its Saturday, July 22nd and my first full day in Cape Town. I spent to day touring and the Cape Peninsula seeing the major sites from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point ( the most southern tip of the African continent to seeing a colony of South African penguins!
Tomorrow I meet the other volunteers and find out more about my teaching assignment.
And I'm off! I'm not traveling very light as you can see, but one suitcase is filled with warm jackets, books, and school supplies. It's not even coming back home.
The trip I have anticipated for so many months is finally here. My head is swirling in a mass of emotions - excitement, anticipation, fear of the unknown. However, I have a wonderful support system here in Washington as well as in South Africa.
Thanks to the Microsoft Expert Educator network, I have friends in Cape Town, Durban and Polokwane who will take expert care of me in the event I have any issues. They will also be the ones who will help me learn about their wonderful country. So Friday evening when I finally arrive in Cape Town, I know I will be in good hands.
Plus, the good news is that according to my weather app, it's supposed to be sunny on Saturday! When you are traveling from the sunny, warm, summer days of Seattle to winter in Cape Town, SUN is a big deal!
I participated in a Skype book club meeting this week with some girls at the Anglican Girls Grammar School in Abuja, Nigeria. Their teacher Samuel Eshiet and I have connected through the Microsoft Expert Educator community. This year we sent them some boxes of books and the girls wanted to talk to me about them.
We had a great discussion about Dan Gemeinhart's book Scar Island, as well as Artemus Fowl, Amber Brown and others. It was very clear that the girls enjoyed reading fantasy genre books!
As I was sitting outside, I walked around in my back yard and showed them what it looks like in Washington. People are always amazed by huge trees and lush green landscapes.
At the end of our call, the girls attempted to teach me how to count to ten in one of the Nigerian languages - Igbo.
According to Wikipedia, "The Igbo people are an ethnic group native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa." The website, Igbo Guide explains more about the culture and customs. I tried my best, but I know I butchered the pronunciation of all the numbers! Here is a short video of my tutorial.
I work with the best specialist team a teacher could hope to collaborate with. This year we decided to join forces and contribute more than just books in the Books to Africa partnership.
Since 2012, we have sent Thejane Malakane in Lesotho hundreds of books so his students could have more resources for practicing their English reading skills. This year we expanded the partnership to emphasize different aspects of learning - music, physical education and recorded books.
Our music teacher Marty Kelly-Peterson gathered a set of gently used recorders and prepared music so Thejane could teach instrumental music in his classroom. His students helped him make videos of how to play the notes. Our PE teacher, Jamie Allott, prepared a frisbee unit with her students complete with frisbees and instruction cards on how to throw one. These were just shipped last week.
In addition, our partner teacher, Karey Killian, a teacher librarian in Pennsylvania. Her students were able to fundraise and collect over 500 books to send home with Thejane. They took have Skyped with his students, giving the students in both countries a different view of life outside their classroom window.
JoAnn Jacobs in Hawaii also supports his classroom with recorded books. When shipping books by mail became troublesome, her students came up with a different idea – recorded books. Now on our recorded book page you will be able to listen and view recordings by JoAnn’s students as well as my BTA club students.
Three teachers, Heather Kirk, Rehl Christy, and Katrina Rachubinski together with their students at Wissahickon Middle School in Ambler, Pennsylvania wrote their own books. They were made with the program StoryJumper. All of the recorded books can be found on the Books & Stories page of this website and are open to anyone with internet access to read.
Our Books to Africa project is small, but powerful. If you would like to make a difference in improving Quality Education for students and teachers in rural Africa, please submit a Contact Us form and join our partnership. All it takes is a willingness to make a difference in the future of the next generation of leaders.
“Julie!” “Thejane!” Our voices filled the lobby of the hotel as we enthusiastically greeted each other in a most unlikely place. Me, a Seattle area resident, and Thejane, a Lesotho native 10,000 miles away from home, were meeting in Phoenix, Arizona where he is staying for six weeks as part of the Mandela Washington Leadership training program. To be truthful, we have never met in our own neighborhoods.
I first met Thejane Malakane in November 2012 at the Microsoft Global Forum in Prague, Czech Republic, I was impressed by his drive and passion for making his classroom the best it could be for his students. Like me, Thejane was selected to represent his country for using technology with innovation and purpose.
However, while I had a classroom set of computers my students could use for their projects in my suburban school library, Thejane’s situation was vastly different. In his rural classroom outside of Maseru in the tiny, landlocked country of Lesotho, Thejane was teaching in his classroom of over 40 students with only a phone. As an innovator and leader, he knew that it’s often not how many devices you have that matters, it’s how you use them to maximize their effectiveness and bring the world into the classroom.
In those few days of the forum we quickly learned that we could help each other across the miles through technology and books. Thejane was our first classroom teacher to participate in the Books to Africa Partnership, or BTA for short. The BTA club is a volunteer club where my elementary students raise money to pay for the postage to send boxes of new or gently used books overseas to our Africa reading partners.
The next time we met was in 2015 when I was in South Africa. Thejane, drove from his rural mountain village in Lesotho to see me at a shopping mall near Johannesburg. We smiled at the improvement in the number of devices he could use with his students. Now he had a phone AND a personal laptop. He was able to send my students short videos of his students interacting with the books we sent him.
Now in Phoenix, we talked about his use of technology in the classroom. With the addition of an iPad, he has three devices for students to use, but still NO internet. To get internet, the students must walk to a shop in his town where Thejane sets up a wireless router and hopes he can get a connection. This is how we Skype together. My students come to school early, and his students come to town after school is over. After five years of doing this, his students now think of me as Teacher Julie, their American teacher. We laugh and share likes about music, school, sports, etc.
We smile as we try to understand each other. Yes, we are all speaking English, but with very different accents. Our American English, sounds nothing like their African English. Then there are the clothes. They wonder why we don’t wear uniforms, and we wonder why they do! Yet, the differences are minor. The excitement of talking to students 10,000 miles apart is infectious. Hanging up after these calls isn’t easy. Thejane shared with me that one boy told him after one call that when he grows up, he is going to be a computer scientist.
It’s because of these stories that we both go out of our way to travel and see each other, no matter where we are. This time, as we exchanged presents in Phoenix of handmade bookmarks, flags, hats, books, we were reminded of how far we have come over the years. Our connection is not about just about books anymore - it's about us as friends, colleagues, educational partners.
We are motivated to find the best ways to move our students forward as learning partners in a rapidly changing world. I shared how using the Lifeliqe app with his students could open up the scientific world for students in a completely new way. His students can access over a 1,000 interactive 3D scientific models using an iPad. They may not be able to use it in class because there's no internet, but he assured me that his students would be highly motived to walk to town for the chance to use virtual and augmented reality on his iPad.
In only two short weeks I will be landing in Cape Town, South Africa. It hardly seems real after looking forward to this trip for so many months. This trip would not be happening if not for the generosity of friends, colleagues and parents who so generously donated to my GoFundMe campaign. I can't thank you enough for believing in me and supporting my dream to make a difference in some needy children's lives. I know that by summer's end, I will have many stories to tell. I hope by sharing what I've learned along the way I will not only help my own students, but will hopefully inspire other adults to take a risk and try something different this summer.
I am Julie Hembree, a teacher librarian in the greater Seattle area. I am passionate about providing children in need with quality reading resources. The opinions expressed in this Blog are strictly those of Julie Hembree and its contributors. They do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of any other entity.