New Country, New Project: Empowering Zambian Children with Books
by Kimee Johnson, Assistant Partnership Development Manager
“My name is Michelle!” A bright-eyed primary student stopped me as I walked by her. “My name is Kimee!” I smiled. “How are you?” She stared at me blankly, her smile still beaming. After a few seconds, I realized “My name is Michelle” is the only English phrase she knew; she must have mustered the courage of all her eight years to approach me.
At Dwankhozi Primary School, the site of Worldreader’s latest Kits project, students do not formally begin learning English until Primary 2. Classes up to Primary 5 still primarily use Nyanja. As a result, these students are eager, but timid, English speakers. I knew this from Day One. I also knew that Dwankhozi Hope, the partner who brought Worldreader to Dwankhozi, picked an excellent selection of beginning English digital content. So, I decided to see what would happen if I brought an e-reader outside during break and started flipping through some ABC flashcards.
Students swarmed to the steps where I sat. Within two minutes, I was surrounded. Shy at first, most watched in silent wonder as the pictures changed on the screen. It only took ten minutes of choral reading, though, for students to start reciting their ABC’s in time with the images. By “M” I was leading a large chorus.
After such a great week of planning and celebrating, I have no doubt the chorus will be even louder by next year. We began the week with our partners, Dwankhozi Hope. Together, we ran a group discussion that involved the project managers and as many available teachers as possible. In that meeting, we outlined the goals of the e-reader program, including: to increase student knowledge, improve reading skills (including sound-letter recognition), identify more words, become independent teachers, familiarize students with new technology, and promote a culture of reading. We worked with Teacher Maurice, our Project Manager, to create a plan to reach those goals and to prepare to train the teachers. “We are better equipped teachers today than we were yesterday,” announced PM Maurice at the end of teacher training. Not just because of the e-readers, but because of a full day of familiarizing with the devices and brainstorming ideas for how to use them as teaching tools.
The next day marked the community e-reader launch. “This program is making my chiefdom better,” one chief declared through his representative during the ceremony. Numerous honored guests explained why it would: “This program we have brought will go a long way in teaching our children to read and write,” proclaimed Chipata’s District Education Standards Officer (DESO). He explained that the e-readers, by improving student literacy, would benefit the greater Dwankhozi community. Another chief’s representative expressed his chief’s agreement: “It will benefit not only the students, but the parents as well. The chief is very happy about that.”
The dignitaries did not take that benefit lightly. The DESO emphasized, “I want to ask the beneficiaries to take this very seriously…Let’s keep this gadget. Cherish it. I would be happy to see this gadget here for the next 20-30 years.” Working toward that goal, he admonished the students to take care of the e-readers, to not damage, vandalize, or steal. One of the chief’s representatives elaborated and then declared, “If anything happens to the device, we will hold you personally responsible.”
Teacher Maurice, our Project Manager, emceed the ceremony. Like the dignitaries, we are confident the project will be a success, largely because of Maurice’s enthusiasm and passion for his students. He stressed the e-readers’ capacity to enhance student learning, and proudly distinguished himself to the crowd as the program’s Project Manager. With his emphatic cries of “Manja manja manja!” (“Clap clap clap!”) and jokes, Maurice kept the crowd excited, entertained, and loud for over three hours.
It was a fantastic way to celebrate Zambia’s first e-reader project, which, as Zev Lowe, Worldreader’s Director of Research and Business Development, noted in his speech, would not have been possible without Dwankhozi Hope’s commitment to this community. To read more about their work and our week in Zambia, check out their blog.