Update on Library Project

First, I have to say that I am overwhelmed and touched by the response of so many, (including strangers!), who want to help out a school in Africa that they haven’t even seen.  Thank you to everyone who is collecting books, sharing the request with friends, and being so willing to help in any way possible.  I’m proud to say we already have 160+ books, and kids are beginning to come and check them out.  It’s exciting!

Secondly, I know that some have wanted to make financial contributions towards this project.  Thank you for your generosity!  In order to receive monetary donations, I will need to collaborate with the Peace Corps and jump through some hoops to set it up an official fundraiser.  I am in contact with the staff, and this is something that will probably transpire over the next several months.  But, it will take time.

After a LONG summer break, the new school year has just started (they attend school year-round), and people are returning to work.  I am teaming up with a few colleagues at my school who are energized with the prospect of starting our own library, and we are in contact with people from the Ministry of Education.  We put in a request for books last school year, and are expecting to receive our first shipment in April or May. In the mean time, I have set up a mini classroom library with the books that have been already sent here, and am allowing kids to come after school to hang out and check out books.  Improving our school’s reading culture is a goal this year, and I am hopeful that the students will discover the joy of reading as a result.

Lastly, if you are still interested in shipping books here, there is a cheaper method to do so, but it is much more complicated.  Please follow the instructions below if you want to attempt it! 

You will want to use something called Airmail M-Air Bags. Essentially, you can use this method if you are only sending books or other printed materials that isn’t a correspondence. 

What you need it do is go to a USPS store, ask for some M-Bag tags, a customs form and a few M-Bags (I believe it’s a #1 bag) which is a large plastic bag.  Then you need to box all of your books and address them all to Megan Samaniego*P.O.Box 1906*Keetmanshoop*Namibia. IMPORTANT: each box cannot exceed 4lbs, and they all need to be addressed individually. Then you can put all of your  <4lbs boxes into this bag and attach the M-Bag tag.  They will weigh the bag, and as long as the total bag weighs between 11-66lbs, you can send for a variable rate (roughly 3-3.5 per pound) which is cheaper and allows for a lot more flexibility than the other ways.   The shipping will 4-6 weeks. PLEASE NOTE that you can’t send cards or letters this way, because if they are found in your shipments they could assign a penalty. 

Thank you, again, for your interest and support in our school!  

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Who wants to start a library?!?

I have been working at KJSS for several weeks now, and what seems to be the most urgent need is for these kids to have a library!

From a teacher’s perspective, I have felt a huge void trying to teach English without access to literature on campus! Back at Neidig Elementary, we required every student to read at home for 20 minutes and write a summary of what they read for daily homework.  We had reading contests.  They took AR (Accelerated Reader) tests online to earn fun prizes in the library.  We read Charlotte’s Web together as a class.  And so on.  How do I hook my current students on the love of reading and help cultivate a reading culture in my school and community with no books?

How can you help?  I’m glad you asked.

Good news:  My principal, a few teachers, and the Ministry of Education are very supportive.  In fact, getting the ball rolling has been easy. Our school just opened three years ago, and so this is a project that happened to be overlooked when the school began.  The Ministry has said that we will begin to receive books in the near future.

Not so good news:  The “near future” is an ambiguous term here.

What you can do in the meantime:  The holiday season is quickly approaching.  I am asking for anyone interested to talk to non-profits, churches, schools, and maybe even some friends of yours, to see if they’d be interested in helping kick start our very first library to call our own!  At the moment, the best thing would be to gather used kids books from a variety of reading levels (Grade 1-Grade 12 — we have a very WIDE range of reading abilities at our school!) and just mail them to our school.  This could look like a formal fundraising campaign to raise money for the books and postage (mostly postage), or it could simply be a group of 4 or 5 of you who want to chip in $10 or $20 to send a box over.  There are flat rate boxes available from USPS for approximately $50 and $75, depending on the size. Our kids will be forever grateful for your generosity! 

It would be wonderful to have a class set of 30 books of one particular novel (any popular kid’s book, reading range grade 4-6) to be able to read together as a class.  Other book suggestions: 

  • Any Newbery Award winners
  • Any Caldecott Award winners
  • Books that are part of a series (Magic Tree House, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Judy Moody, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, [I hate to say it, but it may get some kids hooked on reading: Twilight], to name a few)
  • Classics: To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Shakespeare, Death of a Salesman, (think of your high school reading list!), etc.
  • Political/historical:  Autobiography of Malclom X, Diary of Anne Frank, Long Road to Freedom (or any books related to apartheid and/or Nelson Mandela)
  • Biographies: this could include celebrities, athletes, or political/historical figures.  Soccer is, of course, the most popular sport here.
  • Your favorite book

I will keep everyone updated on our progress.  I hope to set up a fundraising website in the future in which those interested can simply donate money online to this specific project, and we can purchase more books over here (to save money on postage!).  Again, this will take time, so if you want to help now, send us a box! 

This is our school’s mailing address:

 Megan Samaniego

Keetmanshoop Junior Secondary School

P.O.Box 1906

Keetmanshoop

Namibia

I want my students to love to read.  Reading is not a subject.  Reading is a foundation of life, an activity that people who are engaged with the world do all the time…If a child is going to grow into a truly special adult — someone who thinks, considers other points of view, has an open mind, and possesses the ability to discuss great ideas with other people — a love of reading is an essential foundation.” —Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire

(some missed the memo)

These kids are pretending to be sad because they don’t have books

You see a storage room, I see a brand new library

You see a storage room, I see a brand new library

My Namibian counterpart, working with me to get this project off its feet

My Namibian counterpart, working with me to get this project off its feet

Typical classroom from our school

Typical classroom from our school

KJSS

KJSS

Our school's office/hall

Our school’s office/hall

From Trainees to Volunteers

It’s hard to believe we have been living in Namibia for almost 12 weeks now. 

Our first 9 weeks were spent in Okahandja, a city just north of the capital, Windhoek.  We lived with a host family, consisting of a mom, dad, sister (25) and brother (20).  We counted ourselves fortunate, and were pleasantly surprised to be living in a home with hot water and electricity.  We are finding this tends to be fairly common in the cities, which is not what we were expecting.  We spent the majority of our time in training.  Each weekday morning, after eating our corn flakes and having a cup of instant coffee, we walked to the city center for 8 hours of training.  That consisted of language classes (Afrikaans for us), safety/security, cross culture, medical, and technical (or project) sessions.  We were often busy on Saturdays as well, with a variety of different projects and events, meant to help prepare us for the following 24 months we are to spend in this country. In truth, it felt a bit like a summer camp: seeing the same 40 peers everyday, ALL day, singing traditional African songs for morning assemblies, and listening to sessions by our “counselors” (PC staff). 

Our 8:00 curfew (which really was before 8:00, since we were expected to be home before dark, unless we were walking in a large group) gave us little time to do very much after our training sessions.  Still, we managed to find time to hang out with other volunteers, organize soccer games on the weekends at the soccer stadium, go on hikes and runs in the foothills, and get to know our surroundings.  I think Okahandja will always feel like our first “home” in Namibia.

We successfully passed our language exams, completed all of our training assignments, and were thus sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers on September 19th.  The ceremony was really amazing, particularly because of the youth choir that sang and performed.  The US Ambassador to Namibia, other employees of the US Embassy, as well as several prominent members of the community were in attendance.  It was a poignant moment, reflecting on the fact that we were now joining the previous hundreds of thousands of volunteers who had dedicated two years of their lives in service, answering the call of JFK and Sargent Shriver over 50 years ago. Ironically, as I was publicly committing my time and efforts to the Namibian people during our pledge of service,  I’ve never felt so patriotic.

We celebrated Aaron’s birthday after the Swearing-In Ceremony with the other volunteers, and also said our good-byes.  The next morning our group of volunteers traveled to the various sites which will be our new homes for the remainder of our service.  The relationships we built during “camp” will have to carry us through the lows that we will inevitably face.  Already, I miss them.

We are now living in Keetmanshoop, learning about the projects we will be doing.  Aaron will be working with youth entrepreneurship development, and I will be a teacher at a Junior Secondary School (grades 8-10).  Our first impressions of Keetmans have been good.  It is a quiet town, where everyone is off the streets and back home before dark, except in some areas of town outside of center of the city.  In fact, in those areas, know as the “locations,” the nights are quite lively, and can be very unsafe.  We are living in a quiet neighborhood, away from all of the excitement 🙂 

The main population of people here in the south of Namibia are Namas.  Therefore, the majority of the children at my school are learning English as their third language.   They speak their mother tongue, then learn Afrikaans when they begin school.  English is added in grade 4.  The poverty, alcoholism, and lingering effects of the apartheid system that was enforced under South African rule (until 1990), give me some healthy challenges as a school teacher.  Aaron will be partnering with the schools, also, as he works with the youth who are interested in entrepreneurship. 

We have been greeted with warm welcomes and open arms by several people here in the community.  The Peace Corps was invited to Namibia only days after its independence in 1990, so there are few people that we encounter who haven’t met, or previously worked with a volunteer.  We hope to continue the positive legacy that many before us have left.

 

Good news for taxpayers

Yesterday approximately 800 kids in Okahandja, Namibia were served lunch by the US Peace Corps.

The Trainees (we aren’t considered Volunteers until we complete training) had set up a fun day that was organized for any children (grades 5-10) in the community to attend. It was an opportunity for them to sign up for our upcoming “Model School” which will begin next week, and a chance for us to get to meet some of our students that we will have over the next two weeks. We had anticipated only 400, but 800 enrolled! That is going to make for some very BIG classrooms as we embark on our first attempt at teaching in Namibia. It’s surprising how many children are giving up their two week winter vacation to attend our mock school. It’s obvious that the Peace Corps’ presence has made an impact in this community over the past several years.

We had a great day. All of the PC Trainees were there, along with the PC training staff. How did we keep 800 kids occupied for 3 hours? Looking around was an awesome scene: I saw one volunteer who had an intense game of duck-duck-goose going on; another was leading about 75 kids in stretching; I joined in on a game of “netball” (similar to basketball, it’s what the girls play); about 100 kids were playing soccer; some were leading kids in the Electric Slide; relay races in the dirt without shoes; and so on. It was an African version of Field Day. The talent show was extremely entertaining, as kids showed off their dance moves that they have obviously been working since they could walk, with a modern spin mixed in (think traditional tribal dance meets Michael Jackson).

The day concluded with kids patiently waiting in line for a sandwich, cold juice drink, and an apple. I took a moment to look around and appreciate the moment: the Peace Corps was feeding hundreds of kids that afternoon in a small town in a country that few have heard of. Your tax money helped make that day possible. It is just a small thing, but a beautiful one. Sometimes I know I can get caught up in the negatives of government, but this is a program that has survived for several decades, and some really amazing things are happening around the world. I am so thankful to join the 200,000+ others, and can’t wait to begin writing our story that will unfold when we (hopefully) swear-in and begin our official duty as Peace Corps Volunteers on September 20th.

So, thank you for your pennies that are keeping us all afloat! 1098248_10151687329013001_39868408_nimage_1

A fellow trainee bending gender roles, as he enters the netball game

A fellow trainee bending gender roles, as he enters the netball game

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Namibia bound!

As promised, this is the home where we will share our journey in Namibia, throughout the next 26 months.  We are greatly anticipating this new chapter in our lives!