Carolyn Sauer teaches first grade at Beaubien Elementary in Chicago. She led their efforts for three book drives which resulted in libraries in Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. She applied for and received a grant to take a trip to Swaziland, which she did this July. Here is her update!
Saw'bona! Hello! I just returned from an amazing adventure to Swaziland...
After helping the African Library Project create a school library outside of Bunya, Swaziland, I was lucky enough to receive a grant to visit the school. Unfortunately, when I arrived a bridge was down and I could not travel to the specific school we helped. This may have been a blessing in disguise, seeing I had the opportunity to visit three other schools instead.
Zonbodze, St. Joseph and Hillside Primary school were gracious enough to let me into their schools and let me visit their ALP-funded libraries for a day. Imagine visiting a classroom of 56 students -- many of whom walked an hour and a half to get to school that day -- 1 teacher, and 0 storybooks. Not one student understood the concept of rhyming, and only a few were brave enough to make literary predictions and inferences. Visiting the Swazi schools allowed me to truly see the obstacles the rural students face every day.
I brought some of my favorite read aloud books to share with grades 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. I was in awe at how mesmerized each student was with hearing stories. Caps For Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina, was an ultimate favorite! One of the teachers was disappointed that I gave the book away to a student because she wanted to add it to their library! "You are a good reader," a St. Joseph teacher commented, "We are going to try and read just like you from now on." It was humbling to hear how a simple read aloud could help spark a joy for reading. As a teacher, I was always told that storytelling encourages the hunger to read, but I had never seen such an immediate effect.
It was not only the lack of books that kept children from reading, but also a lack of encouragement. Swaziland schools are only recently starting to see the importance of reading, and to realize that students need to start at a very young age in order to catch the reading bug! When I first arrived, one local told me, "If you want to keep something from an African, put it in a book." Seeing first hand how the African Library Project and its volunteers are helping change this mindset was an emotional, life-changing experience. I am eternally grateful for what I learned from these Swazi schools.
Siyabonga, Swaziland! Thank you!
-- Carolyn Sauer