The problem with writing a book to raise funds for a school building is not only do you have to write, edit, publish and market the book, you have to actually build the school. The entire scheme was completely nuts. But it worked.
The key to our success—our secret weapon—was community. We arrived in Nigeria at the start of an influx of expats. In our first year, the number of kids in our compound went from 30 to over 100. Many of the new families, like us, were first-time expats, full of innocence, enthusiasm and madness. Everyone was ready to roll up his or her sleeves and get involved. Friends from Lagos became friends for life. We had a perfect confluence of people, leadership and opportunity.
Fresh out of corporate life, accustomed to agendas, minutes and action plans, I formed a committee. The Ishahayi Beach School Foundation is now a registered charity with the Nigerian government. They are part of the Global Giving Online Community and donations are tax deductible in the USA. Their gardening and sewing sustainability projects are designed to give the students (whose numbers have grown from 70 to 160) the capability for self-sufficiency. But back in 2005, we weren’t so sophisticated; we just wanted to build a schoolhouse that didn’t leak. People came on board to assist with bookkeeping, marketing, construction and preparing the book.
To set our fundraising target, we needed a cost estimate to complete the building. Raelene Dinnick, another Aussie, and I, despite our dearth of qualifications, were the first building project managers. Raels, fun, yet grounded, was an active community member—she later started the Grape Grazing wine club, which held the best-attended functions in town. We asked for quotes and selected a local builder. Due to the remote location, transportation by boat was added to the cost of materials. Where possible, we used home-grown resources, such as sand. The builders suggested asbestos for the roof, oblivious of the dangers. Ignorant though Raels and I were, we insisted on a safer alternative. Why was asbestos still available?
When the quotes came in along with printing costs for the book, we became impatient. By the time we could sell enough copies of the book, it would be months, if not years, before construction could start. We decided to pursue other avenues to raise money for the building and to commit the proceeds from the book towards teacher’s salaries. My writing skills were put to use for proposals rather than creative purposes and we approached the American Women’s Club (AWC), ExxonMobil, Chevron, MTN (the local phone company) and others.
This blog is called The Winding Narrative for a good reason. If I’d focussed solely on writing a novel, maybe I’d be established by now, but when I’m reviewing my life on my deathbed, the work on IBSF will be my proudest accomplishment. These days, I feel selfish for being so focussed on my own achievement that I’m not actively helping others, but I’m so close now, I have to see it through.
Before the book was even written, we had funding for the school from AWC. Construction began on both the building and the book. But we still didn’t have funding for printing.
Next time: Four Tips for Surviving Compound Life