Thursday, December 17, 2009

The library

I can’t believe that somehow I have not yet written a post specifically about the Mapaki community library. Many of my evenings in Mapaki so far have been spent in the library. The library is open Monday to Friday evenings, from 7:30 – 9:30, or until the battery, charged during the day by the solar panel, runs out of juice, whichever comes first. If it’s raining the library doesn’t open, and if it is open, the kids usually scatter for home at the first hint of raindrops.

The library here is really quite incredible (a few photos here:, although they don't really do it justice!), and is already known about quite widely in the country. The library is so popular that the younger children have to be limited to one visit per week (Grades 1 – 5 on Monday to Friday evenings). The older children (Grades 6 and JSS students) and adults can come any evening. On any given night there could be 15 – 30 people in the library. Young kids looking at books, older kids studying or doing homework, volunteer teachers looking at teaching resources, and adults from the community reading or having a computer lesson. I often go with a book and just read in the electric light. Sometimes I bring my computer and do a bit of work, although this tends to attract a lot of attention :-)

One of the great things about the library is that it is open in the evenings. In a community where electric light is rare or non-existent, it really helps the students to have extra light at night by which to study.

The story of how the library came to be built is worth repeating for those who don’t know it. The following was written by Carolyn van Gurp, PSI volunteer Regional Coordinator for Sierra Leone, and was published in the January 2009 issue of Peace Talks International, PSI’s quarterly newsletter for our member schools.

New Library for Mapaki
by Carolyn van Gurp

Thank goodness the people of Paki Masabong ignored my advice. “No, it can’t be done, money’s not there,” was my response when I was told the community really wanted to build a library to serve the needs of the hundreds of children and adults who were trying each evening to pack into the small temporary room that was serving as community library in this small chiefdom, where only about one in thirty adults have been to school.

Here we are, one year later, preparing for the big feast planned to thank the many youths who donated their time, labour and local materials to make this dream a reality. A beautiful, spacious, well-stocked, solar-powered, internet-equipped library which is the talk of the country (the only village-based library of its kind in Sierra Leone) is about to officially open its doors (we expect the President to be here for the opening). And this dream is the result, not of the initiative of a wellheeled, well-funded NGO, but rather the determination and hard work of the people of this small community and their visionary Paramount Chief.

All this started two years ago when a visitor to this community, seeing no books in the schools but observing four teenage boys each evening poring over a decades-old dog-eared Shakespeare book, sent over several boxes of books which were then set up in a room designated as community library in a just-built “guest house” in the village. Lit in the evenings with a single bulb powered by a donated solar panel and battery and staffed by a volunteer teacher, this became such a popular and crowded place that each child in the village had to be limited to one visit to the library per week and there was no room for adults to squeeze in.

That’s when the Paramount Chief and elders intervened. “We need a library…we need a place where both adults and children can come and read and study and learn about the world.” Unable to envision a source of funding such an undertaking, I was sceptical. The community, though, knew it had to and could be done and at a community meeting called to discuss the library, two families came together to donate prime land in the centre of the village for its construction. The youth, meanwhile, organized in three work brigades representing all sections of the village, started making the mud bricks needed for walls and footings. Each day school children would stop on their way home from school to carry endless buckets of water for the youth who sweltered in the hot dry season sun
to make enough mud bricks for a large fourroom library. Just in time to cover the walls and protect the mud bricks before the rains came, the community received a small grant to purchase zinc roofing and cement and the outside shell of the library was completed.

Over the ensuing months, the youth of the village developed hands-on experience and training in carpentry, masonry, wiring, painting, boardmaking, and woodworking as they volunteered their time to complete the library.

And what a library it is! Housing an amazing collection of hand-picked culturally-relevant visually-rich books about people, animals, plants and the planet and stocked with several laptops and digital video and still cameras donated from Canada, the library has a donated satellite internet connection which has been put to some very unique uses (a Skype wedding, agricultural research, discussions between youth here and in Yukon, video postings, etc.).

Staffed by two volunteer teachers living in the community, the library will be hosting classes for adults and children in health education, computer basics and functional literacy, workshops for teachers on a wide range of topics and will serve as a chiefdom “lending” centre for learning materials for community schools.

The community has asked me to pass on thanks to the many people and institutions that have come along on this journey and contributed to making this a place of pride for all. A huge thanks to CIDA, Friends of Sierra Leone in the USA, Centre for Development and Peace Education (cdpeace) and Peaceful Schools International, staff of Halifax Film, Green Solutions and the kind and caring individual donors who have contributed in various ways.

No comments: