Ed Warren is one of our first pupil ambassadors, who has been actively involved in the charity since its creation in 2015 – he is shortly going to return to Ghana to work for the charity in his gap year as our first ‘intern’. I asked him to write a short paragraph for a report on his thoughts on the impact of the Reading Spots project upon him, Ghanaians, and the Brighton community – such was his enthusiasm that he wrote this incredible account. I thought I’d share it in its unedited form!
Looking back over the past two and half years, it is astonishing to think of the extent to which Reading Spots has grown, in such a relatively short period of time. What began as a name and a vision has rapidly expanded into an organisation that has built create seven community libraries and a classroom block, shipped around 20,000 books to Ghana, bought 1000 African books and begun work on a further three projects across the country. It has been truly humbling to observe the impact of the charity upon the thousands of Ghanaians to whom such books were once a rare luxury, yet, far from the sweltering climes of Ghana, it has also been enormously encouraging to witness the increasing influence of Reading Spots upon the pupils of Brighton College.
The aim of Reading Spots is a simple one, but the impact it continues to have upon areas of rural Ghana is immeasurable. The success of the charity is shown not by the number of libraries constructed, nor by the number of books housed within them, but by the knowledge that these facilities are hugely appreciated, effectively managed and constantly used by entire communities. When visiting Ghana in December 2015, I was simply astounded by the reaction of the 600 children at the Messiah International School to the opening of their new library and to the hundreds of books to which they now had access. Witnessing the wholehearted joy of these pupils at the mere prospect of reading, an activity that we in United Kingdom can so easily take for granted, and being told by the schoolmasters of the extent to which the library would enhance their teaching, I was left in no doubt of the immensely positive impact that Reading Spots would have, not only upon these children, but upon thousands of others across the nation. Since returning from Ghana, the enduring success of our projects has been frequently reported in letters from our partners in Ghana, such as Alex, who explains that “I have observed the eagerness of my schoolmates to come to the library as often as possible” and Edward, who writes, “Gone are the days that I have observed so far when school children rested their studies during holidays in my area.” To hear the news that the Abofour library, for example, is regularly filled with children and adults in the evenings and at weekends, with some even studying there until nine o’clock at night, confirms to us that Reading Spots is certainly achieving its aim and providing vital educational resources to those who need them the most
My involvement with Reading Spots has also had an enormous impact on me, personally, and has entirely transformed my view of West Africa and the developing world. Prior to the launch of the charity, I knew very little about Ghana and her people and I hardly knew what to expect when I stepped off the plane at Kotoka International Airport in Accra. Yet, from my very first day in Ghana, I found the Ghanaian people to be extremely amicable and welcoming in every respect; their rich and vibrant culture, combined with the strength of their religious faith and the familiarity of their local communities, creating a far more optimistic and inclusive existence than our own – in spite of their relative poverty. I was particularly struck by the phenomenal eagerness with which Ghanaian schoolchildren approach their studies and the tremendous value they place on the reading of books, as well as their boundless gratitude for the work of Reading Spots. I have been eager to return to Ghana since the moment I left and, having worked in an English prep school for the past five months, I plan to go back in April, as part of my gap year. I can think of no better experience than to throw myself into the Ghanaian way of life and to teach those who so readily wish to learn. As well as the emotional impact of the charity, Reading Spots has enabled me to develop a range of practical skills and has presented me with a number of tremendous opportunities. Over these first two and a half years, we have organised fundraising dinners, book collections, bake-sales, raffles, sports matches, a reading sponsorship scheme, a concert, a dance competition and a literary festival – to name just a few of our many initiatives. Each of these has required meticulous planning, extensive promotion and phenomenal teamwork, leaving me in no doubt that my fellow ambassadors and I have benefited enormously from our involvement with the cause.
Finally, as a pupil of Brighton College, I have observed the tremendous impact that the charity has had upon the wider school community, since its inception in 2015. With a large proportion of the £110,000 raised by Reading Spots having been donated by the pupils and parents of the College, it has been thrilling to witness the effect of the charity’s message upon all of those that have made such generous financial contributions to our cause. Yet, it has perhaps been even more exciting to see an increasing number of pupils donate their time and energy to the project – with hundreds of students taking part in our major initiatives each year. Whether it be by performing in the charity’s concert, preparing baked goods for our annual Bake Off event, joining the sponsored reading scheme or participating in the Reading Spots literary festival, countless individuals have been inspired to support the charity and to promote its message both within and beyond the College community. The regular Book Drives have had particular success in encouraging widespread participation amongst the pupil body and we are delighted to announce that, following the most recent initiative, over 5,000 books will be transported to the libraries in Ghana. The growing impact of Reading Spots and the enthusiasm that it has generated can also be seen in the increasing numbers of students that have applied for the role of pupil ambassadors. More than three times as many students expressed in interest in 2017 as in previous years – a clear indication that the influence of the charity is becoming stronger every year, as more and more pupils are being inspired by its message. As well as this, the Reading Spots blog and the website’s international development course have proven to be immensely popular, with some posts receiving over one hundred responses from Brighton College pupils, eager to learn about the complexities of the developing world. In short, the charity has had a hugely positive impact upon the students of Brighton College and its influence has continued to grow year-on-year.
Ed Warren, February 2018