Language and literacy are the two buzz words that have been following us around (or leading us!) this trip. So, our first stop of the day was the best bookstore we knew in town to see what they had available in basic readers. There were quite a few options to consider! There were two sets of books, a “Read It to Yourself” series that went from Level 1 to Level 4, and another series of “Key Words” that went from Level 1 to Level 12. We also found out from Tracy, one of the employees, that soon the owner of the store is going to England to buy more books. We decided this would be a good time to explore the current selection, and then decide if we want to order more. Additionally, books from the new government curriculum had arrived. As we move towards literacy and language, the new books will be a helpful reference to understand what the reading requirements are at the different grade levels.

Having fun at the bookstore! Lots of choices this year.

With a bag full of books, we set off to the bank to conduct some business, and then it was time to head out to Kantolomba. Normally we arrive just in time for the preschoolers to greet us, but at this time of the day they were on their way home and the older children were arriving for extra lessons. There were still many cute faces ready to greet us!

We can never get enough of these smiles!

Each of us had a different agenda, so off we went. Sreedevi met with Joy to continue gathering information on each of the girls in the program, including test scores, reading abilities and comprehension levels. Scott met with Charles for more feedback about program items he was working on. Jen and Theresa met with some of the members of the cooperative to assess their English language and reading skills as possible additions to our Girls Program staff.

Theresa and Charles

We made a stop at Malila’s class – she’s focusing on literacy today.

After Malila’s class, we stopped by to say hi to Martha, who is managing the Tuck shop this afternoon.

And of course, we passed by the library. Look at all those young faces ready to read!

As we were in our various meetings, we heard a buzz coming from the library – the older children had heard about the new books! We walked over to see what was happening. What an inspiring sight to walk into the library with so many children sitting down and reading books to themselves, completely focused and engaged.

Our second trip to the library – how great to see that many kids excited for new books!

What a thrill to see how engaged they are. They were each reading their books aloud – best sound ever.

After this, we had even more excitement with technology testing! As mentioned in previous posts, we now have this great Mi-Fi device. Today, we tested our ability to Skype on site between various devices. While Theresa and Joy were on one device, Jen traveled around the site on a different device. There were laughter and smiles all around! After quite a full morning, it was time to break for lunch.

We started off in the same room…

But quickly headed to other locations.

As lunch wrapped up, it was time to discuss the next steps in the Girls Program. It feels as though each day has a theme or a phrase. Today’s theme is one many of you will be familiar with, “Upping Your Game.”

We have seen the success of the Girls Program in supporting the girls in keeping their commitments to the guidelines, which we project has resulted in a deeper awareness of the choices they are making. However, many girls are not at their grade level in reading and comprehension, and to further their education moving the dial in this area is critical. So, two things dropped in. 1) We need to up our game in terms of the support we give them, and 2) we need them to meet us there. We decided it was time to re-examine the criteria of what it means to be in the Girls Program and the structure around it.

A fun and inspiring discussion with Cheri provided a framework to examine how to motivate the community around performance and giving back.

We introduced the idea of a program that factored the reading/comprehension progress and exam scores of each girl in order to stay in the program and be eligible for scholarships and their weekly kwacha. This was met with approval. Several members of the team offered their thoughts. Theresa said she felt this was a good move because if we were to help a young girl who wasn’t performing well or improving grade after grade we would be “shooting ourselves in the foot.” Ethel added that in government scholarship programs, if you don’t do well you don’t continue with that support. She said that with the requirement of reading improvement and exam scores the girls would put in more of an effort. Charles felt the change would be welcome because it would encourage the girls to work extra hard giving more meaning to the program.

Then came the major question of the day – would it be possible within the next 8 months to take a girl who, perhaps, was reading at a Grade 1 Level to having her pass her Grade 7 exams? The team felt this was possible, but as Charles stated, “It depends on the commitment of the girl and the teacher.”

We then talked about a core value we want to instill as part of the program – giving back to the community. You may recall Veronica’s story from Saturday’s blog about everyone painting together, and what it means to contribute.

To emphasize this principle, Jen found a photo of the women who started the Project. She said that these women volunteered to feed 100 children a day, every day, no kwacha. They came because they understand the value of participation, which is the heart of Living Compassion.

The original team. Look how young Theresa is! (back row, second from the right)

The team letting us know they are on board!

With the team on board with this shift, it was time to wind down for the day, though we knew many details still needed to be sorted out. But it was past 16:00 already! Time flies when we are here in Kantolomba.

Before we left, two more special treats were in store. First, we wanted to share the love and commitment so many in Sangha have for the Project and the entire team. One example was through showing a video of a project someone in the Sangha took on to help raise funds – learning how to build a boat, actually building it, and then selling it – with all the proceeds going to the Project! The team was in awe watching the video and gave a big round of applause.

Huddled around the computer to watch the video.

Second, we made sure to take a moment to recognize Beatrice and Susan, who yesterday and today painstakingly wrote down the names of every child who came for food at the site, as we wanted an accurate count of how many children come to the site daily for lunch. They confirmed over 970 names! So, in our tradition, they got special applause followed by a “Super!”

The rain had started again (did we mention this is the most it has ever rained consistently since we’ve been coming here?) so we quickly got to the van and headed back to the lodge. A full day!