The story of the reading festival
A couple of years ago HVC received a donation of hundreds of books from a bookshop which was closing down. They were mostly good quality children’s story books of the kind most children from poor rural communities would never see. HVC’s education coordinator Faith and a VSO volunteer sorted the books into categories, and created libraries for 16 schools in rural communities.
When I first heard this, I wasn’t that impressed, until I realised that these schools would otherwise have no story books at all - the schools have some text books from the government, and some from HVC but pupils are mostly taught by copying the teacher’s notes from the board – to really inspire children to enjoy learning these kind of books are vital.
When the libraries were constructed, the key objective was to encourage the students to use them, and this was the inspiration for the reading festival, which is now in its second year. It is a reading competition; each school with a library had one representative from year one to six. The youngest children only had to read letters of the alphabet chosen at random, but the older students had to read sections of their favourite book chosen by the judges (in order to prevent children memorising their books, although this does happen).
My role for the day was to be a judge on a panel of four, including Monique, a teacher from the Netherlands, Lynne and Sadiq.Here's the judging panel choosing a page for one student.
And a student from Panja reading her book.
The children were incredibly confident and clear, even those who were flummoxed when told to read from a page that they hadn’t memorised! Whilst most year one and two students could recognise letters of the alphabet, the level of reading done by year six students was much lower than I’d expected, reflecting the large class sizes and teaching by rote which they have to contend with in rural schools when learning to read.
The photo below shows children in the year one class at Panja school, one of the best performing schools in the competition. I've included this to give you an idea of the class sizes, note the number of pupils per desk.
The winning students from each year were given a prize of a new book; interestingly most of the winners were girls. Overall the day was a great success, and a way to encourage parents to support their children’s’ education. Monique said the overall standard had improved a lot from the year before, which was a really positive comment to end the day with and shows the impact which the libraries and HVC's education support to schools has made so far.
In other news from May, I attended my first Nigerian traditional wedding,here's me in my outfit with my colleague Stephen. Weddings here often have colours for family and friends to wear, for this one the choices were cream, lemon green or gold.
The wedding was swiftly followed by a roast dinner at the residence of the British High Commission in Kaduna. The kind of cultural juxtaposition faced only by VSO volunteers!