Zambezi Schoolbook Project – A Short History

Cherished CITW supporters, Claude and Barbara Mayfield of the Zambezi Schoolbook Project, have been instrumental in improving literacy in rural Zimbabwe, a feat of exceptional fundraising, organisational and logistical skills. Since the inception of our partnership, and their first container of reading material was shipped from Atlanta in the USA in 2014, tens of thousands of children across the country have received access to some one-and-a-half million books!

Read this short back story of the Project’s foundation, and ongoing amazing work – and be as inspired as we are…

We, Claude and Barbara Mayfield, worked in business in southern Africa between 1975 and 1995 when we retired.  Following that, we returned every year to explore, and soon discovered the rural schools and their need for books. We found people and NGOs with interests and activities in the rural schools, especially in Zimbabwe, where we decided to focus. 

We started small, using our own funds to bring books and school supplies up from South Africa to schools around downstream Lake Kariba.  This was the beginning of the Zambezi Schoolbook Project (ZSP) as an informal flexible nucleus of like-minded people and organisations, working toward the goal of providing libraries for school children around mostly rural Zimbabwe, with the aim of improving literacy, pass rates and opportunity, especially for the girls.

In 2012 we became aware that Books for Africa (BFA), which is Minnesota-based in the central-north of the USA, had opened a big warehouse operation in our home city of Atlanta, down in the south-east and nearer the southern seaports.  We joined their army of volunteers who come to the warehouse to receive, sort, and pack books for shipment all over Africa.  Our aim was to help, learn the ropes, and scale our ongoing efforts up to sea container level, to begin reaching more schools in Zimbabwe. 

We learned that BFA is one of the most efficient charities in the USA because they focus their strengths on obtaining books from a myriad of sources (publishers, libraries, schools, used book companies and charities, individuals, etc.).  Using a minimal administrative and logistics staff and a steady stream of volunteers (from businesses, schools and universities, civic clubs, churches, etc.) BFA prepares pallets of boxes of books by subject category for specific age readers. 

While they work at a high level in governmental and charitable donor organisations, BFA has not organised, nor tasked, themselves to implement the in-African-country half of the equation.  They rather rely on others, such as ZSP, to come to them with a fully developed project to do that.  That fully developed project must include funding from our side to cover BFA overheads in preparing the shipments and all of the funding to take the container(s) from the loading dock at BFA Atlanta to the readers of the books in the receiving African country. 

When we shipped our first containers, that required funding was USD 16 000 per container, not taking into account the very considerable cost borne by those, exemplified by Children in the Wilderness (CITW), but including all project partners. These partners do all of the other uncompensated volunteer inputs, including administration and oversight, receiving the packed containers, getting the books from the receiving point in Zimbabwe to the schools, and doing all the in-country legwork, culminating in the at-school part of the effort.

When ZSP packed and shipped its first container from BFA in mid-2014, the Zimbabwe side of the project was far from being as complete as it is today.  We had found the Rotary Club of Harare West, which had agreed to be the welfare organisation providing duty-free import of the books.  The aspirations and capabilities of members of that Rotary Club fit the project very well and they have become the anchor point for administration and logistics of the project, as well as supporting many schools to establish libraries. 

In mid-2014, however, with the first container soon arriving in Harare, capable regional partners already engaged with their schools were needed to join this project and make it work to establish libraries in their schools.  We researched for candidate partners and saw that CITW fit the situation perfectly in the Matabeleland region.  We contacted Zambezi Programme Co-ordinator Sue Goatley, who readily organised our first meeting at Ziga Primary in Tsholotsho, and met us at the turnoff from the tarred road as we drove a 4×4 in from Johannesburg. 

There was no start-up time with Sue, it was full speed ahead from day one.  By extraordinary means and routes, she got pallets of books from the first container to Tsholotsho for Ziga and Ngamo schools.  With logistics and partnerships in other parts of Zimbabwe further established with that first container, and the project’s primary donor (an entrepreneur born and raised in Zimbabwe) propelling the project forward, containers #2 and #3 also went to Harare, where CITW and other partners collected their pallets and got them out to their schools. 

By then, individual partners such as CITW for the Matabeleland region, the African Wildlife Conservation Fund in the south-eastern Lowveld,  Padenga Holdings Ltd in downstream Lake Kariba, and Harare West Rotary for its area, had expanded their parts of the project to the point that they could receive full containers of books direct to their service locations – and that’s what we did. 

CITW received containers directly (ZSP containers #6, #11, #14), with carefully organised pallets dropped off at multiple central locations as needed for supported schools in each area, as specified in detail by Sue with input from the receiving schools.  

Success and determination have attracted other participants to the project, with Book Aid International providing excellent new early readers from the UK, The Beit Trust providing funding for steel book cases, and The Bourke Family Foundation providing solar desk lighting and solar panel systems for lighting libraries. 

For recent containers (#19 – #25), BFA has tapped their high-level resources to engage the US Department of Defense Humanitarian Assistance Program to assist with shipping of ZSP containers of books, which is a huge help on the funding side, though still requires that the receiving organisations collect their book consignments from the central receiving warehouse in Harare.

The above historical sketch does not emphasise enough the essential element that has made ZSP the resounding success it has become – and that is what individual participants, exemplified by Sue Goatley, have brought.  Throughout the project, individuals and organisations have embraced the project into what they were already passionately doing, to uplift their supported schools and communities.  Energy and resources have been ploughed into this fantastic resource of books, now approaching one-and-a-half million books from all sources for all of ZSP in Zimbabwe, with tens of thousands of children reached. 

Reflecting on the example Sue sets, bringing her teaching background and organisational skills to bear on making the most of this opportunity for each of the always expanding number of schools supported, and always prioritising the needs of the project at crucial points in its development, we are humbled to have been guided (we like to think, divinely) on this journey that is the Zambezi Schoolbook Project.

The project is chronicled on its Facebook page for further detail.

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