When I Die...

Burt Award for Caribbean 2014 winner A-dZiko Simba Gegele recently went on a tour of Antigua and Montserrat as part of the Award's program to promote the winning titles and spread the love of reading amongst Caribbean youth. Below is a journal entry she wrote on the third day of the tour, when she got to talk to young readers in Montserrat about her book All Over Again.

Read more about the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature

When I Die...

by A-dZiko Simba Gegele

I started the day with an interview at Montserrat’s premier radio station…ok, actually, Montserrat’s only radio station. A great, relaxed interview will end up being broadcast as a news insert and as a ‘stand alone’ interview. Remembered to promote The Burt Award for Caribbean Literature,  my sponsor – CODE as well as the Alliouagana Festival of the Word, which starts on Thursday – giving myself a gold sticky as I have been known to ramble on and fall right off the topic.

Spent the afternoon at small primary school (two teachers on staff!) in Brades – The Lighthouse Community Academy.

The children, grades 3 to 5, were a delight – they listened attentively, asked a million questions, enthusiastically responded to questions I posed and made the session such a joy.

My favourite comments: ‘Miss, I don’t like that book…I love it!’ and ‘Miss, I’m going to buy that book and, when I die, they going to have to bury it with me.’ Could it get any better than that?

Two schools on the agenda for tomorrow…

Finding a place for books...

Angela Ward, Professor Emerita at the University of Saskatchewan, is a CODE expert-volunteer working on Reading Kenya, CODE's comprehensive readership intiative in the country. Along with Dr. Pamela Winsor, from the University of Lethbridge, she acts as a lead trainer, providing training to educator who will then go on to train their colleagues across Kajiado in how to better teach reading and writing. In this blog post, she writes about her second trip to Kenya in August 2014 as part of the project. 

Finding a place for books...

by Dr. Angela Ward

      Dr. Angela Ward with a group of workshop participants.

Recently, I visited schools in Kajiado County, Kenya, where CODE is just beginning a major initiative.  Along with local project officers and partners from the National Book Development Council of Kenya (CODE's local partner), we drove across the savannah to schools where participants in our Reading Kenya project were starting the school term.  Head teachers and local educational leaders have been participating in workshops that will enable them to support and train teachers in active reading methods in lower primary classes.  As an additional part of the project, one teacher from each of the first cohort of 25 schools has been selected for library skills training workshops. 

In each of the schools we visited, the greatest excitement was shown for…empty shelves!  We were led with great fanfare to newly constructed shelves, waiting for books that will soon be delivered to our project schools.  None of the schools had an existing library, but had shown great ingenuity in finding space for bookshelves.  In one case, the staffroom was divided into two, with shelves installed into one half of the room, giving pupils potentially excellent access to the new library.  In another school, a small freestanding building that had been the head’s office before new school buildings were constructed, had been filled with shelves. The head teacher has moved several desks into the space, so that pupils will be able to sit and read in their new library. The school’s future librarian was smiling broadly as we “toured” the small library.  There is a plan for a parent gathering to celebrate when the new books arrive and are put on the shelves.  The anticipated books include engaging stories suitable for young children, written in Kiswahili and in English; workshop participants have already worked with the books, and are very anxious to have them in their schools and see their pupils reading them! 

CODE is fulfilling its mission to bring literacy and books to communities in Kajiado County.  Those shelves won’t be filled this month, but there will be books and small libraries in schools where there were none at all before.  I look forward to watching those small libraries grow over the four years of the project, and to seeing pupils reading engaging materials that reflect their own lives and interests. 

Read more about Reading Kenya

Thoughts from the Mountain

Margaret Casey, a long-time CODE supporter, took part in the CODE's Summit for Literacy: the Kilimanjaro Climb in July 2014 to raise funds for CODE's literacy programs in Africa. This blog post summarizes her thoughts on Day 6 of the journey, the day before the team was scheduled to reach the summit.

We head this morning to Barafu (which is the Tanzanian word for ice). It is at an elevation of 15,000 feet. We are all doing well but feel the cold at our current elevation of 13,500 feet. It is strange to enjoy long underwear in early July! The sun has come up but we are still in the shade. Soon, the temperature will rise dramatically as the sun hits our camp site. 

We are all impressed and thankful for the skill and talents of our Tanzanian Tusker team. We marvel as the porters carry their personal packs (about 40 pounds) and something on their heads (our gear, food, tents, chairs etc. which weigh 30 pounds‎). We walk slowly sometimes,  given the effort we take to walk and the thinner oxygen. But the porters pass us easily, always with a smile. 

Margaret Casey climbed with her husband John (left) and their son, Grant

The scenery is fabulous and we have seen many angles of the summit. I am saddened to see how little of the glacier is actually left due to climate change. However, some of us have seen the quick alpenglow on it and watched the quick sunset above the clouds at our last three camp sites ‎.

We all enjoyed  meeting Pilli Dumea, Executive Secretary of the Children's Book Project on our arrival in Moshi a week ago. Her presentation to us and the books and materials they have produced were all very inspiring. How uninformed we Westerners are of the challenges and circumstances that face Tanzania in providing a good education to youth! Glad to see that CBP is showing the government how to overcome the many complex problems facing them.

Pilli's talk inspires me (and the rest of the climbers) to reach the summit tomorrow. Our fundraising efforts on behalf of CODE will continue. 

Read more about CODE's Summit for Literacy 2014

Collaboration in Kenya

By Dr. Angela Ward

In April 2014, Angela Ward, Professor Emerita at the University of Saskatchewan, joined the CODE team of volunteers and went on her first field trip to Kenya. Dr. Ward will be a lead trainer in CODE’s Reading Kenya Project.

Collaboration in Kenya

Beginnings bring both excitement and trepidation.  This month I had the privilege of joining the Reading Kenya project in Kajiado county (home to Maasai people). 

Although I have been part of a number of international education projects before, this is my first journey with CODE, and was my first visit to Africa.  During the trip, I had the good fortune to visit several schools in southern Kenya, and to see enthusiastic Maa-speaking students and their caring teachers working to improve literacy in English and Kiswahili, struggling with very few books or other materials. 

Through Reading Kenya, CODE will provide training to teachers from 70 schools and will provide materials for classrooms and libraries as they implement meaning-based literacy strategies.  CODE will also work with teachers and trainers to encourage the use of mother tongue as an instructional tool in early primary classrooms.

I am especially looking forward to co-teaching professional development workshops with the articulate, knowledgeable Kenyan education professors I have met.  Already I have learned a great deal from them, and look forward to the reciprocal relationship with local experts characteristic of CODE’s approach to educational development.

And yes, on this, my very first trip, I did see my very first giraffes and ostriches in the wild!  It seemed an auspicious beginning to an important venture.

What I Learned in Liberia

By Dr. Wendy Saul

In January 2014, CODE expert-volunteer and International Book Bank (IBB) Executive Director Dr. Wendy Saul traveled to Liberia. Dr. Saul was in the country to witness how IBB-donated books were being used in classrooms, as well as provide prospective children's authors, illustrators and photographers with training on how to write high-quality children's literature as part of CODE's Reading Liberia program. View the original post on the IBB website

What I Learned in Liberia

I am always suspicious when I walk into a school in the developing world and see students being passed brand new, shiny books. Of course, I am delighted that each young person has a book in his/her own hands, but signs of use provide an “unobtrusive measure” that the books have done their work and gotten into not only the hands, but the minds of the young people for whom they were intended.

But this was not the problem I noticed at one school we visited in Liberia. Students were in the middle of an anthology that IBB had sent and were reading with comprehension. The teacher had written several words on the blackboard that all appeared in the story and as she pointed to them, the students chanted the words aloud in unison.

“I wonder what would happen if I tried some onset and rime exercises” I thought to myself. And so I walked to the blackboard where the teacher had written the word “air” for her first graders, and wrote the words hair and fair and pair. The students could read all these words, and I was delighted. “What is a pair” I asked, and there were many responses. “A pair of shoes,” “A pair of butterflies,” “A pair of twins.”

I began looking carefully at the books the students were using. They looked pretty well battered.

“How long have the children had these books?’ I asked.
“About a month” answered the teacher.

As she went on with her lesson I watched her turn the page of the book she was using, grabbing the page in the middle, the way someone might grab a piece of trash on the street or a paper towel from a stack on the counter. No wonder these pages looked so mangled. And then I noticed children doing the same thing.

The monitor from We-Care and I looked at one another. We talked about the need to teach students ways of book handling and browsing. She spoke to one of the children: “These books are our treasures” she began. “How do we treat something we care about, something that we want to last?”

She then demonstrated the way a reader should pick up a page from the corner and turn the paper carefully. And the students looked at her model and followed her lead.

It is all about balance, I thought to myself. The books should not to be put away to keep them pristine, but they do need to be handled with respect.

This was an easy lesson that all of our recipients could pass on, I thought to myself.

We learn so much from visiting real classrooms.

*Photo by B.D. Colen

Wendy Saul is a Professor and the Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker Chair in Education and International Studies at the University of Missouri-St Louis. has worked with teachers and teacher educators in Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, and Latin America under the auspices of the Open Society Institute. Her recent work in Liberia, supported by CODE  has helped her to better understand how few children really learn to read and write from the blackboard. Dr. Saul has received over $8 million in grants from the National Science Foundation for her work on reading and writing science. 

Teaching, and exploring, photography in Liberia

By B.D. Colen

In January 2014, professional photographer B.D. Colen travelled to Liberia with CODE expert-volunteer and International Book Bank Executive Director Wendy Saul. Dr. Saul was in the country to provide prospective children's authors, illustrators and photographers with training on how to write high-quality children's literature. This is in preparation for the next round of Reading Liberia books. So far, 31 locally-produced books for young readers from Grades 1 to 6 have been published as part of the Reading Liberia/Reading Sierra Leone collection. He wrote the following post for the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing blog. To view the original post with a slideshow including many more of the pictures he took on his trip, go to:  

Teaching, and exploring, photography in Liberia

Photo by B.D. Colen

Rather than suffer in Boston’s cold, I spent the better part of two January weeks in Liberia, in West Africa – where the temperature hovered around 90 and the “comfort index” pegged at 107. I went to the war-ravaged country, first colonized by free American blacks and freed slaves, on behalf of CODE and the International Book Bank, two literacy NGOs dedicated to the proposition that literacy, reading, and critical thinking are the keys to every other kind of improvement and success. I spent the first week running a workshop for Liberian writers, illustrators, and photographers, whom IBB, and the Liberian group We-Care, hope to teach to produce non-fiction school books for primary school students. This required teaching the students in the workshop the difference between fiction and non-fiction – which was much more difficult than you might imagine, and starting with the most basic principles of photography. It also required five days of teaching from 9-5, a far cry from one, three-hour, night-a-week at the Institute.

I spent the second week photographing in urban and rural schools, documenting, where possible, the work of CODE, IBB, and the We-Care Foundation. The photos you see here should provide a sense, if nothing else, of how privileged we in this country are. I have returned from Liberia thinking, as I returned from Somalia two decades ago, that we in America do not even know what poverty and true deprivation are. And I returned ready to do more of this work anywhere it is offered to me.

You may see more images, a color collection called Liberia Through My Eyes, and Liberian Schools in Black and White, in galleries on my website.

B. D. Colen is a writer and photographer who during 27 years at The Washington Post and Newsday shared a Pulitzer Prize and covered medicine and health care for 17 years. He pioneered the coverage of bioethics in the mainstream media, and created and served as the editor of Newsday's weekly science section, and wrote a nationally syndicated column on the intersection of health care, policy, and politics. Since 1999, Colen has been teaching science journalism and news writing courses at MIT.

Workshopping in Addis Ababa

Excerpt from Canadian writer and CODE expert-volunteer Robert Rayner's blog posted during his recent trip to Ethiopia on behalf of CODE. More posts at

It was fun being a minor player, though still with the label Special Guest, in the second round of CODE-Ethiopia workshops in Addis Ababa. This was for writers of supplementary curriculum material for Ethiopian schools, and was partly conducted in Ethiopian Amharic, leaving me in the fog of incomprehension which I’m sure some of the participants at my workshops were in at least part of the time.

The level and ubiquity of English is staggering, and I constantly found myself apologising for my concomitant ignorance of Amharic. About the best I could do in Amharic was to ask where the loo was.

Still on the topic of language: Ethiopia has over fifty (keep that in mind the next time we’re worrying about bilingualism in Canada), very few of which exist in written form, so you can imagine the challenge and cost of developing education and providing written learning material. There are also political consequences if one language becomes dominant (in government, publishing, dissemination of information, etc.) (think Canadian bilingualism), and in this context, English forms almost a kind of unifying force, by serving as a quasi-national language.

Back to the workshop: My session was on ‘Children’s book writing, editing, illustration and design in other countries’ (i.e. Canada), the most useful part of which, I think, was my sharing of a selection of Canadian books for children and young adults, and the ensuing discussion of participants’ responses to front and back covers (why they ‘worked’ – or didn’t), and design generally.

Then it was a walk through the Friday-night-teeming-with-traffic-and-people Piazza district to the Taitu Hotel, the oldest in Addis Ababa, built at the whim of Empress Taitu in 1907, for supper as a guest of the CODE-Ethiopia people.

And I’m humbled and moved all over again by their kindness and hospitality, especially when the evening culminates with a goodbye gift of an elegant traditional vest, which – you never know – may set a fashion trend in St. George, New Brunswick. 

Robert Rayner with some of the participants in the workshop

Ghanaian Lead Trainers Ready for the Challenges of Training Teachers

By Pamela Winsor

CODE expert volunteer Dr. Pamela Winsor, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge, was recently in Ghana to run a workshops with 19 Lead Trainers to continue their preparation as trainers of teachers from classes 4 through 6.

This blog post recounts the volunteers’ experience during this workshop.

This has been a busy week of Reading Ghana activities!  Extending the Reading Ghana training to upper primary marks significant development in the project’s reach. There will now be representative teachers at all class levels 1 through 6 who have received training focused upon improving reading and writing instruction. The Lead Trainers engaged in serious study of reading response concepts and practices as well more light-hearted activities such as competitive word games to reinforce sight word recognition. Veteran and new trainers worked side by side to be ready for the challenges of training teachers for classes 4-6 as they help their students’ transition from Twi to English as their language of instruction and learning.

High level of activity continues on Wednesday and Thursday as Head Teachers from the Ashanti Region participate in training to orient them to the training their Class 4, 5, and 6 teachers will receive. Like the Lead Trainers, they too, are engaging in both focused study of concepts as well as interactive activities that demonstrate child-centered learning for the upper primary level. After just one day’s experience with Reading Ghana, they have requested the program be offered across Ghana! Such enthusiasm bodes well for the support they will offer as the teachers in their schools endeavor to change their practices to offer children the richest opportunities possible to grow as strategic readers.

Read more about Reading Ghana

Better Teachers For A Better Education

By Hila Olyan, Project Manager, CODE

“Our school is poor, we have no desks, but we value education so we come to school anyway!” chant grade 4 students at Escola Primária Completa do Treva.  Admittedly, the song has a better ring to it in Portuguese, but the message is universal.

At this particular school, in Matola, a growing suburb of Maputo, students arrive at school in four shifts.  Some students start as early as 6:30 in the morning and others attend evening classes to make room for the growing number of students at the school.

Still, even early mornings don’t seem to subdue the excited students.  As we arrive at the school, we are met with curious glances from students popping in and out of classroom doors. Smaller children run up to us anxious to say hello to the new visitors.  “Como se chama?” I ask.  (What is your name?).  “Florentina,” says one. “Jacinto, Paula, Lurdes, Afonso,” yell out others.  Everyone wants to say hello.

Their excitement is contagious.  “Meu nome é Hila (my name is Hila),” I reply.  “Eu sou do Canadá. (I’m from Canada).”  The students giggle. They’ve never heard of someone with a name like Hila (to be fair many Canadians haven’t either), and Canada is a far away sounding place.

We, (myself the CODE Project Manager, Francisca the Progresso Education Officer and two CODE volunteers, Dr. George Hunt, from the University of Edinburgh and Dr. Lourdes Dionisio, from the University of Minho, Portugal),  pull ourselves away from the students so that we can meet with the school director before settling in to observe a number of classes: third and fourth grade natural science, and grade two math and Portuguese. 

As we enter the classes, I am reminded of how similar kids are in every part of the world.  Just as at home there are eager students towards the front of the class and the trouble makers calling out from the back.  There are students eager to ask questions and others who are excited to show us their workbooks. As the teacher progresses with the lesson, the students follow along and scribble in their notebooks.  The teachers pace amongst the students doing their best to attend to their students.

But this is where the classroom differences become apparent.   

The grade 4 natural science class has 67 students.  All of them were sitting on the floor.  Some of them are not wearing shoes.

“It’s difficult,” say the teachers during the debriefing meeting.  “How do you motivate students?  How do you create a learning environment when there are so many kids and so few resources?”

And this is where CODE comes in.

Through our project, Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique, CODE and Progresso (our local partner), provide teaching and learning resources, train teachers, create literacy building activities, and strengthen education networks throughout the country. 

Last year alone, CODE and Progresso trained over 250 teachers, providing them with techniques and strategies they can use in their classroom to better succeed at bilingual education, encourage critical thinking and active learning, and get students to develop a love of reading. Over 200 teacher-librarians also received professional development.

The training of trainers and primary school teachers and adult literacy instructors was also a
focus of 2012-13. In order to improve the level of instruction for students, 263 teachers and
trainers were trained on specific methodologies for approaching bilingual education. Another
200 trainers and school pedagogical directors were trained on pedagogical supervision in
Niassa and Cabo Delgado and specific training on the teaching reading and writing also
Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique
CODE | Executive Summary 5
occurred. In total 84 teachers took part in the training while 56 teachers from Niassa and 61
from Cabo Delgado benefitted from the feedback and coaching provided through pedagogical
supervision. PLEM also provided support to librarians. During 2012-13, 206 teacher-librarians
were trained.
The training of trainers and primary school teachers and adult literacy instructors was also a
focus of 2012-13. In order to improve the level of instruction for students, 263 teachers and
trainers were trained on specific methodologies for approaching bilingual education. Another
200 trainers and school pedagogical directors were trained on pedagogical supervision in
Niassa and Cabo Delgado and specific training on the teaching reading and writing also
Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique
CODE | Executive Summary 5
occurred. In total 84 teachers took part in the training while 56 teachers from Niassa and 61
from Cabo Delgado benefitted from the feedback and coaching provided through pedagogical
supervision. PLEM also provided support to librarians. During 2012-13, 206 teacher-librarians
were trained.

The hope is that, through the training they will receive, teachers like the ones we met today will be better equipped to deal with the challenges they are facing every day in their schools and therefore provide a better education for the future generation of Mozambicans. 

learning approaches.

Letting Creativity Shine Through

By Christine Earnshaw, Program Manager, CODE

Zawadi Omary is an 11 year old girl in standard 5 at NDC Narco Primary School in Kongwa, Tanzania.  I would not be surprised if one day she became a famous Tanzanian author.  I met Zawadi today when the training coordinator for the Children’s Book Project (CODE’s Tanzanian partner), Marcus Mbigili and I visited her school and toured classrooms meeting teachers and talking to students.  To understand students’ interest and familiarity with the reading materials supplied by CODE/CBP’s Reading Tanzania project, we asked questions about what books they like reading from the library.  “Babu Ne-Musa” offered the first student to respond.  “Why,” asked Marcus.  “By the end of the story the father believes his daughter should go to school, not just his son”, responded the student.  “Alright, what’s another book you like?”, he asked.  After listening to several responses and seeing nearly all hands shoot up to get noticed, it was clear not only that the students were familiar and appreciative of the books in the library, but they also enjoyed being asked to express their opinions, a rare thing in most Tanzanian schools, where teachers tend to dominate the class by lecturing.  

Following the discussions about books, Marcus reminded students of the importance of writing.  Hearing that their teacher has begun encouraging them to write stories in their Kiswahili class, Zawadi told us that she is writing not just a story, but a book.  “Ah”, said Marcus,  “vizuri sana, can you show us? “.  Zawadi opened her notebook, which was filled —page after page —with her neat handwriting.  She shyly read out the chapter names and when asked, described the storyline.  It was called ‘The Twins’, a story about a brother and sister who were very different and had great adventures.  I could tell Marcus was impressed.  He asked Zawadi if he could read the beginning of her book out loud to the class.  She agreed, but while Marcus read, she kept her eyes lowered.  At some points a sly smile was apparent.  From the reaction of the other students, I could see that she had written something that was thoroughly engaging and interesting to them.  After reading the first chapter out loud and gathering predictions from the students on what would happen next, Marcus enthused to me, “She’s a very talented writer.”  He commended the teacher who has clearly encouraged reading, writing and communicating in the classroom. 

It was a perfect, spontaneous moment capturing the power of the comprehensive readership initiative CODE and CBP have been implementing to develop children’s literacy skills and harness their creativity and potential.  As one teacher who is going through CODE/CBP’s Reading Tanzania teacher training program put it, “I truly believe children have a lot to say and a lot of good ideas.  With these new teaching strategies, we are able to appreciate children’s own experiences and knowledge”. 

Top Left: Students listen as their teacher reads part of a book written by their classmate.

Top Right: The author, Zawadi Omary

Bottom: Marcus Mbigili, CBP's Training and Monitoring Coordinator, reading part of the book to the class

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