World Literacy Foundation – tackling illiteracy in Uganda

Right now, in this day and age:
20 million classrooms lack basic educational resources.
In Africa, 11 million children leave school without completing basic primary education.
In 2010, 61 million primary school age children were not enrolled.
59 million children cannot read, write, or do basic maths.
1.2 billion children have little or no access to basic learning resources, electricity or internet.
1 out of 5 people in the world cannot read or write.

This post is going to be slightly different to usual. Today I’m going to shamelessly talk about this charity I work for that is battling all of those statistics that I just listed; the World Literacy Foundation.

This year 100% of the money raised for them will go to the Sun Book Tablet project currently running in Northern Uganda where there is the highest poverty and illiteracy rate in the country. The Sun Book tablet is an innovative, low-cost, solar powered, tablet with pre-loaded educational content. It contains hundreds of books, learning applications, lessons plans, student assessments and many other interactive tools. Powered with solar chargers and pre-loaded with educational content, the Sun Book tablet has been designed and tailored to meet the needs of classrooms in “off the grid” settings that lack electricity and the Internet. The Sun Book tablet aims to provide the most enriching and empowering learning experiences to children in off the grid environments. Greater access to quality education provided by the Sun Book tablet provides beneficiaries with an opportunity to acquire the literacy and numeracy skills needed to succeed in school, enhance social inclusion, secure employment and ultimately bring themselves, family, community and country out of poverty.

Apart from the obvious benefits of curing illiteracy, there are many others. For example it will be able to promote gender equality, improve health, increase employment, reduce poverty and create a whole new future for these children.

Gender Equality
It is undeniable that education helps to tackle the issue of gender discrimination, and it promotes changing attitudes in young children and lead to equal opportunities and benefits for both men and women. Literacy practices enhance gender equality and empower both men and women to empower one another.

Improved Health
Literacy significantly enhances a person’s ability to understand, apply and access health-related information. In impoverished communities, mortality rates for young children under five-years-old are considerably lower when literacy rates are prevalent. Literacy leads to an increased awareness of disease and a stronger initiative to seek quality healthcare for their family and community.

Employment Opportunities
Literacy significantly correlates with employment, and as reading and writing are vital skills in the search for meaningful employment, it is a necessary that we continue to promote the importance of education around the world. Literate individuals are able to access to a wider range of career choices, and are more likely to champion for equal pay and fair work rights for themselves and their family.

Reduced Poverty
Literacy allows children, communities and countries to lift themselves out of poverty. Those who live with high literacy skills are likely to have access to employment and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. When children feel empowered through literacy, they will empower the wider community and bring around real change in the world.

A Whole New Future
Through literacy, a child can create a new future. They are able to fulfil their potential and achieve their biggest dreams. When a child is empowered through literacy, they enrich the lives of their family, community and nation.

As I have explored in previous posts, I have a great passion for literature and think that it’s a huge injustice that there are those who cannot read and therefore miss out of all the benefits of literature. This is me trying to tell you about the gravity of the problem and to a lesser extent letting you know that you can help my donating to my crowdfunding page here.

https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com:443/world-literacy-foundation?utm_id=63

(In the interest of copyright a lot of this information has been given to me by the WLF charity itself and I’m just sharing with you what they’ve shared with me.)

Travelling alone, what people don’t tell you. 

Travelling alone according to every millennial article you will read will, is supposed to be the most amazing, perfect and life changing experience of your life. Whenever I asked people what it was like to travel alone, they never hinted that there was any down side.The truth is, it is amazing, it is life changing but it is far from perfect.When travelling alone, I was confronted with something that I’ve never had to face before and that was being alone. Like really being alone and isolated. Before I went away, when I was at uni, if I came home to an empty house where all my housemates were out, I’d get really down and lonely, even if it was for just a few hours. And if you’re like me and get lonely like that, odds on you’ll find this whole new level of loneliness really hard. Some people are ok with that but personally I’ve never been very good at spending lots of time by myself.

People would ask me if I ever got lonely when travelling and the truth is of course I did. Especially when there was a night or so when there was a few nights and I ended up being in a room on my own for various reasons. You don’t have your friends, family and support network right beside you like you normally do. You have your phone sure but with time difference and stuff that’s not always gonna work out well.

A lot of the time I felt like I didn’t have a ‘safe place’ to run to when it all got a bit much and have no shoulder to cry on. But as a friend told me, you have to make ‘yourself’ your own safe place. Easier said than done, especially when you’re in a scary place but true all the same. It took a while but I think I did it. You have to be ok with being on your own and be less dependent on the company of others. And you have to be able to be friends with yourself and be able to enjoy your own company.

One of the biggest things I was faced with was making all the decisions. More importantly, if something went wrong, it was all on me. I would have to find a solution and fix it. It was scary but you know, it forced me to grow up and take responsibility.

I made to be ok with actually spending time by myself, it was really hard at first but it got easier. When I wrote the first draft of this, I was chilling in a restaurant, eating, drinking and writing this by myself, which I know a lot of people do but I’ve never been very comfortable with it, and I was totally fine, I didn’t mind it at all.

If given the choice I would always choose to spend a night with friends than alone and I think I will always be that way. However I think the crucial element here is that there will be some times that you will be alone.You won’t always be fortunate to spend all your free time with loved ones, you will spend some days alone.

I know I’m making travelling alone sound less than appealing but it really wasn’t. Travelling alone forced you to make lots of friends which I wouldn’t have done so eagerly otherwise and made a lot of closer friendships. I learned a lot about myself and gained a lot of independence. But I’m not gonna ramble on about all the benefits of it because you can find them everywhere. It was amazing, it really was, I’m just trying to tell you what everyone else seems to be avoiding.

‘So brown and so happy’ – my grans description of me travelling, May 2017

So after 3 countries, 13 flights, 19 airports, god knows how many beds/places I’ve fallen asleep, countless memories and laughter and just a few tears my travelling time came to an end. Today marks one month since my return to England and this post seems to be coming late but it took a lot of time everything sink in. This post is going to be relatively short but I just want to put an appreciation post out there about my experiences.

I know how ridiculously lucky I am. I know that I have had a once in a life time unbelievable experience. My heart is so full and I am so grateful for everything that I have done. I don’t want anyone to think for a second that I have taken all of this for granted. The experiences I’ve had have been absolutely incredible. They have changed my perspective on things and made me look at life differently. I can honestly say that I have returned from this trip a different person. I know that a cliché thing to say but seriously, it would be weird if all these crazy experiences, travelling alone, volunteering and meeting so many different amazing people hadn’t changed me! I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a clearer picture of what I want and what I want to achieve but I also have learnt to enjoy everything in the moment, not always being like, oh, I can’t wait for this part of my life to start. Of course, I still look forward to stuff and get excited about the future but definitely not overlook what’s going on around me now. I used to panic about absolutely everything but now, I’m a lot calmer and I deal with problems a lot better. I also like to believe I’ve become more compassionate and more understanding towards others and empathise with their problems more. But also I have learnt that it is ok to be selfish sometimes and to take time to look after myself, which was never really a priority for me before.

But I wouldn’t have been able to have any of these experiences or grow as a person at all if it weren’t for all of the incredible people that I met along the way. You made it what it was and, I want to thank each and every one of you. My heart is so full and I am so grateful. From my volunteering buddies who I got extremely close to even after a few days, I will never forget, to the guys I met in hostels all over Australia, to people I met on tours, trips, even the people who helped me when I was lost and didn’t even know their names. Thank you to all of you. There is so much love in this world and travellers share the most of it. Everyone wants to help each other, even though everyone’s in the same boat of poor-ness and worry. You guys are some of the best people I have ever met and the people who have the most love in their hearts. I love you all.

From Broome to Darwin, exploring the Northern Territory 

Picking up where I left off last week, and carrying on my Australian adventure; when my time in Perth was over I headed to Broome, which honestly, was great but so tiny. I only spent two nights there and that was enough. I did go to the world oldest open air cinema, something that I’d always wanted to do which was great. The building was still all original and it had the original style deckchairs and I watched ‘Beauty and the Beast’ under the stars. The town was cute, there and some shops and a few small independent art galleries in which the artists were still doing their work. I love exploring new artists and supporting them. And I saw the most incredible sunset. I was to see many sunsets and sunrises in my time travelling but honestly, this one was by far the best. The sky was perfectly clear and there were about five or six colours streaked across it, and then came my absolute favourite time of night, when you can still see part of the sunset on the horizon but the sky has also started to blacken and the stars have begun to come out. Honestly, beautiful. The friends I made there were the best. Took me under their wing the first hour I got there and essentially looked after me haha. Took me round places with them in their van, we had BBQs. Watched sunsets, had drinks and made friends for life. It was fantastic.After that I went to Darwin. Well, that was crazy. I of course, checked into the main party hostel and was so happy I did. Within 2 hours of landing, I was drunk of my ass with a group of crazy girls I’ve never met before and had the time of my life. They were mad and I had so much fun, spent a lot of money and got wasted. But the guys I met did this every night, and a lot of them were on working holiday visas. To me it looked like a working holiday visa was working shit jobs, for shit money, to spend it all on alcohol, to be hungover in bed that day, to go to back to work, to do it all again. I asked some of them how long they’d been in Australia and some answered about six months. I said, oh how much travelling have you done? They would reply none because they haven’t got any money, even though they work everyday. It all went on alcohol. $9 a shot. It made me see that I would probably never do a working holiday but I would just go back to do a tourist visa like I did before. I’m sure there are loads that love it and that a working holiday visa is something that would be perfect for them but just not for me. It seemed like it was not all the Australian traveller dream is cracked up to be!

Anyway, I had a great time in Darwin, there’s quite a bit to do! I went to the Litchfield National Park which was incredible, I love getting into nature and exploring new places so this was definitely one of my favourite things to do! I swam in waterfalls and explored new nature, I loved it. I went on a jumping crocodile tour and they leaped out of the water and wiggled like a salmon to get the meat which was awesome. I also swam with a crocodile which was absolutely terrifying but ya know, when in Rome! That was actually my attitude to pretty much everything that I saw the opportunity to do. If I was ever on the fence about doing something, I was like, when am I going to be here again and have this opportunity. Made me do things I’m not sure I’d have done otherwise!

Bit of a short one but next time will be the beginning of my East Coast adventure when my bestie came out to join me so watch this space!

 

 

So much experience, so little time – what I learned in Thailand.

I would have to write a novel, no, a trilogy, to convey to you everything that my time in Thailand has given me, which seems quite incredible considering I’ve barely been here for 2 weeks, so I will not even attempt it. This short post will offer a small insight into my favourite experiences of my time here so you might be able to get the gist of what this has been like for me.
I have come to the end of my time in Thailand, and what a phenomenal time it has been In just a short time, I have done so much and immersed myself in so much culture. It’s amazing what you can do when you put yourself out there and embrace your life and take every opportunity presented to you.

I’m currently writing this on a 9 hour overnight layover (oh what joy) in Colombo, waiting for my flight to India, but that’s the price you pay for a more affordable flight I guess, all part of the experience.

So to begin at the beginning, I left home almost 2 weeks ago, absolutely shitting myself as you can imagine. I’ve never done anything like this before and I was going to literally the other side of the world by myself. Whaaaaaaaat. My poor mother could tell how scared I was when she left me and kept calling me at the airport to check how I was! I was right to be nervous and a bit scared cos I knew that even in this short time I’d be forced to face challenges, even little ones, like when things don’t go to plan, and had to use my initiative as a fully functioning adult (lol next joke please) to sort everything out.

As to what I’ve actually experienced, let’s start with the organisation that I volunteered with, GVI (Global Visions International). They have been an amazing leaping off point to surround myself in the culture of Thailand and to give me a bit of handholding at the beginning of my trip (extremely useful for a first time solo traveller going to a completely new country!

 

The specific project that I actually went to work on was with rescue elephants; working with the local village to rehabilitate elephants that had been rescued from camps and such like. Or in GVI’s own words, ‘Support community efforts to help reintegrate elephants into their natural habitat, from their previous lives in tourist camps’.

It was an absolutely breathtaking experience. Not many people have the privilege to experience getting that close to the elephants in their natural habitats. The only other real option to get as close to the elephants as we did is if you saw them in camps or zoos, not the best situation for them as I shall explain.

We not only got to visit, hike with, feed and health check the elephants, we were also educated on the history of the elephants, how they have been treated and seen in the past, how they are treated in camps currently and what learned behaviours that they ‘perform’ are harmful to them e.g. standing on hind legs. We learned how these tricks are learned through the negative reinforcement in the camps, bad diet they are given and the lack of healthcare for them etc etc. More importantly we learned how we could make a difference and promote ethical tourism, which I suppose is what I am doing now. So if you take one thing away from this post it is do not ride the elephants. Their lungs are actually attached to their rib cages so the minute any pressure is put on their backs it greatly inhibits their ability to breathe. A lot of people don’t know that (I know I didn’t) so I urge you if you ever hear your friends say they’re going to ride them please discourage them!! If you must visit elephants, please do your research and find out which ones actually treat the elephants well.

After ethical tourism, most importantly we learned about the elephants bond with their mahout, a villager who stays with their specific elephant and is bonded with them, stays out with them in the field and is essentially their carer, protector and friend. We try to persuade as many mahouts as possible to bring their elephants back to the forest and away from the camps.

The bond that the mahouts have with the elephants is amazing. On one hike, one of the elephants, Charlie, had hurt his leg and within about half an hour, several of the villagers had biked down to where we were to see what was wrong and if they could help. The love that these people have for the elephants is second to none.

Not only was I helping a wonderful cause and learning a lot about the cause in the process, the way the project was structured I have been completely thrown into a another culture with new customs, new language, new way of life and the whole experience has been phenomenal. For example, the first night we arrived in the village, we were thrown into the middle of a celebration of the Karen people.It was the villages end of harvest festival and they had all been drinking since 8am something called rice whiskey, a drink that they make buy and sell themselves (it was super strong and super gross btw) but you couldn’t refuse it, as that is rude in their culture. Consequently, I also learned by first pakinyaw word that day ‘chicka’ which means little haha, chicka chicka whiskey. And in the process discovered that they have their entirely own language that is in no way similar to Thai (super useful I know).

In the middle of these celebrations we took a break for dinner where the people of the village all brought food for a potluck dinner. At the end of which, they villagers blessed all the newcomers and current residents, by tying white string around our wrists (which is now brown coz of all the dust in the village) to keep away that bad spirits and invite the good ones in what is called a gigu.

In addition to all of this, I had a few lessons in Pankinyaw which was super interesting and also had a tour of the village itself which was amazing. I’ve never experienced a village which was so isolated, in the middle of the mountains, literally not appearing on google maps, only 200-300 people, very basic conditions, bamboo/wood housing structures, no hot water, bucket showers, squat toilets, not for the faint hearted!! Really see how the other half live, self contained, had its own school and nursery, a couple of little shops and they worked the fields and the elephants. The women in the village even hand made their own garments which were available to sell (I bought a fair few items!)

Also, the people of the village were not cautious towards us as I had feared. They were glad of the help and the GVI team had create such a good bond with them over the years that they had been there. Each volunteer stayed with their own home stay family who took them in, gave them a bed, and fed them. We even had a cooking class in their traditional style of cooking, which basically meant alllllllll the rice, lots of eggs and then some veggies.

As well as hiking with the elephants, I went on a night hike which was amazing as we were taken by a mahout through the spirit forest, so called as when the babies are born in the village, their umbilical cords are tied to the trunks of the trees in they forest so that their spirits are intertwined with the spirits in the forest (very avatar- esque it seems to me).

I was extremely lucky to be able to experience a corner of Thai culture that is not available to most who visit and wasn’t just thrown into the hustle and bustle of the usual tourism.

I got so many experiences like that it was incredible to have fitted them in in such a small space of time.

I was also lucky that in the week I was with GVI we were offered a trip into the town and then to visit Doi Inathon the highest point in Thailand. Not only is it a beautiful national park but it is also a gorgeous temple. The amount of incredible views and beautiful temples I saw was great, most people only get to see pictures but I managed to experience the whole thing first hand. For pictures and descriptions check out my Instagram.

Most importantly let’s not forget the people that I have met. I have met so many incredible people, from all over the world, people who I had no idea I would meet and ended up travelling on with some! I felt so close to people even after only a couple of days so I can’t imagine how the people who have been on the project for months or even years feel!

In my, albeit currently limited experience, I have found that you tend to get on well with pretty much everyone, as I feel there’s a very niche group of people that would be willing to spend weeks or even months in a dirt village in the middle of nowhere with no wifi and questionable sanitation, getting up at god knows what time each morning to go hiking to look after other creatures…

So, here’s a smidge of what life was like as a first time traveller, in Chiang Mai, however, I will do a full post on my tips, tricks and advice when I have completed my travels and am full of worldly knowledge (hahahahahaha). I was concerned as single girl travelling alone in strange country where I didn’t know my way around but if you’re sensible you’re fine. Everyone I’ve met has been super helpful; check tripadvisor and trust word of mouth of your friends that have been before. As a Westerner they will probably try and charge you more, especially at markets buy usually the prices are still so low it’s not much of an issue. If you find a fixed price stall that takes away the pressure of haggling which I really hate. In the city, you’ll find western food, super cheap food at markets, alternatively go to a restaurant, get a massive really good meal and a drink for under a fiver, had meals that you would easily pay 3 times as much for at home.

However, I’m not going to pretend it was all sunshine and rainbows, although there was pretty much nothing but sun weather wise. I have found some bits hard. Feeling like I don’t have a safe place or a place to call home that I can run back so when it all gets a bit overwhelming. I still have so much to learn, learning not to get panicked at the first hiccup, not to be afraid and feel bad when I’m on my own, not afraid to talk to other people, you kind of have to be ‘that person’ when you’re oh your own. Have to love yourself and your own company, need to learn to let go of the little things that make you angry inside, leave it alllll behind and take a deep breath. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve barely been doing this for two weeks and it’s bound to get some getting used to.

Thailand, you have been incredible and I am sorry to leave but am equally as excited to go to India. I hope my time there will be similar but oh so different at the same time. Peace out.

Confessions of a bookaholic.

Fair warning, this is just a major novel/book/literature/story appreciation post and also partly marvelling at how much they influence pretty much everything.

I love reading, I always have done. It is a huge part of my life and one of the main reasons that I chose to do an English literature degree.

I only really started thinking about this properly recently, how literature, stories, books are such a huge part of our lives. They make up everything. The form the way we think, the way we speak, the way we feel. Even when we are children, everything that we learn are from stories we are told by our parents. Fairytales supposedly shape our moral compass and lessons when we grow up. Our culture, nature and history are all taught through stories, stories round the campfire, stories before bed, even stories we tell each other about what happened the other night.

Some people make the argument that they’d rather just watch a film but seriously, one of the best things about novels compared to films is that there is so much more to novels than meets the eye. There are so many interpretations to be drawn from them so many different ways, it’s one of my favourite things to do. There are so many meanings that can be drawn and finding them all or finding the one that means the most to you in the best part of novel reading.

It’s not only how they influence the world in such a drastic way, people greatly underestimate the power of literature. A good book or story can change how you look at the world, about how you feel about things. Good story telling can change your mood. Make you happy or sad. You can tell someone how you feel through a story.

It’s even more than that though; the therapeutic power of books is astounding. You can get lost in a good book, it can distract you from your life, you can be in another world, lead another life, become another person. If you’re feeling depressed or just a little down, they can distract you from your problems, change your mood and make you feel so much better.

The power of the written word and even verbal story telling is second to none.