Succeeding Through Failure


I sent off our last shipment of books this week to our partner schools in Lesotho and South Africa. It’s been an incredible year of fundraising, gathering donations and shipments. We raised a total of $2088.50. Sent 23 boxes of books and 1545 books altogether.  Wow! Taking that final photo yesterday made me wonder what will get to South Africa first. The boxes or my suitcase???


Yes, I’m going to South Africa! Woo-hoo!

We have been involved with our Books to Africa program for three years. During this time, I have had the chance to get to know the teachers we work with quite well despite the fact that we live thousands of miles apart.  I am immeasurably grateful to the Microsoft Expert Educator program, which connected me with our partner teachers. If not for that program, I know I never would have met these teachers.


It’s been my wish for a couple years to visit the schools where we send books. I applied twice for a Fund For Teachers grant to enable me to go to South Africa to study children’s literature and extend our partnership. Twice I was turned down. The second time it really hurt. I had put hours and hours of effort into my application. I revised it with advice from members of last year’s committee. I submitted a draft this year and got valuable feedback on what would strengthen my application. I put everything I had into the application and it didn’t work.

When I told one of my classes I didn’t know what I would do if I wasn’t accepted, one of my students said, “Why don’t you go anyway?”  I had all sorts of excuses for why I couldn’t, and I stuck stubbornly to the belief that I would get the “You are a Fund for Teachers 2015 Fellow” letter that day.  When I  got “we regret to inform you” letter, I was crushed. Immediately I thought I was a failure. I had tried my best and I still failed. How could that be? I had a very big pitty party for myself all afternoon. Yet, the words, “Why don’t you go anyway” kept ringing in my head. 

I also thought about how we teachers  are role models for our students. If we can’t accept failure, learn from it and move forward, how can we ask our students to do the same? So, after finding some amazingly priced airline tickets, and the “I’ll be disappointed if you don’t go” message from my husband, I took that failure and turned it into a success story.

In exactly 9 weeks I will be boarding a plane and flying to South Africa to visit three of the schools and teachers that we work with on our project! I am so excited.
First, I will fly into Johannesburg (purple circle) and spent a couple days visiting some historical sights and recovering from 26 hours of traveling. From there I will fly to Polokwane (formerly called Pietersburg). I will spend 4 days visiting Pula Madibogo Primary School. Phuti Ragophala, the principal of this public school is trying very hard integrate technology into the classroom and  make changes for her students. I will have the chance to teach some lessons and work with some of the area teachers about how to get students inspired to read.

From there, I will fly to Durban on the Indian Ocean coast. I will spend a week in this area and visit two or three more schools. Our partner school Highbury Preparatory School is here. This is an all boys private school located in Hillcrest, South Africa.


They partner with Ndlokolo Primary School, a semi-rural school near the Inanda Dam in the Valley of a Thousand Hills outside of Hillcrest, South Africa. They have had a ten year relationship with Ndlokolo Primary School, sharing visits between the two schools for 7th graders, an annual Easter egg collection and food collection project designed to collect food for the numerous children who attend school without having had breakfast. They also deliver the books we send to Highbury Prep.


I may also have the opportunity to visit the all girls school in the area as well. St. Mary’s School is in Kloof, South Africa and a short distance from Hillcrest. I’ve never actually visited an all girls or all boys school, so that experience will very different than school in Washington.

Words can’t really fully describe how much I am looking forward to this trip. I’ve never been to Africa or traveled this far by myself. It’s going to be an adventure of amazing proportions. I’m crossing my fingers that I will be able see some of the Big 5 animals (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino) while I am there too.

Between now and July 15th, I’m trying to figure out what books to take and lessons to share. If you have any advice for me, please share it! There’s nothing worse about going on an adventure and then saying, “I wish I had thought of ….” or “I wish I had known….”. I will be sharing photos via social media and on this blog as much as I can or as internet cooperates. Look for the hashtag #bookstoafrica15

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10 thoughts on “Succeeding Through Failure

  1. Dear Mrs Hembree,

    Wow I am so over the moon after reading this post. I believe this is one life changing experience and one that I know you are going to enjoy and never forget all because you had a vision to give.

    I also hope you get n the chance to see the five amazing animals while visiting Africa.
    I only hope one day you will get the chance to visit Australia because you know both Bianca and I will be here to great you with open loving arms.

    It is amazing how thru our disappointment we can turn things around just like you have. Also thanks to you and your passion of wanting to give the gift of reading to others you have formed amazing friendships and the power of reading.
    Have a wonderful time Mrs Hembree and will check into your blog to read all about this amazing adventure you soon will be going on.

    From your pal down under,

    • Dear AA,
      I always look forward to reading your comments because they are so special! You always take the time to make a comment and keep our connection going even though BB is long past elementary school!
      I am crossing my fingers that the plans I have to see the Big 5 animals will work out. You never know what you will see when you visit a nature preserve, but I think I should be able to see at least one. Of course, then I’ll probably be so excited I won’t be able to take a photo.
      My family instilled the importance of reading and it has been my passion since I was a young girl. If I can share that with other children and help them see how powerful reading can be to transform lives, then it’s all worth it.
      I have not forgotten about going to Australia. One of my girlfriends is a flight attendant and have been flying into Sydney every week for a few months. Perhaps someday, I will accompany her and make a trip to your home. We have a lot of catching up to do!
      Hugs to you and BB,

  2. That is just fabulous news @Mrs_Hembree ! I know this will be the learning trip of a lifetime. Good for you for finding your own way to do something important!

    • Thank you Jamie! It’s going to be an extraordinary trip for sure. I can’t wait to soak it all in and learn as much as I can.

  3. whoo hoo! We’re in for an exciting time. Will let you know final details soon. In Kruger Park for this week on a week’s special leave. So lucky and so fortunate. 6 days with my son who is visiting from China.

    • I hope you enjoy your visit to Kruger Park with your son. What a very special visit that must be! I am counting the weeks until I’m there, too. Whatever we do is going to be just perfect.
      See you soon!

  4. Thanks for all you do! The children at Ndlokolo love the books you send! We look forward to your visit! See you soon!

    • Thank you for leaving a comment Michelle. I’m so glad the children love the books we send. Reading that makes it all worthwhile. I look forward to meeting you in late July.

  5. Julie,

    You are so inspiring. Your approach to life is ‘why not?’ and look at you – about to follow your books on an amazing journey. I remember our first conversation about the extra books you had that were sitting unread in a closet at the school and your desire to share them. You’ve taught not only your students but me too. As a mom, I’m sometimes anxious of technology replacing real life experiences, but you have shown me the amazing side of technology – being able to connect your students with kids in other continents has opened up their eyes and world in ways that would have not been possible in my childhood.
    I can’t wait to follow your journey through your blog….somehow I think the best is yet to come. Thank you for opening eyes and doors, not just to the kids in Africa, but to the lucky kids at AGB that you teach.

    • Judy,
      I am pretty late in reading your comment, but I think it came at the perfect time. You’ll see that in the post I just finished this morning. Thanks for always believing in me! I will share my journey this summer as much as I can (or as internet allows). I’m excited to see where this road takes me.

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