Ahoy! Old books set sail for Jamaica

12th December 2014 at 00:00
Teacher sends 18,000 kilos of school supplies to the Caribbean

It is a tale of devastating hurricanes, the Ebola virus and one school library's trip around the world worthy of Jules Verne.

Each year, the churn of school life reduces thousands of books to obsolescence, many of them destined for the dump. But a retired teacher, with the help of several schools, has given new life to a huge stockpile of Scottish educational materials - in Jamaica.

Last week, David Miles-Hanschell dispatched a container crammed with 18,000 kilos of unwanted school supplies, including more than 2,000 books.

Also included in the 40ft-long container were 119 chairs, 50 tables, enough shelving for a big school library, a reading scheme to see a class of 30-plus pupils all the way through primary school and one racing bicycle.

Mr Miles-Hanschell, 71, has been redistributing unwanted resources since Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004. He said he felt an affinity with the country after growing up in the Caribbean where his father was a sugar-growing expert, and had wanted to help the stricken island.

The teacher, who worked at Rothesay Primary School on the Isle of Bute, founded the Surplus Educational Supplies Foundation and has been collecting old educational materials ever since. As well as Grenada, he has made shipments to Nicaragua, Ghana, Liberia and Tanzania.

Mr Miles-Hanschell said he was driven by memories of his upbringing among children who had few educational materials. When he started his first teaching job in one of Scotland's most deprived communities, Easterhouse in Glasgow, he was amazed at how much his pupils had.

But TESS has spoken to sources who suggested that not all local authorities were keen to reuse old materials. There were even suggestions that finance officials may prefer to dump them to avoid creating convoluted audit trails.

"It really upsets me - we're wasting so much stuff, so I thought I would try to do something about it," Mr Miles-Hanschell said.

However, the Jamaica-bound container, due to arrive early in January, has proved particularly challenging. It was originally destined for Sierra Leone but the outbreak of the Ebola virus put a stop to that. Now, after several years of gathering materials from local schools as well as the former James Watt College, Mr Miles-Hanschell has finally waved the container off from Greenock.

His efforts were praised by Terry Loughran, education convener for Inverclyde Council and contributor of the bicycle.

It had become harder to get old school materials to places that needed them, Mr Loughran said. Eastern European countries such as Romania were not in as much need as when the Soviet bloc was crumbling, and the logistics of reaching other parts of the world could be insurmountable.

"A lot of stuff can go to landfill," Mr Loughran said. "It seems criminal to not make use of it."

Gourock Primary School in Inverclyde provided the reading scheme and its pupils were looking forward to seeing photos of Jamaican children using their old books.

The experience would be "hugely powerful" in making real-world connections for work on global citizenship and the environment, according to acting headteacher Moira McKay.

"I loved that our books were able to be reused and that we didn't have to throw them out," P6 pupil Eve Thomson said. "I hate when I have to throw things out, especially if someone else could use it."

Fellow P6 pupil Jenna Stewart said: "All children have a right to an education and we feel that we have helped children in another country to achieve this."

Many items inevitably became surplus when schools closed, merged or were rebuilt, said Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, but many local authorities tried to put them to use around the world.

"Like many good ideas, there are often serious issues in delivery," he said, citing frustrations with transport costs and complex import and export regulations, as well as health and safety issues around electronic devices.

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