I had the exciting opportunity to visit Maru-a-Pula School in Gaborone, Botswana in March right as New York was hunkering down and preparing for the blizzard. I was supposed to leave on Tuesday of that week at midnight, but the storm pushed my departure to Thursday at midnight, cutting off a few days on a planned visit set up by Maru-a-Pula’s Headmaster, Andy Taylor. Andy had been a Middle Division humanities teacher at Horace Mann School for years, and his tenure at HM overlapped with mine. Since leaving HM in 2004 to take on the Headmaster role at MaP, Andy has made yearly returns back to New York, and each time he’s stopped by to visit the Katz Library. During his visits over the years, Andy has frequently mentioned trying to get his library to be more like our library, especially in terms of circulation. We have a similar population to MaP – around 740-750 students ages 13-18/19 – and yet the library there just hasn’t been used by students the way ours is. This past year, in an attempt to figure out why, Andy asked me to come and do a review of the library at MaP, concentrating on the collection, the space, and the staff. This whirlwind evaluation ended up happening in just three days instead of five because of the blizzard, but it was a wonderful trip nonetheless.
The trip for me began almost the moment I landed on that Friday when the staff at MaP whisked me off to a weekend game drive on the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa where I spent an absolutely life changing weekend at Tau Lodge. If you’ve never seen elephants, giraffe, rhinos, and lions in their natural habitat and have only experienced them in a zoo, a game drive will blow your mind. I fell in love with the game drive experience – stopping at sunset to watch a large bull male elephant drink from a watering hole while we sipped wine was fabulously surreal moment. We saw so much in the five three-hour game drives I did over my two-and-a-half days at Madekwi. My pictures, taken with my cell phone, don’t do justice to the experience, so click on the links to Madekwi and Tau and see the wonders of this magical place!
When I returned to MaP on the Sunday evening, we got right to work with a dinner with all of the library staff and the library evaluation committee, made up of teachers mostly from English and History. We talked about what they were hoping to get from my visit – another set of eyes from a school similar to their own and someone who could help them think about how to make their library better for their community of day and boarding students and faculty.
Over the three days I was at the school, I meet with students from every form and I talked about reading, gave book recommendations, showed them our Katz Library page and our research resources. Students were popping into the library all day or stopping me on campus to get book recommendations, and I showed them how to find the recommendations we post every other week on our webpage. While hanging out and chatting with students about books, I also had the great privilege of meeting two young women in the Fourth Form – Bonolo and Dineo – who asked me if I could give them pointers on how to start a library. The question so intrigued me that we ended up chatting for nearly an hour about their project.
Both girls grew up going to primary school out in the bush in Botswana, at the Galaletsang Primary School, which had no library at all. When the girls arrived at MaP for First Form, they felt incredibly behind their peers. As part of a community service project requirement at MaP, the girls are determined to start a library at Galaletsang, and the primary school has agreed to give them a room to use. If everything can be arranged on this end, I will be returning to Botswana in August for a week to help the girls put together the library using about 20 cartons of books for 5-12-year-olds that we culled from this year’s MD/UD Book Fair at Horace Mann. Using some of the funds we raised from the Book Fair, we will be shipping over these very gently used books – and me – and we will use the week I will have with them to catalog and set up a very simple system for checking out materials. The girls are excited that their dream may soon take shape and become a reality, and a retired librarian who contacted me through the AISL listserv has also been in contact with the girls and she hopes to work with Galaletsang in the 2018-2019 as a volunteer when she and her husband plan to spend a year in Botswana.
Horace Mann hopes that this connection to MaP continues to grow. We have already had various other teachers who have visited, and several recent graduates of HM have done gap semesters or years at MaP working with the students there. We are excited that this new connection to Galaletsang will be another opportunity for HM students and faculty to reach out to the global community and make help make a difference in the lives of others.