Sharing the Joy of Reading with the African Child
Director's LetterMay 2009
I have just returned from another of my twice-yearly visits to Ghana. Since my visit last November, Ghana held a closely fought election that resulted in a change of government and the installation of a new President, John Atta Mills. It is too early to say what this new government will bring but people are clearly proud of the fact that the election went so smoothly. One of the highlights of this visit was our journey to the Northern and Upper East regions where we met with librarians and visited their libraries.
The Tuutingli Library, started in 2001, operates every Saturday and Sunday afternoon in a school classroom. Haruna Nuhu, their dedicated volunteer librarian, does his utmost to bring the joy of reading to those under his wings. We listened to library members enthusiastically recite poems and tell us about their favourite stories, including one child who narrated Fati and the Honey Tree, a 32-page book, by heart!
At the Wurishie Library, also initiated in 2001, the children read stories and sang songs under the leadership of their enthusiastic librarian, Razak Abdulrahaman. This library opens Monday to Friday afternoons and is situated in four corners of Razak’s family compound where he carefully groups the children according to their reading abilities and age. Several years ago OCLF paid for benches, chalkboards and books along with a shelter so the children are protected from the sun and rain. The children never tire of repeating the stories from the blackboard but each time with more enthusiasm!
In Bolgatanga, not far from Burkina Faso border, we were warmly welcomed by Lucas Aligire who is the supervisor of three libraries supported by Friends of African Village Libraries. We visited the libraries and helped to organize a full-day workshop for librarians. Imparting new knowledge and sharing ideas is crucial for healthy staff development.
Back in Accra, we witnessed day and evening literacy classes that continue to flourish. It was an honour to hand out certificates to deserving literacy students at the Kathy Knowles Community Library. Talata Abomoi, a former scholarship student, is a lively literacy teacher at the Nima Centre and her students adore her zeal for learning. In March, she organized a sports festival and the night before I departed, I witnessed a debate and spelling contest for all evening literacy students. There was great tension in the room as newly literate adults spelled such words and ‘boy and ‘key’ to an attentive audience!
For some time we have been working in partnership with the Ghana Education Service (GES) who are anxious for us to set up libraries near their schools. After several false starts, we finally found the perfect spot for a new library, in Madina, a populated area in the north end of Accra, and we hope to initiate the design soon.
Our publishing venture continues to thrive. During my stay, we held book launches for our three newest books. My Happy Book features a little girl called Peace so our ceremony honoured Peace and her family and friends. The second, Crocodile Bread, is the story of a baker who lives close to where I stay during my visits to Ghana. All the children featured in the book attended the event and enjoyed a taste of a crocodile bread especially prepared for the occasion.
The third book, The Lucky One, is the story of Masawoud, a boy who was born with crooked legs but, thanks to the help of a kind friend, is now able to walk. He was clearly the star of the occasion and used the event to sing a song he wrote about the library. I was so touched by his passion for music that I arranged for their group – now called The Lucky Ones - to visit a recording studio and we now have the song on our web site.
I am thrilled to see how the children in Ghana enjoy OCLF books and I am also encouraged by the positive reaction they have received in Canada. We have more books in the works, including a new Fati book, and we are embarking on an ambitious 20-part graphic novel series highlighting unsung heroes of Ghana. We are fortunate to be partnered with three very talented Ghanaian illustrators and a number of individuals in Ghana and Canada who steer the books in the right direction!
Abigail Elisha, a librarian from the Nungua Community Library, arrived in Canada two days after my arrival home. This is Abigail’s first trip out of Ghana and it is an honour for us to have her here. Emilie Wall, a resident of Portage la Prairie and a former OCLF volunteer, has graciously welcomed Abigail into her home. Abigail will spend the next few weeks observing literacy programmes and visiting community and school libraries.
We are now busy organizing our annual fundraising dinner in Winnipeg on June 16th and 17th. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of so many of you and I send you my warmest possible thanks for your help in bringing the joy of reading to so many.