Bookbus: Adventure in Zambia

Bookbug on the Bookbus
Category: Bookbug

In April this year, I set off with my colleagues on a big adventure to volunteer on the Bookbus in Zambia. The Bookbus visits rural schools and volunteers work with groups of children to support their learning of English through reading, storytelling, craft, music and art activities.

Volunteers come from all over the world and we met people from England, Wales, Germany, Holland, America and Sweden during our short stay. Everyone comes with the same positive attitude, willing to muck in and do whatever is required. 

Bookbus visits community schools (often run by volunteer teachers), as well as government supported schools and schools which are a mixture of the two. Before visiting each school, we were briefed on the expected age range of the children and we chose a storybook to read to our groups, preparing activities for the children. This took a lot of time as there are no photocopying facilities so all preparation is done by hand, so we might have to draw 100 elephants as well as sharpening millions of pencils! 

Each day we boarded the Bookbus to travel to a different school where we were greeted by cries of “Bookbus!” from hordes of children. We would set up mats outdoors under the shade of trees, or sometimes we worked in the classrooms. In classrooms we had a finite number of children in the group with various others looking in at the windows if it was not their “turn” to go to school. Limited classroom space means that some children attend in the morning and some in the afternoon. Outdoors, the number of children you started with always increased as more arrived and joined in.

Chobe National Park - image from 8thingstodo.com
It is a very moving experience to see the delight on the children’s faces at having a paper crocodile, goat or elephant picture to take home with them and many children chased the bus after we departed.

There were also many exciting things to see and do around Livingstone and we all made the most of that! We went on an elephant back ride and walking with lion cubs, both of which were truly unforgettable experiences. The weekend safari at the Chobe National Park in Botswana (pictured) allowed us to see a variety of wonderful animals, including hippos, giraffes, zebras and buffalo. A wonderful sight!

The entire time spent in Zambia was a truly remarkable, touching, yet uplifting experience. The people are friendly, welcoming and the children very keen to learn. Education is recognised as key, and community schools in particular are providing a much needed education to those who cannot afford to meet the often strict uniform criteria in government schools.

There is no water shortage in Zambia but there is a lot of people living hand to mouth. Unemployment is high but there are also signs of building work, road improvements and a drive to promote tourism. Time will no doubt see a lot of changes in this country. The people are resourceful and happy and there is a lot of community spirit.

This was my first experience of volunteering abroad and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone looking to support a worthwhile cause. The Bookbus operates in Ecuador, Zambia and is about to launch in India.

To find out more about the Bookbus charity visit their website: http://www.thebookbus.org/

Susan McKay

Susan McKay is the Early Years Librarian and Bookbug Co-ordinator for Aberdeenshire. Read her previous Blog, On the road with Bookbug, here.