At the beginning of the century I set up a programme that supported young people in areas of deprivation throughout the UK to organise local community activities. A feature of the programme was that young people who attended courses were able to get involved as volunteers for the programme. Some of these also went on to become professional trainers and by 2005 many of our young trainers had been delivering training throughout the UK. We were also delivering training to adults and teachers in Ireland and Europe. With an increasingly experienced team we set about an even greater challenge - our first African adventure.
When we started involving young people as volunteers we could never have predicted that one day we’d be filmed by East African TV while those young trainers led activities to schools in Tanzania. Our approach had always been to help people identify their own solutions to their own issues and while we adapted our methods for our work in Tanzania we were realistic that we didn’t have the knowledge, understanding or language skills to make a meaningful impact. With this in mind our goals were primarily focussed on the development of our young trainers.
We returned to Africa a year later but this time in Malawi. After working with some schools we organised activities with a newly established orphan project. The project had recently acquired some land and we helped them secure this by paying for the land to be fenced off. Over the next few years we returned to work with the orphans, firstly in a field and then in a grass roofed shack and eventually in their own purpose built building.
On each of our visits a constant request was for us to provide English teaching. The children in Malawi were expected to learn English to progress through school even though it’s not their spoken language. We included as many English related activities as possible during our visits. We helped children to create blackboards. We helped them make their own Christmas cards. We organised arts activities and we filmed them talking about their future ambitions. But we could never achieve a great deal during our brief occasional visits.
By 2011 our programme in the UK had finished. Funding for the programme had stopped and government cuts meant we were no longer a priority. The core group of our young trainers moved on to university and full time employment.
While our work in the UK had come to a close I’d stayed in touch with projects in Malawi. We paid secondary school fees for some children and helped with sponsorship but we were never wealthy enough to be reliable benefactors.
I had become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and it was thanks to RSA funding that I began to explore the idea of developing a project to support children’s English literacy in Malawi. In 2012 I got back together with some of our old training team and together we developed an idea of supporting children in the UK to create story books for children in Malawi.
By this time several of our former volunteers were working in schools and we soon had books created by students in Newcastle and Glasgow. Further books were created by schools in Cornwall, Oxfordshire and Salisbury and a small team of us returned to Malawi to distribute our first sets of books.
In Malawi I was pleased to recognise many of the children we’d worked with years earlier. Now they were smartly dressed secondary students, busily reading aloud the stories they’d written to younger children. We organised arts activities and sat as one of the older boys completed a short play he’d written. We visited new schools and organised similar activities and wherever we went we handed out our little stories4schools’ books to children.
We left Malawi with a new goal. We wanted to help children in Malawi to create a book themselves. A book they could share with children back here in the UK. This goal was achieved thanks to the incredible fundraising efforts of Knightlow School in Warwickshire. Mbame School created the first of our books by a Malawian school and you can see their books being enjoyed in the images below.
Today stories4schools is open to any school in the UK to create a book of illustrated stories that they wish to share with others. It’s no longer limited to Malawi and you can choose where you wish to send your books (but you can of course choose to support the schools and projects in Malawi).
If you’d like to get your school involved please download the Registration Form.
If you’d like more details get in touch.