Hi everyone. While Tommy is winging his way to the UK I thought I should introduce myself to readers of this blog and anyone who is interested in Project Phoenix. I am Dr Gillian Gillespie, Tommy’s UK partner. He has told the story of how we ‘met’ elsewhere, so I’ll focus on what we want to do and why. I’m smiling as I write this, though, because, as those of you who have seen the Phoenix video know, Tommy likes to have a go at the ‘English accent’. He’s never been to Newcastle, however, so it will be interesting, if not downright hilarious, to hear him try a Geordie accent. Those of you in the UK or who know anyone from Newcastle will know EXACTLY what I mean by that! (I promise to try and get it on video for you, but shhh..don’t tell him).
Back To Topic
We all have our own ideas and knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa – heck, I’ve got three children, who all care deeply about others. They are always asking me questions about what is going on around the world. Some answers are hard to explain, and, working with horrific refugee cases for our international charity, has had my children on much more than one occasion saying ‘too much information Mum’. Even while I’m answering their questions, however, I know with certainty that they will get to finish their education. Their schools have running water, toilets, school books and teachers who are properly trained and supported, and who care passionately about children.
The Importance of English
Did you know that after 2011 in Libya most teachers left the country? Many were from India and the Philipines and they just left and never came back. So there is a shortage of teachers overall in Libya. That’s something we would like to work on as well, in due course. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to work with the English Teachers’ Forum in Libya. They stayed, and are an incredibly important lifeline for children desperate to learn. Why else is this important? Because in 1986 Gadaffi banned English from the Libyan curriculum. Students were ordered to go out and burn English school books. Children from that time until 2011 have therefore largely been deprived of acquiring an effective way of communicating with and learning about the outside world. They were essentially isolated. One of the first things that happened in 2011 after Gadaffi was overthrown was the re-introduction of English into the school curriculum. This is a really positive thing and means that Libya is moving towards democracy, no longer afraid of having its children learn about the outside world.
Hope And Dreams
I could wax lyrical about the vital importance of having children around the world all learning about each other’s cultures, so there can eventually be peace and understanding, but you all know that. It’s really hard, though, to describe the hope and longing in a little child’s eyes when they know you are trying to help them but they have no control over their lives, or the history that has led them to where they are today. They are crying out for assistance, and we want to give it to them, as much as we are able anyway, with your help.
The key to Project Phoenix is mobile libraries. Now, in the UK, this means a small van/truck fitted out with physical books on shelves, and maybe a computer. They go out to isolated places, or where communities would otherwise find it difficult to get access to a main town or city library. We’re a small country, and I have been surprised…no, ASTOUNDED at the drive, imagination and ingenuity of Tommy, Chad and his associates in coming up with the all-singing, all-dancing uber version of a mobile library for Libya. It’s not just a mobile library, as Tommy has explained, it’s a CLASSROOM. Imagine that, a classroom where boys, girls and teachers can go in safety and comfort. Imagine the children’s faces when they move from their empty shell of a building with maybe one or two books between 20 children, cramped benches and 100 degrees heat to what could be built with your help. In the US schools many children are given Ipads to use – and here, we have electronic whiteboards. That is a million miles away from what Libyan children have. Even the UN, with all their funding, has not managed to produce temporary schooling which adequately reaches out to isolated communities, and they admit that. The Phoenix Project can do this, and more. It could also be deployed in other countries, not just the Middle East, but all continents, including the West. It has the potential to help children in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kurdistan, Africa, anywhere in the world where children struggle to get access to education due to their location.
Looking To The Future
As I mentioned above, I have three children. My eldest will be going to Medical School. She wants to work in this country and help people here, but she also wants to make a difference to other people’s lives elsewhere, so she has asked me to add her to our volunteer list. My youngest wants to be a teacher. She has asked me whether she can have a gap year to go to Libya and help teach the children there. She’s only 15, so I’m really hoping we will have multiple mobile libraries serving ALL of Libya by then. What I do know is that Tommy and our team have the determination, the love and the will to achieve all this, with the right funding.
You don’t expect to be compensated for your time when you run a charity. I can honestly say that for the hundreds of hours I’ve spent on this project, researching, exploring, being on the ground, negotiating with the UN and the Libyan Government, I have not received a penny. I want every penny/$ to go to help the children. So on behalf of them, thank you for reading this post and especially for those who have donated so far – it means the absolute world to the boys and girls in Libya. Please do find what you can to help this project go even further. I, like Tommy, promise that every single one of you will be acknowledged, recognized and respected for any contribution, no matter how small.
I’m tempted to say ‘Have a Good Day Y’all’ but here in the UK we say ‘take care and see you soon’….and my North Carolina accent, anyway, is rubbish, I am told, by a reliable source.