Reading in Africa: Day One of a Kits Launch at Naguru Parents School
“I have to tell you about the greedy child!” Sylvia, the Director of Naguru Parents School, exclaimed in delight during Worldreader’s training session today. Thankfully, she wasn’t talking about one of her students; she was talking about a story in Aesop’s Fables, one of the 100 books Naguru Students can now compactly carry in the palms of their hands. Like her students, Sylvia couldn’t resist picking up a device and diving into the stories when she peeked into our Project Manger (PM) training.
The administrators’ and students’ curiosity might make it seem like Jordan, Naguru’s Project Manager, has his work cut out for him. But, there’s so much more to launching an e-reader project than handing the devices over to eager learners. That’s where our Project Managers come in. Worldreader Project Managers train the teachers, who train the students, who train each other. They are responsible for sustaining Worldreader literacy programs in Africa: supporting teachers’ use of the devices; creating and pursuing goals for the e-reader programs; filling out our Quarterly Report, and more.
We require every partner we work with to appoint a Project Manager. It is crucial to Worldreader’s mission to fight illiteracy that once we leave the launch, a local leader is present to support the e-reader program and cultivate a culture of reading. We ask our Project Managers to train the teachers because it establishes their authority as the experts in their communities. PM’s not only sustain the programs, but also improve their quality. They contribute critical cultural perspective. Today, Jordan taught us that in the urban city of Kampala, access to books is limited to the rich. Libraries charge prohibitive fees as collateral against stolen books, which prevents kids from using community libraries. This is why community schools, including Naguru, lock their libraries and don’t allow students to bring books home. They fear that their valuable assets will be taken and not returned. For these reasons, Jordan explained, a culture of borrowing does not exist in Kampala. Without Jordan’s insight, we wouldn’t have known the extent of this challenge, let alone how to begin addressing it.
Although we often talk about kindling a “culture of” reading in Africa (which includes a culture of borrowing), we know we are not authorities on the culture of the communities that deploy Worldreader projects. We understand that a culture of reading can only evolve when a community representative leads after the mzungus (Lugandan word for foreigners) leave. Our Project Managers assume that responsibility, which is why we devote Day One of every kits launch to training them, and why we couldn’t do it without them.