Last week a group of high school students sent handwritten letters to secondary students at School of Hope in Zambia. The students are members of the International Girls Club at Cary Grove High School in Cary, Illinois. In years past, our team has hand-delivered short notes and homemade cards to kids when we have traveled to Zambia to work with our partner schools, but we’ve never attempted a pen pal project due to the turn around time and cost of shipping. However, when club sponsor Sonya Wadlington and I met to discuss the project, we decided scanning the letters and sending them via email to School of Hope would be best. We also chatted about possible topics and culturally sensitive content to include in the letters. The thoughtful teens got to work and hand wrote letters; many included little drawings in the margins to extend the information shared.
Here are a few favorite lines from the pen pal letters explaining high school life at Cary Grove:
- I take 5 classes/subjects and go to them every day.
- My favorite subject this year is either English or physics!
- Art lets me express my creativity.
- I really like science and I hope to become a doctor when I’m older.
- I would like to tell you about my family because family means a lot to me.
- That is my true goal for my time at school. To become a better thinker in order to eventually pursue my true passion.
- I’m also planning on going to a university after high school.
- In my eyes, to achieve happiness, you must do what you love, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
- One of my favorite foods to eat is ice cream.
- I’m really looking forward to exchanging letters because learning about other cultures has always been an interest of mine.
- I’m so glad we get to write to each other from halfway across the world.
- What does your schedule look like each day?
- Do you know multiple languages?
- What types of food do you like to eat?
- Does your school have uniforms?
School of Hope director Kathleen Schwartz will share the letters this week, and hopefully, the International Girls Club will receive letters back from their Zambian pen pals in December.
As the 2016-17 school year began last week, I spent some time reflecting on the summer months along with A to Z’s work in Zambia this past June. A wonderful memory that continues to linger in my mind is our day of professional development with 150 Zambian teachers at School of Hope.
Teachers from all over the area came together to learn and grow; men and women wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students. Dave, Betty and I provided teachers with opportunities to attend sessions on reading, writing, asking questions, and literacy in content areas. There was something for everyone.
Without a doubt, I am confident that A to Z is continuing to impact the lives of Zambian students and teachers. Although our nonprofit is small, our educational impact is large. By providing valuable support, we have increased literacy levels and the love of reading within schools and communities.
“Having worked with A to Z Literacy since building our literacy school, Shine Zambia Reading Academy in 2009, I know personally how much their help has contributed to the success of our school. Not just support through financial sponsorship of teachers’ allowances and pupil lunches, or through books donated and shipped to Zambia to stock our school library, but in the training provided to our teachers. This training has been given by Mal and various volunteers who have sacrificed their time to work with our teachers for around a week almost every summer for the past 5 years.
I wanted to find out first hand how A to Z and its visits to our school over the years have impacted our teachers, so I asked them. Upon my request, our teachers had a meeting to discuss it and wrote back to me with feedback. The teachers unanimously agreed that they had all been greatly impacted by the A to Z training sessions and feel their teaching style has improved. They specifically mentioned the strategies they were taught for reading with pupils, improving pupil writing skills and conducting group discussions in class. Here’s a quote from our Head Teacher, David Mulenga, about writing strategies: “We were particularly astounded at how well our own Year 2 pupils were able to write, all by themselves. We learned this particularly from Dave. He would show them a picture card and ask them to say what they can see from it and he wrote those things on the blackboard. He would then ask the pupils to write their own stories about any of those things written on the board. Wow! It was amazing to see the ideas that came from the children!”
We truly appreciate A to Z Literacy’s guidance over the years in making our literacy program even stronger and we hope to continue working in partnership for many years to come.” – Vineet Bhatnagar
Without you, we would not be able to meet our goals of promoting literacy to students in Zambia and providing professional development to teachers where the need is substantial. Thank you for understanding the mission of global literacy and the importance of reading.
Yes, I wish to make a special year-end gift to help get books into the hands of children who want read. (click here)
A to Z Literacy Movement, Inc is a non-profit 501c3 organization. Your tax-deductible contribution will help promote literacy and increase the love of reading for children living in poverty-stricken areas.
By Mal Keenan
What do you get when you take a group of high school juniors and the desire to do something for others? Treasured gifts…gifts for vulnerable children miles from their Crystal Lake Central English classroom.
Earlier this year, I shared the work of A to Z Literacy Movement with Angela Welder’s junior English class. The students were searching for a service learning project and decided to lend a helping hand to the nonprofit. They took on the challenge to create Book in Bags for Shine Zambia Reading Academy.
The teens gathered children’s books and began practicing their reading fluency, attending to speed and expression. Other Crystal Lake Central teachers like Kylene Gott became involved, coaching them along, until these inspiring juniors were ready to record their voices with library media center director Diana Nelson.
After the story recordings were complete, the students created a page to be paired with the book that included information about them, a picture of the reader, along with a few questions about the story to be considered.
On June 11th, I’ll head back to Zambia with all of the Books in Bags to share with the children at Shine. The students will listen to the stories and hear the kind and compassionate voices of Crystal Lake Central teens who are choosing to make a difference. What amazing gifts of service and literacy.
By Anastasia Gruper
How the world would change if…
…every child had the opportunity to read stories.
…every child built their imaginations and schema on different encounters with the written word.
…every child had the opportunity share their ideas.
…every child had the opportunity to write their stories.
As Mal and Dave prepare for their trip to Zambia, we remember our mission and our goals: to improve the lives of impoverished children through literacy development.
After listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” it is evident that change is taking place in Nigeria. Through the use of literacy, people are making a difference. As Chimamanda concludes, she speaks of the “incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government rather than because of it.” Her volunteer work teaching reading and writing workshops, building libraries, refurbishing libraries, and providing books for state schools who lack resources improves the literacy lives of children. Her mission is similar to ours: to provide children the opportunity to read, write, and tell many stories that matter.
Safe travels to Mal and Dave, may the work you share improve literacy lives and give children the opportunity to tell their stories.
By Betty Trummel
Recently I shared excerpts from “My Librarian is a Camel” with my class as part of our literacy instruction at Husmann Elementary School. What a wonderful reminder of how people around the world, especially in small corners and remote places, value books and reading. It certainly makes me reflect on the mission of A to Z Literacy Movement…to get books into the hands of impoverished children. Whether it’s by boat, camel, donkey cart, or elephant, the fact that people are creative in how books are brought to children puts a smile on many faces world-wide.
The author of the book, Margriet Ruurs, stated: “From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, I discovered people who are passionate about books and who understand the importance of libraries in our lives.”
So true, Margriet, and right now I’m thinking of the library we helped create at Shine Zambia Reading Academy located in the compounds just outside of Lusaka, Zambia. I can just imagine the students there enjoying the books we’ve shipped to them and the games we’ve brought to the school while on our teaching trips.
Smiles, lots of happy children, learning every day. Happy to be a part of this wonderful organization…A to Z Literacy.