Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear followers,

Our first two weeks in Busia are almost over, time is moving fast! Last week Thursday we were at the 4th Mama-Mtoto meeting, and it was great to finally meet all the mothers and see their enthusiasm for the project!

For those of you that don't know what Mama-Mtoto is, I'll just give a short introduction. The Mama-Mtoto project is a parent-child literacy project which aims at teaching mothers how to read storybooks to their children, encourage cultural exchanges between the different sites at which the project is being held and publish a local story from each site as told by the mamas. The first phase of the project has already been completed, namely the recruitment of the mamas and the story telling. We are currently still in the printing phase of the Busia book and the editing phase of the Lamu, Garissa and Elangata Wuas book.

Our first Mama-Mtoto meeting (and the mamas' 4th) was dedicated to the second in the series of books the mamas will be reading, Mcheshi Goes To School. Starting an hour and a half later than planned, the mothers were super enthusiastic once they we're all present in the library! We went around the group and each individual mama told us the experiences she had reading the book to her children and which activities she managed to do. The children loved drawing and some did a word game in which they had to match the letters of the alphabet to words in the book. Most of the kids liked the previous book, The Matatu Song, better than the Mcheshi book, but they still loved being read to nonetheless. All the mothers agreed that they couldn't read the book to their kids often enough, and they wish they had more time in a day to be able to teach their kids more through the books.

After discussing the mamas' experiences with Mcheshi Goes To School, Esther explained the new activities that were planned for the reading for the next meeting. Since the Busia book is not printed yet, we had to move up some of the activities. Susan created a Wordsearch for the children and we came up with some other games the mothers could play with their kids, relating to the Mcheshi book. The mothers were a bit dissapointed that the Busia book wasn't ready, but they were happy with the new activities.

We both really enjoyed the meeting, since the mothers were so eager to learn and full of pride because of the progress their children had made. One mother told us that her daughter's teacher had noticed the girl was more active in class and seemed to have progressed in 4 short weeks! However, the mamas also noticed that their neighbors and other mothers in their social circle wanted to join in on the project, and they were dissapointed to tell them the program was full. However, they told their friends that hopefully the project will run again next year and then more mamas and their watoto could enjoy the benefits of Mama-Mtoto!

After all the Mama-Mtoto excitement, Susan and I have been spending most of our time on cataloging all the books in the library. Esther previously had a file with all the books, but it was accidentally deleted and she hasn't had the time to redo it by herself, since Ednah has been on leave. We've finished most of the adult book section, only a small cupboard remains, and then it's on to the children's section! Besides Mama-Mtoto and cataloging, Susan and I want to reinstate the Monday reading tents, during which we will help Esther promote the library on Busia's main road, with a collection of books that people can browse through! We have lots more projects in the making, but so far we've been too busy to operationalize them. Hopefully, we'll have more time once the cataloging is done!


Harmke and Susan

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

First Impressions

Dear Maria's Libraries followers!

First, we should introduce ourselves. We are Susan Paardekam and Harmke Kruithof, the two new interns at Maria's Libraries in Busia! We are both from the Netherlands and have just graduated from University College Utrecht. We will be in Busia for 5 weeks (Susan) and 3 months (Harmke) so we will hopefully be able to update you on the blog for a while.

Our first impressions of Busia have been really positive – though we are still getting used to the hectic traffic and the dust (and, of course, people yelling “Mzungu!” at you), we are settling in quite well. We are starting to make our way around and have bargained down from the mzungu-price for the transportation (piki-piki is our favorite). Busia seems to be a vibrant, active border town where there is always something going on. We are excited to learn more about this place – especially since in our research we could barely find any information on this area.

We have visited the library several times now and Maria has also taken us to the new site. The dedication and persistence that the library staff shows is really incredible. Though the library is currently in quite a small space, it is clearly a safe space where the community can come and read. We have already seen a group of children laughing and chatting on the ground with a handful of books – their curiosity is definitely sparked by the environment and all of the colorful books around them (even if they are not always actually reading!).

The Mama-Mtoto project is going well – the only problem has been getting the books (local stories recorded by the mamas at every site) printed. Every site is at a different place in the schedule and Busia is the farthest ahead; they are evaluating Mcheshi Goes to School (the second and last pre-printed book) on Thursday. Since we cannot give them the Busia book yet, we decided in collaboration with Esther that we would give them new activities to do with the Mcheshi book. We came up with two games that can be played (Clapping whenever a certain word is read; Pointing out a certain color or item on every page) and a wordsearch with words from the story in English and Kiswahili to do as a separate activity.

Busia's book (The Wonders of Friendship) is nearly finished – we have our final meeting with Sammy, the illustrator, today and hopefully we can get it printed and shipped to all the sites next week. The books for Elangata Wuas (title unknown), Lamu (The White Spot), and Garissa (The Hyena and the Fox) are in the illustration and editing/formatting phase. From what we have seen so far, they all look amazing! I think the mamas at each site will be really proud of their work and impressed with the other books.

For our own research, Harmke and I are going to try to engage the mamas in a focus group discussion on Thursday, focusing on their experiences with the program so far as well as trying to see how the recruitment process went and what they think could be improved next time. We are also going to try to set up some individual interviews with the mamas outside of the Mama-Mtoto meetings, but since the mamas are very busy we do not yet know if this will be possible. We have not made a concrete research plan as of yet, but part of the research will include evaluating the various components of Mama-Mtoto and therefore participation of the mamas would be really helpful!

That's it for now from us – we have been in Busia for five days now (it seems like much longer because we have been so busy!) and keep being surprised by how much we like it here. A couple of weeks ago, we were reading the “Rough Guide of Kenya”, which only had a sentence or two about Busia: “This growing and increasingly bearable town...” Our expectations were thus a bit low – but they have been shattered and we are growing to love it here!


Susan and Harmke