LIKE thousands of parents at this time of year, I’m faced with the cost of kids going back to school and/or college.
As well as the uniforms, stationery, etc, textbooks must be bought — a major expense.
Every year, I’m enraged that perfectly good schoolbooks can’t be reused because either the content is supposedly improved and republished or the curriculum changes.
I was hit badly a few years ago with the introduction of the new Project Maths course, having four perfectly good maths books (inherited from cousins), all defunct because of the new curriculum.
At the time, I cursed the system, the waste of paper and unwanted cost of having to buy new texts with probably little modification to their former content. Surely the principles of arithmetic don’t change that much?
It was the same story with other subjects —history, geography, religion. Why couldn’t the book companies print, for example, a €2 booklet listing additions and amendments instead of forcing people to fork out more than €30 for a brand new version? Year after year, parents complain but nothing changes.
A few weeks ago, once again, I brought about 20 redundant schoolbooks to the second-hand bookshop. Only four were reusable. The thought of dumping the remaining obsolete tomes in the recycling bin was galling.
Then I remembered seeing a Facebook post about a charity wanting old textbooks for schools in Zambia, so I checked it out.
Clicking onto the Facebook page ‘Education for Zambia’, I got in contact with Colm Smyth. “We take text books apart from Irish and Geography, as these are not suitable in Zambia,” he wrote.
No Irish books, I could understand. The ‘cupla focal’ wouldn’t be much use in inner-Africa, but surely children need to learn about planet Earth? “The children are taught the geography of Zambia and the African continent, so, for now, it tends to be more localised,” he clarified.
I duly arranged to meet Colm. When I told my neighbour about it — another mum plagued with boxes of unwanted schoolbooks — we packed the car boot and off I went.
Colm is chairman of an educational charity called Education For Zambia based in Midleton, Co Cork. It supports two schools in Zambia, one in Lusaka and the other in Mongu. Colm got involved in this as his aunt Rita is principal in one of the schools.
He explained: “Since I was a boy, my family has always been involved in charity work for schools in Zambia, as my Aunt, Sr Rita Brennan of the Holy Cross Sisters, is a missionary teacher there.
“Every four years Rita would return home for the summer and as a family and community we would hold dances, quiz nights and collections to raise funds towards the school she worked in, located in Mongu.
“As a student at UCC, I continued to fund- raise through friends and companies I worked with. I would send over old laptops that we would recondition and also some money. One of the main problems I had was how to transfer money safely to the school as it could not be sent by post. There’s a lot of poverty in the country which has led to corruption at many levels. We’d wait until someone we knew would be travelling to Zambia and send fund-raised money directly with them.
“In the mid-2000s, with improvements in electronic banking, we were able to transfer money directly and this helped enormously.
“In 2007, my aunt was given the job of opening a new school on the outskirts of the capital, Lusaka. On January 1, 2008, they opened with 150 students and my aunt has been principal ever since.
“In 2009, I expanded our work to fund-raise for the new school and to do this we applied to the Irish revenue service to officially recognise the charity. It took 18 months to process our application and in 2011 we achieved charitable status in Ireland.”
Although the school has a Christian ethos, it is interdenominational to ensure inclusivity. It is also co-educational to foster equality and a healthy gender balance.
As the school caters for children from nursery age through to secondary school, they require a lot of resources, particularly books, desks, chairs, educational toys and stationery. The charity also provides food, clothing and washing facilities, and hopes that people and companies in Ireland will donate so they can provide the all-round teaching and supportive environment that the children deserve.
“Since 2011 donations have increased and we have grown our network of supporters,” Colm adds. “In May this year, myself and a group of volunteers visited the schools. Every child I saw had a story of lost relatives, illness, disease or a mother or father never to be held again.
Today, the school has 1,200 students, from pre-school to Leaving Cert age and it continues to grow. The classrooms are overcrowded and severely lack text books and supplies.
The group are currently organising to send a container lorry of school books and equipment to Zambia later this year. Colm is looking for donated text books, school desks, chairs and general supplies for a typical classroom.
However, they need a safe, secure location to store such items. Colm is hoping a local company would help by offering a container storage unit free of charge, which the charity could fill before sending the lorry to Zambia.
They are also looking for donations of old computers, laptops and tablets that can be re-used.
You can find out more about Education for Zambia on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EducationForZambia/
Personally, I’m delighted to give our unwanted schoolbooks to this great cause, and for once, not feel guilt at the awful waste of putting potentially useful texts in the bin.