Library Project

Mtwara Girls Secondary School

To enhance the work of Read International and the book distribution process in Tanzania, a libray refurbishment is assigned to each region with a sufficient number of volunteers. As we were a group of 6 we were able to refurbish a school library alongside the book distribution. The Regional Education Officer chose Mtwara Girls Secondary School for the refurbishment. This was a fee-paying boarding school, but not as we know it in the UK. Due to the lack of government funds allocated to education, many schools have to charge fees in order to cover their costs. There are, of course, ‘posh’ boarding schools, but Mtwara Girls was certainly not one of them.

The pupils stay in dormitories with narrow bunk beds, they do their own washing with water pumped from the well and the sanitation facilities are very poor. There is one western toilet on the school premises, this is in the head teacher’s office, and is still not very pleasant. All other toilets are out-house style squats which unfortunately enable diseases to spread easily and, more noticeably, they smell horrendous. The library was a large, disused building when we arrived. We were surprised to see the library was full of book shelves and tables as in previous years volunteers had needed to commission these from local carpenters, costing the majority of the refurbishment budget. As we did not have to cover this expense, we were able to use the budget for other items and the remainder will go towards the refurbishment at a different school in Mtwara next year. The library was full of books, however, the vast majority of these were irrelevant to the pupils, outdated or simply poorly donated from other charities -examples include a book on how to use computers (the school has no electricity) and knitting tips for housewives -no need to explain why these were less than useful to the pupils. The girls all had a fantastic attitude towards learning and were very keen to lend a hand in the library and practice their English with us; we were also pleased to receive help with our Swahili! It was wonderful to get to know some of the students and listen to them talk about their ambitions and the books they love to read.

Mtwara Girls is a secondary school which teaches GCSEs and A-Levels. Unfortunately, due to gender stereotypes embedded in the educational system, the girls do not have the opportunity to study a wide variety of subjects, for example they cannot study most sciences at A Level which reduces the career options of the pupils. The books we donated to the school from the book collection scheme in the UK and from publishers covered all of the subjects taught at the school. More importantly (as far as the girls were concerned) we brought a couple of hundred fiction books to add to the library. It came as a surprise to hear that the girls enjoy reading advanced novels and love English and American books. We were worried the girls may not be able to relate so some of the content of western books however, it seems these books simply help them build an image of the west, rather than confusing them. We therefore left Mtwara Girls School knowing all of the new books would be read by the pupils. Below are some pictures of the school and a brief diary of the refurbishment:

The library on day 1 -students help to sort the old and disused books. We assigned a ‘hapana’ and ‘ndio’ table for the books and with thirty students we soon found ourselves in an uncontrolable sea of books:

Hours of book sorting was followed by some dancing…

This is our driver at the school, Mr Moses, who saved us from stress meltdowns and swahili struggles many times:

Mr Moses took us back to the Lutheran everyday after work, dropping the librarian off on the way:

We spent the first week tackling the thousands of old books and creatures which had made their home in the library -these included a rat and many cockroaches, but we didn’t hang around long enough to take photos. Dead creatures however, cannot crawl over you…

By the end of week 1 we had finally sorted all of the books and squished/swept any remaining creepy crawlies, it was a triumphant moment:

As the walls were in such bad condition from damp and previous shoddy paint jobs, we (mostly Kit and Sarah) spent 3 days cleaning and sanding the walls down before painting. We were able to buy paint from a shop near the market in Mtwara however, it was not the paint buying experience we anticipated. Forget sample colours, pallettes and lever arch files of colour choices, the biggest range in Mtwara consisted of cream, more cream, a few pastel shades and a shocking postbox red. After waiting for the shopkeeper to find the paint for 3 hours and negotiating a price in Swahili, we were on our way back to the library and ready to paint with the help of a couple of students:

We painted the walls cream, then used the postbox red for a boarder and the pastel colours to paint the book shelves. To engage the pupils in considering their education and their future, we asked them to draw around their hands and fill in the fingers with 5 things about themselves, then write their ambition in the middle. We hoped this would help link our work in the library to the futures that the girls want for themselves, using the books as a means of achieving this. I painted some trees in the reading corner of the library and the girls’ hands were stuck here as the leaves on the trees. We hope these will remain in the library to inspire the girls during their studies.

Once the painting was complete, we rearranged the book shelves, a few of these were moved to a different building in the school to make the library feel more spacious. We assigned a subject to each shelf and arranged the books in order, then came the time consuming task of labelling every single book for the reference system. We hoped this would enable the girls to locate books more easily and also encourage them to keep the library tidy and orderly. The books were arranged by subject, then my pre GCSE, GCSE and A Level grades, we then wrote the shelf contents on the end of the shelves:

The final step was to decorate the library with faux flowers, which were very popular among the girls, cushions for the reading corner and kanga ‘cloths’ for the tables. We also hung world maps on the walls as part of a scheme to encourage the girls to be globally aware. We found that many Tanzanian secondary school students could not locate Tanzania on the world map, mainly because they had not been provided with maps in schools, they were therefore very interested in the maps, especially to see where we had come from to work in Tanzania.

We held a story competition for the girls to encourage them to be creative. Tanzanian schools do not teach art or encourage creativity among students and we hoped our competition would provide an outlet for the thoughts and ideas of the pupils. Among the entries were stories about religion and hope and more shockingly, a story about a young girl who is sexually abused by her father. We spoke to the pupil who wrote the story, her name was Hilda, she loved all things American and was very talkative, confident and seemed care free. Hilda told us she had made the story up and it had had not reflected her personal experiences. There was no reason not to believe her on this, and we congratulated her on her impeccable English writing. We bound the stories together for the girls to keep in the library and gave an award for the best story at the library opening ceremony. We also encouraged the girls to draw pictures to be displayed in the library, we received some brilliant art work and had these laminated to display on the walls:

We were then ready for the library opening ceremony! This was by far the highlight of our trip, the appreciation, respect and thankfulness of the students and teachers overwhelmed us, making the library opening our most emotional day in Tanzania. The school choir sang with the school band, the students gave thank you speeches, the teachers from the training college came to see the library, as did the regional academic officers for Mtwara. We assigned a library committee to help ensure the smooth running of the library when we had left and we gave prizes to the winner of the story competition and for the artwork the students produced. The speeches and library opening were followed by a disco which was the perfect way to end our time at Mtwara Girls Secondary School.

 ~If you have any questions or would like further information on anything mentioned, please do not hesitate to email me at, I will be happy to help as I understand how daunting Tanzania can seem -The aim of my blog is to hopefully help a few people : ) ~


2 Responses to Library Project

  1. Suzanne says:

    Wow, not only is your information incredibly informative, but you and your group did a fantastic job. I am so grateful to see how you have blessed this community.

  2. Joyce Miller says:

    I loved your story of the library renovation and seeing pictures of the school. I taught commercial subjects in the classroom that is now the library as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1967-68. The library is beautiful and the students happy and encouraged by your efforts on their behalf.

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