Impact of Caring: Post 5 – Desiree

This post is the fifth in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School
Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika Falconer

Thoughtful, dedicated, generous, sincere and a true friend – these are just a few of the words I can use to describe Des. She and her husband Rod welcomed me into their home two years ago, and once again they opened their home to me, for which I am so completely grateful. While we live the world away from each other, we are lifelong friends. From sunset beach walks in Durban, a Bunnychow dinner, political discussions, long drives to Johannesburg and Limpopo Province as well as an unforgettable Safari experience, my trip would not have happened without their help. I can’t thank them enough for sharing their time, home and willingness to transport me near and far to help make my trip come together.

Bunnychows aren’t for rabbits, nor are they rabbit meat. They are a popular Durban meal made from a hollowed out loaf of bread that is stuffed with curry. The meal originated in the Durban Indian community

Des has been my liaison with Highbury Preparatory Primary School for many years. This private school believes in helping other less fortunate area schools and my Books to Africa project has been able to contribute to this relationship. Des recently retired from her technology teaching position there, but still works tirelessly to make sure the gardens are maintained. In addition, although retired, she is committed to helping the teachers and students with reading at Inchanga Primary School.

This government school in the Valley of a Thousand Hills serves a very disadvantaged community with high needs for extra support. She has been providing guidance and support for the administration and teachers who have started the school’s very first library. We have been able to donate some of the books for this library.

Having a library at a school with over 1,000 students and classrooms of at least 50-60 students brings a different set of issues to solve. The room is small, so 50 students can’t come at the same time with their teacher. There isn’t a librarian to oversee the children when they come without their teacher either. With some mobile carts or boxes and a willingness to figure it out, I know these teachers and Des will find a solution. Reading and literacy is key in ensuring that these students have a quality primary education and a solid foundation for secondary school.

I was able to visit Inchanga on the same day that some of the 7th grade boys from Highbury Prep came to visit with their teacher Lynette. Armed with over a 1,000 sandwiches made by the boys back at school as part of their Mandela 67 minute community project, we handed out lunch to the entire student body. After I was able to meet with their Headmaster and the language arts teachers to talk about how our reading program can further assist their literacy initiative.

It is always special to see books that our teachers or students donated in the hands of young readers thousands of miles away. Witnessing the impact that our students have on their peers by donating books and sending them overseas gives credence to the term agents of change. They are making a difference one book at a time.

* For further information about our Books to Africa Partnership program, please visit our blog

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Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika

This post is the fourth in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School

Julika Falconer
I am very fortunate because I have enough food to eat on a daily basis. I have a job that pays enough for my shelter, food and extras that I need. However, there are thousands of children who wake up hungry everyday.

According to a 2014 blog post published by Bordon Project, a nonprofit agency that addresses poverty and hunger,  over 11 million South African children are unsure when or where they will get their next meal. Jobs are scarce or pay very little and directly influence the amount of food parents can provide for their children. When children come to school undernurished or suffer from the effects of a lack of proper nutrients, it makes learning even more difficult. Without proper nutrition, the full capacity of what a child can achieve educationally is dramatically reduced.

I had the great fortune to meet a person who have devoted a major portion of her life helping feed vulnerable and impoverished children. I believe she is a  lifesaver for many needy children. Julika Falconer is the CEO of FutureLife Foundation, the charity arm of FutureLife, a company which has supplied over 9 million nutritious meals to needy children since 2009. She has been instrumental in finding financial sponsors so the children at Inchanga Primary School where I visited can begin their day with a nutritious breakfast. Having breakfast has positively impacted the learning for the children at Inchanga. Instead of starting their day hungry, they are able to have a quick nutritious meal and then have the capacity to concentrate on their lessons and do better in school.

What was most striking about the food packet was that nothing else was needed to eat. Children didn’t need a separate spoon, cup or dish. They could simply compress the packet to open the middle seal, rub the pouch, tear open a corner and drink the contents. The plastic bags are then collected, recycled and made into hard plastic benches which are donated back to the school. The program is a winner from all sides of the table. I look forward to working more closely with the staff at Inchanga knowing that they are linking forces with as many agencies as possible to make sure their students can achieve their full potential.

This blog posted was cross-published on my Books to Africa Partnership blog site.

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The Impact of Caring: Part Two

This post is the second in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. The first post can be found here. It is also cross-posted on my Books to Africa blog.

Fiona and Cheryl-

​These ladies are part of my Microsoft Educator Network and shared their time and homes with me. I am so fortunate to be part of this organization where I can go across the world and meet up with friends.

Fiona entertained me on my first night in Cape Town and made sure I wasn’t homesick. Our friendship dates back to 2011 when we met through blogging. I had started my Bulldog Reader Blog and was meeting different people around the blogging world. Fiona also had a blog, and a comment here and a response there, led to a friendship across the miles.
​We first met in person in 2011 when she came to Seattle with the Microsoft in Education program. We met again at an ISTE conference in San Diego. Now we were meeting on her turf in Cape Town! Our love for technology kept our conversation going for hours. I loved hearing how Fiona’s desire to help others is taking her around the country leading technology training with teachers.

Cheryl and I met in Budapest at the Microsoft Global Educator Conference. She teaches Biology at a private high school near Cape Town.

  Cheryl took me around her school where I could see how they are integrating the Global Sustainable Development Goals at a school level. She inspired me to introduce the program at my school. I think it’s important to teach our students the impact they can have on their world. I think with the work that our school is doing with education already, learning about the goals is a natural fit.
​We also had great conversations about the work the students are doing at school regarding water conservation. In the Pacific Northwest with our abundance of rain ALL WINTER LONG, it’s a completely different mindset to think about how you preserve this resource. We have too much and they have not enough. The students have brainstormed and created posters to hang around the school reminding everyone about water conservation.
Cheryl and her husband also showed me around the Constantia wine farms which are known throughout the world. Even though it is winter and not much was in bloom, it was easy to imagine how beautiful the grounds must look in the summer. Seeing the Cape Dutch design buildings with the thatch roof is not something we see everyday here. I was also very amused by the baboon sign. Not really something you see in Seattle!

It truly was special to have two women in Cape Town with kindred spirits who were will to share their time and homes with me while I was there. Click here if you would like to learn more about the Books to Africa Partnership. We are always looking for more people to help support our partner schools in Africa.

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The Impact of Caring: Part One

I just returned from a month long trip to South Africa as both a volunteer teacher and visitor to our partner schools in my Books to Africa partnership. I generally write about this program on a separate Books to Africa Partnership blog.

However, today I started a new blog series about my thoughts about this trip. Words like amazing and heartfelt can describe my experience, but they don’t even begin to capture the depth of what I went through. Instead I decided to share through the lens of the people who made my trip meaningful. This post is also published here.

Words are usually my friend, but I’m finding it difficult to write down my thoughts about my trip to South Africa. As I was thinking about how to write about this experience, I realized what made this trip so amazing  was about the people I encountered along the way.  I have decided to share my trip through a series of blog posts about the people who made my trip memorable.
​The people I met all share a common trait. They care. This simple act of caring is having a longstanding impact on many people.. That may not sound so profound, but the reality is huge. By talking to parents, volunteers, teachers and students, I witnessed first hand the difficulties they face everyday. Huge class sizes, lack of resources, old computers, no internet, no paper or pens, and hunger are daily problems. Yet, in the schools and places I visited, I saw multitudes of people who care and by doing so are making a difference in the future of their country. They are the future of South Africa.

Faaidah and Mahavia 

Faaidah and Mahavia opened their home to me and 13 other volunteers while I stayed in Cape Town. Their belief that it’s important to give back to others drives them to give people opportunities to help in their community. Our conversations filled in the gaps of knowledge I had about the history of Cape Town during the apartheid years where thousands of people were displaced from their homes and forcibly moved to new areas.

She made sure we experienced the joys of a sunset on top of Signal Hill and see the colorful huts at Murzenburg Beach.

She urged us to visit Robben Island to understand about the history of Nelson Mandela’s life. We learned about the politics of the Cape Town region and the complexities of racism that still exist in both of our countries.

They took another volunteer and I to one of the squatter camps where we passed out pens, books and other materials to children living there.  Children pushed and shoved to make sure they could get something and were disappointed when we ran out of supplies. I spent the rest of the day contemplating the reality of this living situation and wondering how it could change. Obviously if there was an easy solution to get families out of squalid living conditions, it would have already been accomplished. I was saddened by the reality of the fact that there are no easy solutions. Seeing how down I felt about the experience, Faaidah shared that she heard one boy walk away with a book and a pen saying, “This is enough for me.” At that moment in time, I hope it was enough, but I also hope the future will bring him more.

We also talked about religion. While I have met many Muslim people, I had never had the opportunity to really talk in depth to a Muslim about their faith. Faaidah opened her heart and faith with all of us, renewing my belief that it’s not a person’s faith that defines them necessarily. What matters is within the person’s heart and soul. I left Faaidah’s home knowing that while we might be different on the outside, our commonalities on the inside matter more. Her family’s desire to make sure volunteers have a safe place to live while they work in the area speaks volumes about their desire to care. I truly was fortunate to have to opportunity to live with Faaidah and Mahavia while I was in Cape Town.




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Celebrating Generosity

How do you celebrate the fact that 35 Books to Africa club members came together, created posters, screamed loudly, and inspired students from kindergarten to grade to dig deep into their coin jars and piggy banks and donate to their project?

You play “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang and make sure it’s blaring loudly from the speakers as they walk into the library! We had much to celebrate this morning as I was able to announce our final figures.

Surprisingly, at first I wasn’t sure how to celebrate. As I was kicking around ideas in my head, I realized that maybe the best thing I could do is help them see that their actions are similar to some of the most giving and selfless people in the world:

Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Mandela, MLK, Jr.

This is the Sway we watched:

Afterward, it was time to share the news around the school with mini-thank you posters to attach to our big posters already plastered along every wall in school. However, that easy idea, quickly got a bit complicated. When we began, our final number was $1251.04. Woo-hoo!

And then more people came to our meeting today and asked, “Can we donate more money still?”

Five minutes later, we had $1262.54.

Ten minutes after that it was $1288.54.

By the end, we had $1302.54 donated to our cause!

That will pay the postage for 14 boxes of books to be sent to our partner schools in Lesotho, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia. It has been a great week of caring and sharing!

Update: Tuesday, February 2, 2017 Final Coin Drive amount raised:



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Coins Change Lives

marty hadding via Compfight

Welcome 2017! It’s a new year to change lives! Precisely four years ago when my students launched our Books to Africa club they learned that simple coins can change the lives of children they don’t even know. All it takes is the belief that everybody matters and anyone can help. That original post in 2013, began a program that links children with books to other children who also love reading, but need books to make their dreams come true.

We’re collecting those coins again this year on Wednesday, January 25th. We will have Books to Africa coin collections stations before school in the front and rear where we will accept any cash donation. Those coins add up and make a huge difference. We will use them to pay for the postage to send boxes of books to our partner schools in Lesotho, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. So look under those couch cushions, in your piggy banks, under the car mats for change to bring to school. Coins change lives!


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Learning without Borders

This has been a very special couple of weeks for our books to Africa program.Our international reading project was featured in the first issue of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator magazine last week. This magazine is filled with stories, tips and helpful information from teachers. Our article is on page 35 and showcases the impact this project has had on  the teachers and students receiving these books.


Technology really works wonders with tearing down the classroom walls and bringing the world inside our classrooms. Last week we Skyped with some of the students at Pula Madibogo Primary School. We shared facts, we had an impromptu recorder mini-concert and students shared poetry they had written.
Seeing the faces of the students 10,000 miles away made the connection personal and real for the students on both sides of the world. Suddenly they understood how relevant our project is and how we both benefit from it.

IMG_0032 (1)

Next week we are Skyping with Thejane Malakane in Maseru, Lesotho using his mobile phone. He doesn’t have internet at his school, but he doesn’t let that inconvenience stop him. A phone with a camera can bring us together as well. In a few days 300 more books will arrive at Thejane’s school where the students will use them for lessons and free reading. It would be quite the miracle if they arrived in time for us to  see his students open these boxes.

good box

I sent off 4 boxes on April 30th.   As you can see below, the box went from Issaquah, to Kent, to New York, then Dubai, Johannesburg and hopefully to Maseru for its final stop. The tracking information is so helpful because I can see where the boxes are, if they are together and when they arrived at the destination. Sometimes communication between the post office and the schools needs a boost, so I try to let teachers know when the books are there.

world maplines
tracking a package

Whether they get there in time for our call or not, we are having a great time packing up and sending off the boxes. We raised about $1500 and roughly speaking that means we will be able to send about 1500 books this year. Since our program started I estimate we have sent about 6,000 books to Africa. We are changing lives one book at a time!


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Singing with John Farrell

The singer/songwriter John Farrell entertained our kindergarten students this week with a fun program promoting peace, friendship, books, fun animals and caring.


Everyone participated with hand movements and singing about ants, libraries, feelings and other fun topics. Here is a short video of his visit.

I am so grateful that John was able to visit our school and I could finally meet him face to face.John Farrell is also the founder of “Bridges of Peace and Hope,” an international, non-profit organization of teachers and students dedicated to promoting education and understanding through collaborative, creative arts exchanges and service learning projects. I joined the Bridges of Peace and Hope non-profit group in 2015, but hadn’t met John yet. When I went to Budapest, some other members and I visited a school also very involved with the program.


Now I’m looking forward joining the “We Care Because We Care” book project. I think it would be an awesome addition to our Books to Africa project.


John Farrell has fabulous school programs. If you would like to learn more, visit his website or the Bridges of Peace and Hope website.

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Fun Animal Research


To correlate with my library curriculum, Common Core Standards,  and our Books to Africa project, my second graders have been researching facts about land mammals in South Africa. We used our library iPads, the database PebbleGo (I LOVE PebbleGo!!!) and the app ChatterPix (aka ChatterKid).

I am thrilled with the results because the kids were highly engaged through each stage of the process, including the end where they got to record their mini-report on ChatterPix. I documented the process in this Sway.

If you are interested in making a Sway, check out this link. I love Sways because they are incredibly easy to make and embed in blogs without hassles.

This is my first experience with using iPads in the classroom and as with any project it came with its own set of problems because of my learning curve. I really wish there was a way to transfer files with a USB. After working out how to get files from five different iPads to my iPad (thank you Dropbox), I found one BIG area for improvement next year. I have five second grade classes and the video management quickly became very complicated. Next year I will definitely limit each class to an indepth study of one animal. Lesson learned!

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Student Smiles Tell the Story

We had some fabulous news recently from our partner teacher in South Africa! In late February we mailed off two boxes of books to Principal Phuti Ragophala and her students at Pula Madibogo Primary School in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.



Earlier in February, my students raised $1400 in a coin drive to send as many books to our partner students as we could this year.


The workers at the post office always tell me that it will take 7-10 business days for the boxes to arrive at their destination. Believe me – that’s never happened! More like 4-5 weeks is my experience! In any case, I saw this post on Facebook this week.

package mar 2016

The timing of the arrival was perfect actually. They arrived right before the school was going to close for the Easter holidays. The students were glad to have some books to take home to read during vacation!

tinny 734974_1544533925839050_3547552841343206245_n 993585_1544534032505706_8776706450413378021_n 1375641_1544533985839044_4906294010210280538_n 1934390_1544533882505721_6471000720131435950_n 10258781_1544533959172380_7784340770530387042_n 12417773_1544533865839056_7753631869514257229_n

These smiles on their faces really tell the whole story.Students can make a difference in the lives of other students. They just need to be empowered to do it by their teachers and librarians.

How are you empowering your students to be global learners?

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