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

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