Why I started Lilipad

Lilipad is celebrating its two-year anniversary, so for me it’s a chance to answer a question I’ve heard a lot in the last couple of years: How did this all come about?

In October 2016, I moved to Bangalore to do a project for work. Within a few hours of landing, I had handed in my notice (with 3 months leave).

It had come to a point in my life that I wanted something new and more meaningful. Getting to India really cemented that point to me. Taking this decision meant that while I was still working in India, my mind was a lot more free to roam around and wonder about the endless possibilities that would be offered to me on my future break from work.

Indian hangs
Jaipur, November 2016

I considered many things, including heading to Rio for Carnival. But, as good as sun, caipirinas and samba sounded, it didn’t feel right. Deep down I knew I wanted to volunteer somewhere. It was something I’d never had the chance to experience before, and that I always felt I should do.

Almost everyone has a cause that touches them, and from a young age mine has always been to help – however I can, at my very modest scale – children in the street. The difficulties these kids have in their day-to-day life fills me with a sense of both deep sadness and strong resolve to help.

While looking for an organisation to help, I tried really hard to find something where I could make real, lasting change (avoiding what’s know as voluntourism). Local charities were very difficult to find online. I realised very quickly that given that I had only one month to volunteer I couldn’t possibly commit to helping children in the streets – I knew I was not qualified enough to be a valuable resource, both in terms of the time I could offer and the impact I could have. I decided instead to start looking for a charity in the education sector.

My first searches were focused on the West African region since I would have the opportunity to discover my home continent and work in French. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out, so I started to expand my search elsewhere in Africa.

This is what lead me to discover Kyabirwa Primary School and, most importantly, Moses. Moses was the mathematics teacher at the school and responsible for the volunteer program, a wonderful person that not only helped me set up our first library, but also exchanged emails with me for 4 months before the actual trip, drove me around every time we needed something and most importantly welcomed me into his family.

With Moses and his beautiful family
Uganda, March 2017

While Moses gave me the choice to contribute to the school however I could (even allowing me to teach English if I wanted), I wanted to make sure to find a way to have a real contribution, one that would benefit the children more than it just satisfied my urge to do something. I had to remind myself constantly that this trip was not about me, it was all about the kids and I am glad this was a focus of ours from the early days as I believe it represents one of the most important values of Lilipad.

It didn’t take me long to lean towards the idea of a library.

As a child, novels quickly became my favorite companions. I come from a family of scientists who don’t read much except from medical journals or engineering reviews. My love for books came from my grandfather, who used to be an avid reader. He was constantly telling me stories about the French classics that he used to read when he was in primary school back in the 40s-50s, or when he was writing poetry as a kid under the alias “Nabu” (after Nabuchodonosor, the longest reigning monarch of Babylon).

His stories fascinated me so much that I started to read from a young age. Needless to say that I didn’t exactly start by reading Alphonse Daudet or Victor Hugo (rather Minnie Mag and Goosebumps), but by the time I was 12 my favourite thing to do was to go to second-hand bookstores and score as many Goosebumps as I could.

Remains of my childhood library

I used to be extremely shy so books represented an escape for me, a way to connect with extravagant characters and discover things that were not offered to the Moroccan kid that I was. I truly believe that my curiosity and will to discover more than what was written for me comes from books, and this is why I wanted to share it with as many kids as I could.

Books are a cheap commodity. Everyday, people get rid of their old books or leave them in their basement until they can’t be used anymore. It’s so easy to give access to books to every child in the world, yet what is priceless and valuable is how these are introduced to them. If I didn’t have my grandfather to encourage me to read, I would probably wouldn’t have read as much.

Doing Lilipad has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s not always easy to work a full-time job and also try to run everything that goes with Lilipad, but thanks to the help of the team and our incredibly supportive group of friends we are going stronger than ever. A million thanks to everyone involved from close or far. I truly can’t wait to write all future chapters with you all.


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