November 16, 2010

The Library is Thriving!

With great joy and excitement, we report that the library at A.V.Bukani is thriving! Books are on the library shelves, organized by level. Teachers have  set up reading centers in their classrooms and are further refining the levels so they meet the needs of their learners. They have truly taken ownership of the library.
Teachers report that the students are loving the books they are taking home, eager to get a new one each day. The classroom system we helped set up - where the students put the card from their book into a clothes pin with their name - is working well. Most teachers said ALL books are coming back, except if a child is absent. (Can you imagine that?? 100% return!)  Students know they must bring back their book to get a new one and they sure want that new one.

Stakeholders in the broader community are helping to strengthen and sustain the library and the entire school. One of the local businesswomen donated paint. The outside has been painted white and township artists will soon paint a mural.

Members of the Womens Institute, who are orange farmers' wives and B&B owners, have come back to the school to label more books alongside residents of Nomathamsanqa township. We are so happy that this personal interaction is continuing among diverse members of the region.

Books Throughout the Region
 The donated books are not only serving the students of A.V. Bukani.  About 50 boxes were donated to the municipal library. Volunteers have covered and labled the books for their system, and the books are now part of a traveling collection of books that are shared by libraries in townships throughout the region.    
The municipal library now runs the library in the township high school. Some of the donated books are filling those shelves. A new Internet Center was just opened in the high school, providing internet access for the entire township - such an exciting opportunity for all!
New Volunteers Heading to A.V. Bukani
We recently learned that two new volunteers will visit A.V. Bukani in January and February, continuing the professional development on literacy. Clearly, this is a big step, as it is difficult to see major progress when we are only able to provide teacher training during our annual visit. 

The volunteers are skilled retired teachers. We started our collaboration with them through a great SKYPE conversation with one of the volunteers, who just returned from a year at a school in China. She will spend 8 weeks at A.V. Bukani, which will certainly have an impact.  She is staying with one of the teachers in the township.
The volunteers are working through People and Places-Responsible Volunteering as we did. London-based People and Places does a terrific job of matching volunteers with projects around the world. Soon these new volunteers will begin working with Paul Miedema of Calabash Tours/Trust who oversees the project in our region of South Africa. We feel so fortunate to be connected to these ethical, well-run organizations; and we know the new volunteers will feel the same. We'll soon have personal contact with them and they have already read all the reports we have filed.

Thanks to our wonderful DC-based volunteers

We thank Kay Campbell of Burness Communications for some of the wonderful recent photos of the library. Kay and her husband visited A.V. Bukani on their vacation in October, volunteering to take photos of the library and other Calabash projects in the region.

It was great to get together recently with many of the volunteers who spent so much time collecting, sorting and labeling the books at our home. Larry and I calculated that volunteers provided about 240 days of labor getting the library ready for shipment!  No wonder we're still a bit tired :)

We thank all of you who so generously have contributed to this project. The library is just one tool in the effort to increase literacy in this wonderful school and community. The work continues. If you would like to support this project, please see How to Donate.

August 22, 2010

"It is no longer a container. It is a library."

YES, the books finally arrived!!

The container was opened on the Monday of our third and final week. As box after box was opened, the principal and teachers were in awe of the quality of the books. We learned that not only are books very expensive in South Africa, there are few as well written and illustrated as these beautiful books.

Members of the community soon surrounded the container, helping move the 600 boxes of books and a dozen book cases into a storage area while work is done ot convert the container into a library. Fourth graders soon began eagerly helping.

August 15, 2010

The roller coaster takes off

Books, books, where art thou, books?
The books have arrived! ...Oh wait a minute, the books didn’t arrive. ...They are on their way to the school…. or maybe not. Welcome to life here the past few weeks.

For those who have followed this project, you know the container of books was scheduled to arrive before we did, with time for adding windows and doors. But the original ship was overbooked, and our library shipment sat waiting for the next ship, with a revised arrival date of August 3.

And then the roller coaster began:
* The ship was delayed a few days at sea.
* The shipping company decided to bypass Port Elizabeth (PE) and go straight to Durbin on the Eastern Coast and then come back to PE (delay of a week).
* No! It didn’t go to Durbin because of protests at Port Elizabeth. It headed back to PE for docking last weekend. Yay!
* Extremely high winds prevented the ship from docking, and it missed its scheduled berth in PE.
* The ship finally docked and the shipping company informed us that the shipment would be trucked to the school on Saturday at 8 am. That meant the principal of the school had to drive an hour to be on the grounds to meet it. We would not be in the township when it arrived.
* Saturday morning comes and goes. No shipping container. But wait! After frantic phone calls, Calabash Tours and Trust (who oversees and supports our placement) determines that the shipment was dropped off at the Police Station in Addo a few miles away because the truck driver “couldn’t find” the school even with explicit directions.
* More frantic calls. The trucking company will return Sunday morning to move the shipment to the school grounds. Frustrated and angry Mr Thambo, the school principal, has a conversation with the shipping company representative, a racist who challenges Mr. Thambo’s right to be angry. We are appalled.
* Joy! Rapture! On Sunday, the books are indeed moved to the school grounds!

Yes, life in South Africa is never a straight path, and from what we are told, it is similar in other developing countries. You take 10 steps forward and 9 back. And there are always stories that put life in perspective. Our school still lacks telephone lines, but we learn that two schools in the cluster of seven schools that are supported by Calabash don’t have electricity because the wiring was stolen. One of those schools has power again, through wiring paid for by Calabash with outside donations, but the other school remains without electricity.

We so admire the people who work in development and fight these battles on a daily basis. It is clear we must remain optimistic and rejoice in the positive changes. There is an attitude that things do work out in the end and you must persevere. As Americans, we feel the experience here is so important to our own personal growth. We rapidly stop taking things for granted.
We do see many South Africans of all races taking things into their own hands. Paul from Calabash tells us of a woman in PE who
organized an informal preschool for orphans “who nobody wants.” She runs it with the meager pension (social security) her husband gets. At night she takes home all 15 children to sleep in her small home. “Why do you do this?” Paul asks her. “How can I not do this?” she replies.

One of the elderly grandmothers in the community took Eileen to her home in the township for a short visit. As is typical with Xhosa homes, it was neat and spotless. She showed Eileen her partially built new home a few feet away. It is one of the homes built by the government to replace the old mud or metal shacks. But the government ran out of money and the house sits unfinished like so many we’ve seen. She said, “I must finish it myself. I will get cement and put it up. And then I will clean it because it must be clean. And then I will paint it myself.”

So how can the Kugler family get frustrated? We have to overcome the obstacles when we can and make progress where possible. And we must continue to work so that more progress is made. Perseverance is a lesson we learn on a daily basis.

Setting up the library begins

We are so happy and relieved that the shipment is finally on the school grounds. There will be many volunteers from the community helping unload the container. Monday afternoon, the families will come in for a program about the library. Eileen will be sharing ways to help their children even if they don’t read English, such as looking at the book together and talking about the pictures.

Last Thursday, we did a workshop for the teachers on how the library will work. Because there is no funding for a librarian and the container can’t hold all the books, the system will largely be classroom based, with teachers bringing boxes of appropriate-level
books into their rooms. Each child will have the opportunity to choose a book each night and take the card from the back of the book and put it into their clip (a clothes pin with their name) hanging in the classroom. When they return the book the next day, they will put the card back in the book and choose another book.

We had a great brainstorming session with the teachers on how to make the system function well. They had wonderful ideas for dealing with issues such as a teacher being absent. They were also concerned about the books being damaged by the students. Eileen talked with them about the importance of the students using the books and not worrying whether they remain in pristine condition. “I know you often receive books that have been worn out by someone else. Now you will have new books that your students can wear out themselves. If we return and the books are in perfect condition, then we know the library was not used.” We’re setting up a system where parents can come in and repair damaged books.

While we would have loved to have the library here on the first week, we see the excitement building for these books. The literacy work has created a hunger and purpose for the books, as the teachers see the impact of read-alouds and shared reading. Families are excited about the books that will be in their midst, and even when we meet new people from the community, they are aware of the library project!
We hear too many examples of books being sent to schools without any on-the-ground preparation for how they will be used (Volunteers in a school in PE discovered boxes and boxes of books in a dusty closet sent to the school by a major non-profit). We are hoping that by working with the teachers on setting up the system and using the books in the classrooms, and by working with the families on looking at the books together at home, we will indeed create a library that is used instead of becoming a protected trophy.

In addition to holding the boxes of books which the teachers can look through, the container will also be converted into a library room where special programs can be held. Eileen has been working with the municipal librarian to get family reading programs organized. The municipal library will train volunteers to be story readers. Eileen already has two volunteers, one of the grandmothers from last year’s program who has excellent English skills and a young Xhosa man who works in one of the local restaurants. He loves reading himself and is eager to be a part of the library.

Progress in literacy

There were great strides in literacy work this week. Most teachers demonstrated the techniques we taught them the past two years and some of the new teachers implemented the techniques we introduced just last week. One of the teachers just learning the think-pair-share said she could use the technique in all her subjects, not just teaching English. Yes!

We have seen tremendous growth in the learner’s abilities to predict, retell and share their ideas about characters. We were especially encouraged that some of the teachers asked their learners to write about the read-aloud books and the learners constructed their own phrases and full sentences. The teachers were really excited about what they saw.
Cecily leaves her mark on literacy at BukaniCecily Kaiser, Sara’s friend who joined us this year, has been a wonderful addition to the team. She is ever enthusiastic, hard-working, and brimming with ideas for working with the teachers. And the teachers love and respect her. Her love of children is evident every moment.

At Cecily's final meeting with the teachers, she shared how much the past two weeks have meant to her “I’ve been hearing about this work for two years from the Kuglers, but I could not imagine how wonderful this could be. I feel like I have new family on this side of the world. And I have learned so much from each of you. It is very hard to leave.” She then went out to the courtyard full of students singing songs to tell her how much they appreciated her time with them.
There is much to be done with only one week left for Larry, Eileen and Sara. This is the point that we wish we had another month here. But it is five more days so we’ll pack in as much as we can.

August 9, 2010

Literacy continues (library shipment will arrive soon...)

We arrived back at A.V. Bukani to hugs all around and much singing. The school welcomed back Nosango (Eileen) and Thando (Larry) and was thrilled to see Sara returning (especially now that she is pregnant. One of the women said, “Now I will be an auntie!”) They warmly welcomed new volunteers, Sara’s husband Alex Berens and Sara’s friend Cecily Kaiser, and lovingly refer to us all as “The Kugler Family.” It’s been fun to watch the experience of the first-timers and remember how overwhelming the warmth of this community is from the moment you arrive.

It has been a roller coaster of a week. The shipment of books has been delayed for a variety of reasons, but we believe it will indeed be delivered to the school next Thursday. In the meantime, we’ve been building support throughout the school and community, both within the township and the surrounding areas. Everyone is looking forward to the library opening! At our welcome ceremony, Principal Thambo said, “The founding wisdom is in books. As soon as these books arrive, we will take our students to a new future.”
Life quickly is put into perspective in South Africa. We were hoping that the school would have Internet connections this year. What we found was that the basic telephone lines to the entire township had been cut by thieves who took the copper wiring. So neither the school nor anyone in the township has had a land line …..since May. Principal Thambo keeps the school running on his cell phone, paying for “airtime” (minutes of use) out of his own pocket. Some in the township do have cell phones, and some of those have airtime on their phones. They are the link to health care, jobs, and police for others in the township.
Eileen and Larry are enjoying being part of the Mofu family again. Both of the Mofu’s daughters and all 3 grandsons are living in the home again this year, and we love playing with the boys. Sara, Cecily and Alex are staying in nearby Rosedale B&B, in the midst of an organic orange farm. Rosedale owners Nomdumiso and Keith, an interracial couple, share many stories of their lives in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Sara, Cecily and Alex often walk to the Mofus after school and play with the neighborhood children. What an amazing sense of community there is.

Work in literacy expands

Can it be a whole year since we’ve been in these classrooms? Impossible!
The familiar faces are as comfortable as those at family gatherings. We get down to work quickly after our arrival on Monday, creating a timetable (schedule) for our visits to the classrooms. The staff agrees that all the teachers who teach English want to learn the new methods, so we add five additional teachers to the eight we’ve been working with the past two years, modeling lessons and coaching the teachers.

On Tuesday, Larry, Sara and Cecily begin observations in the classrooms. We watch two teachers using books we brought last year, incorporating all of the techniques we left behind. We see the learners (students) responding to questions about the story in English in phrases or full sentences, speaking as naturally as their mother tongue of Xhosa. We beam as we watch the lessons unfold. Real progress has been made as these learners have developed a comfort with speaking English in the classroom that did not even exist in Xhosa two years ago.

As in any school, the level of implementation is not universal. The learners in some classes still struggle to express themselves. We talk with the teachers about the challenges they perceive, and encourage them to consistently use the techniques and materials that have yielded such rich results in other classrooms.

The enthusiasm of some of the teachers first learning these techniques buoys us. One of them expressed a profound understanding when she stated, “I have to learn to trust my learners” – to raise her expectations of what the students are capable of. Larry, Sara and Cecily agree that we all have to trust the learners, and when we do, we are rewarded with daily growth in their engagement, participation, and use of English.

A fully functioning computer lab!

Alex could only stay for one week, but what a week it was! He worked
with the computer tutor in the lab, fixing and upgrading the computers A number of the older computers had been labeled beyond repair, which meant there were never enough working computers to give every learner in a class the opportunity to sit at a computer. But working diligently, Alex used his trouble-shooting skills to get a full computer lab of functioning computers. The Kugler Education Fund enabled him to purchase items to install necessary upgrades. The teachers were extremely appreciative of his work. At our welcome party, there was a special song dedicated to him! At our final staff meeting of the week, the computer tutor said, “You have helped us take a big step toward fulfilling our dream of bringing this computer lab to the whole community. With all the computers working, we are making real progress.” When not in the computer lab, Alex did get a chance to watch the school soccer team practice.

"Thank you for reminding me why I came here”

Eileen continued her work in building bridges to the community. She was invited to speak at The Women’s Institute, a group of farmers’ wives and B&B owners in the area surrounding the township. These women help support various projects in the township, largely through fundraising.

Eileen described the library project, but also gave details of the Kuglers’ time in the township which inspired the library. She shared the warmth and acceptance of the Xhosa community and the overwhelming welcome that keeps bringing the Kuglers back. “You have the good fortune of being just a short ride from the township, while we have to travel some 20 hours to get here,” she noted. Many of the women who had never gone into the township had tears in their eyes. One B&B owner came
up to Eileen and said, “Thank you for reminding me why I came here. I’ve been so busy with my day to day life, I forgot.” Another said, “I started a vegetable garden at the school, and then listened to my friends who told me to let the township people take responsibility from there. I realize now I lost out on the experience of working with the township people side by side.”
A Xhosa man who is active in the community had been invited to hear Eileen’s presentation. He followed up, saying, “As Eileen has said, we welcome you all into the township. Please come any time and you will get a warm response. We can never achieve the Rainbow Nation if we remain separate communities of Black and white. We must integrate.”

Eileen invited the women to come to the school after the library shipment arrives and help organize the boxes of books that were not labeled earlier. They will sit side by side with the Xhosa women in the township as equal partners. It will be quite an event.

July 25, 2010

We will soon join the books in South Africa

In just a few days, we'll be leaving for our third volunteer trip to Nomathamsanqa Township in Addo, South Africa. We can't wait to see the teachers and families of this wonderful community. And, of course, the smiling faces of the students!

The books are still on schedule to arrive in Port Elizabeth on August 2. That's the day we'll be heading into the township to begin working with the school. We are hopeful that the shipment will get out of the port quickly and be trucked into the township by mid-week. I can't imagine what it will feel like to see that 40-ft trailer filled with books arrive on the grounds of A.V. Bukani Primary School. Yes, we will be taking lots of photos and video!!

We had a final planning discussion with the other members of our team -- our daughter Sara, her husband Alex Berens, and her friend Cecily Kaiser. We are READY.

July 13, 2010

A delay in shipping -- but we're OK

Well, the books were not actually on the MSC Levina..... Paperwork that we received 10 days later showed that the shipment was bumped "due to space constraints" on the overbooked ship. We held our breath waiting to get confirmation that the shipment is on the MSC NOA, which left the port today (whew). The good news is that, pending the rest of the travel going as scheduled, we will actually be in South Africa when the shipment arrives in Port Elizabeth August 2. And, we'll get to see the library trucked into the school. So maybe that's what was supposed to happen after all. :) Smooth travels, MSC NOA.

July 3, 2010

Library Shipment on its Way!

The library for A.V. Bukani is on its way! Aboard the MSC Levina (shown at right), the container of books and shelving is scheduled to arrive in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on July 13. Yes, this is after all the World Cup excitement.

Larry, Eileen and Sara will be returning this August. We'll be joined by Sara's husband Alex and her good friend and children's literature specialist Cecily Kaiser.

Want updates on the library's progress? Please drop us a note at and we'll add you to our email list!

June 10, 2010

Books Began Their Journey!

We did it -- and I do mean WE! Yesterday Larry and I watched some 25,000 books be stacked onto pallets, shrink wrapped, and then put into a moving van. Next stop, Chesapeake, Va., where the shipping container awaits. The shipment leaves June 19 (update 6/21 - ship now scheduled to leave 6/23).

As the moving van drove off, Larry and I had that little pit in our stomachs we had when our older child Sara left on that kindergarten bus. Sure, we'll see our "babies" again, but a lot will happen between now and then!

Creating this library was far more of an undertaking than Larry and I ever imagined. We remain committed to the concept that no book would be included if it wasn't good enough for our own children; and that the books needed to be library-ready or they would just sit in boxes. We could never have done that without enormous help from dedicated volunteers. Some were long-time friends. Some were new friends we met through this process. We feel blessed to have worked alongside each one.

We also appreciate the extraordinary donations that supported this project, including the shipping costs. In addition to the incredible help provided by school librarians throughout this project, the Association of School Librarians of of Fairfax County raised nearly $500 at their annual Spring tea. After reading about our project in the Washington Post, Debby Hanrahan and Friends of Ross Elementary School, a Dupont Circle neighborhood organization, organized a fundraiser for us in Washington, with donations of more than $3000 raised in one afternoon! We thank the many, many donors who have supported this project and continue to do so. You make this possible!!
If you would like to contribute toward shipping costs as well as supporting the continuing project to improve literacy at A.V. Bukani Primary School, please see our page on "How to Donate." We appreciate each donation. And you know exactly where and how it is spent.

May 28, 2010

The shipment of books leaves June 19!

As we left A.V. Bukani last year, principal Z. Thambo said to us, "I think it is time to build our library." We wholeheartedly agreed and said we would make that happen. Little did we know that this project would take over our lives the next year. But we've never had a more exhiliterating, exhausting, inspiring, overwhelming experience. We've made dozens of presentations all over the Washington, DC, region; visited wonderful schools; talked with businesses and individuals eager to help; and spent every free waking (and some we should have been sleeping) moment organizing, labeling, or boxing the books.

Did we bite off more than we could chew? Absolutely. More than we could chew alone. But with incredible support from schools, volunteers, and businesses, we've been able to feast on this project and share in its great bounty.

Last week we counted and weighed the boxes of books we are sending -- 598 boxes weighing 6 1/2 tons!! That's the size of a large adult male African elephant :) We haven't finished cataloging and labeling all the books, but we are estimating about 25,000+ books that will soon be on their way to a rural township filled with people who had been forbidden to educate others or read quality books just a few years ago.
We can't say enough about the amazing support we've had in this project. There are many individual moments -- A volunteer telling us about the time she spent in South Africa during Apartheid providing pro bono legal care to Blacks arrested for crimes such as reading forbidden books that might open their eyes to the rest of the world. Or watching high school students, with families from Sudan, Guatemala and Bolivia come to volunteer time after time to organize books for chidlren in South Africa.

We have an incredible group of dedicated volunteers organizing the books. Many contacted us after reading the Washington Post article. They drive, sometimes for hours in traffic, from Gaithersburg and Centerville and Silver Spring and Alexandria week afte
r week, staying until they finish "just one more box."

And the book drives! Thousands of children gave their books to other children in a far-away country, who are just as bright
and just as hopeful, but don't have the same resources. The books are beautiful picture books, with dedications from "grandma and grandpa" or a favorite aunt; or amazing non-fiction books that will open these students to new worlds. Parents, teachers, and students not only collected books, but sorted and labeled them.

We thank the following schools and organizations for their major book drives:
Fairfax County Schools Wolftrap Elementary, Dranesville Elementary, Sunrise Valley Elementary, Terra Centre Elementary, and Kilmer Middle School; Loudoun County Schools including Eagle Ridge Middle School; The New School; The senior class of The Madeira School; St. Ambrose School; Faithful and True Christian Center; and Girl Scout Service Unit 42-1 of the Nations Capital. We also appreciate the help with labeling provided by Falls Church High School Life Skills Class and the Hayfield High School Leo Club.

The books donated through book drives or directly to us have been of such wonderful quality. We are blown away with the caring that went into these donations. We are particularly grateful to a number of recently retired teachers who donated their prized personal libraries.

There are so many ways people have supported this project -- from librarian Katalin Mouyal who ferreted out all the book pockets in DC so we could make our books library-ready; to the Dranesville 3rd grade teachers and students who organized the book drive for the entire school; to parent Amy Beck who did her own personal book drive and handed over 1200 books, all sorted and labeled by her family; to 8-year-old Andrew Strasberg who secured several hundred donated books from his school librarian and then worked with his friends to make sure each one had a library pockets and blank card; to Loudoun County School librarian Lelah Sullivan who organized a book drive in multiple schools in Loudoun and then delivered 30 boxes of sorted and labeled books; to Roni Silverstein who collected books from fellow administrators in Montgomery County Public Schools; to Sunrise Valley Elementary teacher Anisha Goveas-Foti who became committed to this project after hearing our presentation and spent countless hours organizing books both at her school and at our home. Many, many others donated their time and resources in creative ways.

We've also had wonderful support from businesses, including Burness Communications of Bethesda which has supported this project through much-needed grants both this year and last. Telegraph Storage was generous and supportive by providing storage space and collecting books in the office. Ron Escopete of Cargo One has been a true source of knowledge and support, handling the shipment on its way to South Africa. And our dear friend Dan (who wants to remain anonymous so I won't print his last name) whose help and expertise in international shipping made this all possible. Please read about the businesses that have supported this project in "Our Supporters" page.
We thank our very generous contributors. While much of the labor is being donated, shipping costs will be about $15,000, including purchase of the shipping container and fitting it with doors, windows and electricity (yes, the costs do keep going up). We have raised about $9000 so far.

If you would like to help pay the cost of shipping this wonderful library to A.V. Bukani school, please see "How to donate" page

The shipment leaves June 17!! Larry, Sara and I will be returning in August to set up the library, help the teachers use the books in their instruction, and work with the families on how to get the most out of a library. This time we'll be joined with Sara's husband Alex Berens, her college roommate Cecile Kaiser, and Sunrise Valley Elementary School teacher Anisha Goveas-Foti. What a team! We cannot wait.