Books and reading are my biggest passions and I believe that my early introduction to books and libraries helped me get to where I am now…which is not too far really, but if you know where I came from you would appreciate my journey. Growing up, I was lucky to have the three things that I wish for every child to have: a patient and engaging teacher, access to books, and a family who allows a child the space to read as much as possible. So I couldn’t have been happier when my passion and work collided as TFFT’s Teacher Training Program started its literacy initiative in 2012.
TFFT’s literacy initiative started with a training on teaching early literacy, and saw expansion in its reach to include government teachers. Our engagement with government school teachers in literacy education training brought to attention the serious need for books in Tanzanian schools. This led TFFT to start a drive asking supporters for storybooks and other reading materials for primary schools.
Many of you responded to the call—either through collecting books in your schools or communities, sending money to purchase bookshelves for the literacy rooms, sending storybooks in Kiswahili (bought from bookshops in the US!), sending teacher guides on how to teach reading, or serving as our “book mules” on your trip to Tanzania.
One of the supporters who responded, WaterBridge Outreach (WBO), donated 4,000 English level readers to our literacy initiative in 2014. These books were placed in four Teacher Resource Centers (TRCs) in Meru District where we work; these four TRCs are open to teachers and pupils from the 111 government primary schools within the wards that these TRCs service. They allow teachers and students to borrow and use these resourceful books.
In the same year, WBO’s Dr. Peter Coughlan and novelist Gail Tsukiyama, representing Writers for WaterBridge, came to Arusha to visit us and see our work. (Side note: I read and loved Gail’s first novel Women of the Silk back in the Philippines years ago, so I was totally awestruck meeting her in person. Magical experience!)
That visit ended with a challenge: Can we develop Kiswahili readers? How much would it cost to develop these stories and print them?
And a promise: WBO would fund this project, along with other Teachers Training initiatives, as part of our ongoing partnership.
As soon as they left, the Teachers Training team went to work on turning this possibility into a reality. We canvassed printing costs quotations from various printing companies, and I put out an advertisement in the local mailing list for an artist to create the illustrations for our humble books. I organized a group of teachers to collaborate with for writing the stories. This presented a formidable challenge, as neither the teachers nor anyone in our office had any experience in book publishing. Armed with faith, drive, and the kind donation from WaterBridge Outreach we pushed forward to complete our task.
Eleven months after our very first book development meeting, we have finally succeeded! We have delivered 8,000 copies of the 8 books we co-created with the locally selected government teachers. I was bursting with happiness and pride when the books were finally delivered to the TFFT office. All the sweat and tears, not to mention frustrations, that eventually gave birth to these completed stories were worth seeing such pride in the faces of the teachers who volunteered their time and effort to co-develop these books with us. The teachers made valuable contributions to this great cause of bringing simple books to their pupils’ hands, in their language. In doing so, the teachers also showed support for the lessons they teach in their classes.
Giving children access to books is an achievement to be proud of; however, I am equally thrilled by the fact that in the process of doing so, we also helped to empower local teachers who never thought they would see their names published on the cover of a book as its author.
I am dedicating this blog to Peter and Gail who never failed to offer me encouraging words during the long wait for these books to be printed—and to all of you TFFT supporters who love reading and understand the power and magic of books.