the future: education.
“The Gumbi Education Fund was set up as a result of readers’ response to the article,” says John Vidal. “And today, thanks to Gumbi Education Fund and Book Aid International supporters and others, Gumbi has a small library, three villagers are qualified teachers and three more are going to university. Three other villages have also had books from Book Aid International and the future is now immensely brighter. I have seen the difference that books and education make to a community. They can make the difference between a life of toil and penury, and the chance of a better life. I can’t wait to share with the audience at Hay the incredible difference people like them are making by supporting communities like Gumbi.”
“Book Aid International is so proud to partner with The Gumbi Fund in filling their libraries and local schools with brand new books. I have visited Gumbi and was there when the books for their libraries arrived. The celebration was incredible! I hope you’ll join us at Hay to find out more” says Emma Taylor, Head of Communications at Book Aid International.
Meet Alfred, a small publisher and President of the Book Publishers’ Association of Malawi. Here, he shares some insights on reading and the book industry in Malawi.
My passion for writing ignited when I was in college. I used the college library but when I finished college it was very difficult to get books – until Book Aid International came. Then I could go to the local library.
But we have a problem in Malawi. People want to read but they cannot afford to get books.
Because of this we don’t have a real book market whereby a commercial publisher could say ‘I can make money and I can survive.’ Because of this it hard to get general books published right here in the country. Publishers rely on textbook publishing [as the government funds their purchase for use in schools].
Publishers who have donors behind them can publish other types of books, but almost all of the publishers – over two thirds – are in this industry only for textbooks. We rely on general books to come from other areas – and from Book Aid International.
Having seen the books that Book Aid International provides, I do not think they are in conflict with what the local publishers are doing. Even where we receive some of Shakespeare’s works or other writers [excerpts of which might appear in textbooks], the need for textbooks will still be there.
But there is a hunger, especially in the rural areas, for materials to read. If you go to the rural areas, most of the time you are greeted ‘have you brought any newspapers for us to read?’ They don’t have any literature in that area – they cannot afford it! The disposable income is not available – but there is that hunger. It is not fair to judge reading culture by saying ‘people are not buying books’ – it is actually that they cannot afford them.
The potential is right here – there is that hunger to read a book. We just need the economy to improve.
At Book Aid International we are committed to supporting local publishing as well as providing new books and that’s why all of our programmes include grants for the purchase of locally published titles. Find out more using the links below.
23-year-old Simon in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, has to live away from home in order to attend school and his school fees are paid by family friends. Even though he is in school, life and learning are far from straightforward but Simon is determined to change his life for the better. He told us how he’s using books and education to make that happen.
My name is Simon and I am 23. I am Form Four Head Boy at Barracks Open School.
Not everyone in Malawi gets to go to secondary school – or even primary. The distances some students come from make it difficult to proceed in our education. Other people cannot afford an education.
Not everyone in Malawi gets to go to secondary school.
My father and my mother are no longer married because my father left my mother. We [Simon and his siblings] stayed with my mother in the rural village but for school I stay with my mother’s family. My mother cannot pay my school fees, so I depend on some friends of the family who are working in the city.
Sometimes I have to come to school without eating anything. I don’t have the support of a mother and father to help me in my life, so sometimes I go home and there is nothing to eat at night.
But my mother loves me so much! She thinks about me even though her life is very hard. Sometimes she sends me some money so I can buy food. But my father never thinks about us.
That is why I am older than the other pupils.
Even in school, a lack of resources can make learning hard.
There are some books in our classes but because of overcrowding in classes, it is difficult to have enough books. So pupils go the library to study in the books. But because of overcrowding, those books are scattered – so some students will not get the books and find out what they have been asked to study. This is our issue.
Also in addition to that, in our school library, there is a shortage of some books. Some other students maybe can go buy the books, but for us it is not affordable.
The books that I like most to read are the sciences. I don’t have my own books to read. I am just depending on the library. When I go home, I go directly to the library to read those books. Sometimes you don’t find the books because some pupils have taken it, but that’s why we need more books!
I want to make more of my future. The books will help – especially for the mathematics. I like to solve the mathematics, that is why I will be an accountant. If I get a good job after the school, I will be able to help my mother.
Even though life is tough for Simon, in comparison to many young people in Malawi, he is incredibly fortunate as he has the opportunity to attend secondary school. For many, the cost of secondary school fees are too high for their families to afford. Only 28% of young people attend secondary school and only 22% complete it. In the poorest of areas, as little as 11% attend.
The books you help to send go to schools like Simon’s so pupils can access a broader range of books to support their educations. The books also fill the shelves of public and community libraries in Malawi so that students can access them outside of school and those not able to attend can continue to learn or develop new skills.