By Ross Hanvidge
THE sun may have set on a group of Hermitage Academy pupils’ African adventure, but the impact made on the lives of school children 5,000 miles away will last much longer.
Ten S6 students, along with technical teacher Louise Baird and deputy headteacher Roseanne Mackay, made the journey from Helensburgh to Zambia last month after a year of preparation for the Bookcase Zambia project.
Spending two weeks in the south-western province of Livingstone – named after Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone – the group helped set up a library within a local school with books donated from back home.
They were also involved in teaching throughout their stay, educating pupils at Highlands Primary School in Scottish culture and history, everything from Robert the Bruce and the Loch Ness monster to country dancing.
Miss Baird said: “Three years ago I volunteered with IVHQ in Livingstone for four weeks at Highlands Primary.
“I saw the lack of reading material and was inspired to start Bookcase Zambia to donate reading books for the children there.
“With help from Hermitage Academy and the Helensburgh community, 1,300 reading books have been donated to the school in Zambia since.
“The pupils each set off with a suitcase full of books kindly donated from back home and were given space within the primary school to set up a library, clearing it out and organising it.
“Over the course of the second week, all of grades three, four, five, six and seven had borrowed a book.”
The group also attended a local homework club in the nearby village of Linda set up by the Zambezi Sunrise Trust and kept running by volunteers.
In one of the poorest communities in Zambia, the homework club in Linda is the only form of education for some of the children attending, while soccer club sports days also entertain kids, with the Hermitage pupils organising a crossbar challenge and handing out Ardencaple and Dumbarton football shirts to those taking part.
Miss Baird added: “In volunteering at the primary school and at Linda, the pupils became aware of the lack of sanitary bins and products available to the young women in the community.
“Bins and products were donated to the school for pupils and staff, but the issue was more prominent in Linda when combined with the lack of education and resources.
“Along with donating sanitary products the group put together booklets of information and guidance and provided a lesson for the girls at homework club.
“Many of the girls at Linda took home the booklets to pass on their knowledge to younger sisters in time.
“This project is now being carried forward by volunteers to provide a sustainable supply of reusable sanitary towels to those who have none.
“We are hoping that over the course of the coming year we can get a group together from across the community to help us to manufacture some reusable pads to take over next year.”
During their limited spare time, the group managed to take in some local sights, encountering baboons, giraffes, leopards and elephants among the impressive African wildlife and stopping off at the spectacular designated World Heritage site Victoria Falls.
Pupil Joanna Lindsay said: “This trip has been truly life-changing and I’ve made memories that will last a lifetime.
“I’m so lucky to have done something this amazing with a group of 11 other incredible people.
“All of our eyes have been opened to what goes on in developing countries and it fills me with happiness that we were able to make such a difference in the time we were in Livingstone.”
In future years Hermitage Academy and Bookcase Zambia are looking to further aid and expand these projects with next year’s planning already underway.
To keep up to date, follow @BookcaseZambia on Facebook and on the school website – hermitageacademy.argyll-bute.sch.uk.
If you feel you can help out with a fund-raising idea or would like to be part of the group making the reusable pads, contact the school at email@example.com for the attention of Louise Baird.