Sharing the Joy of Reading with the African Child
Director's LetterJanuary 2009
I travelled to Ghana in November for one of my twice-yearly visits and was delighted to visit several libraries and witness large numbers of eager readers. Our dedicated librarians continue to work with enthusiasm, despite occasional (and disappointing) salary delays from government offices.
There were also many exciting developments. Thanks to a grant from the International Board for Book for Young People [IBBY], we sponsored a two-day workshop for children’s book publishers in collaboration with the Ghana Book Publishers Association. This gathering took place during the Ghana International Book Fair and involved 50 book publishers from Ghana as well as an energetic group from Nigeria. There were several presentations including one led by Joanna Felih and Vivian Amanor, two OCLF librarians. They spoke passionately about books that their library members enjoy and why.
This was followed by a four-day workshop for 20 children’s book illustrators led by Niki Daly, an acclaimed South African illustrator and writer. This was very successful and we hope it will have promising returns. Niki also held an art workshop at the Goi Library for its members. The children were thrilled to have such an inspiring and whimsical illustrator in their midst. He was welcomed with fresh coconuts from the library’s compound and entertained with the library’s own theatrical rendition of Fly, Eagle, Fly, a play based on a book illustrated by Niki.
The Nima drama group, which the members have renamed the Kathy Knowles Theatre Company, continues to thrive. Visits in August 2007 and 2008 from Eric Rose, a theatre director from Calgary, and his wife, Caitlin Gallichan-Lowe, a drama teacher, have clearly inspired the company. The dedication and enthusiasm of this group along with their professionalism is remarkable, especially when you consider that most of the actors come from Nima, an area in the city that very few associate with professional theatre! Caitlin also spent time at the Goi and Nungua libraries to nurture other groups of fledgling actors. These library members spoke with pride and great zeal when they shared their new-found drama talents.
There are several OCLF high school scholarship recipients who have come through our libraries, and they are now taking charge of their lives and giving back to their community. One of our brightest stars is Talata who first came to our Nima Library more than ten years ago. She finished high school last May on a full scholarship and is taking a year off to earn money for her university fees. Eventually she hopes to become a doctor and to specialize in gynaecology. During the day, she works in a restaurant and four evenings a week, she teaches our adult literacy classes at the Nima Centre. Talata is a gifted and creative teacher – a few weeks ago she held a spelling bee contest between different groups of students with a mini celebration afterwards.
Four libraries came together with the assistance of a team of community youth leaders to run the first annual Library Sports Festival. The children were divided into four colour-coded teams and each team was made up of library members from four communities. At the end of several different events everyone came back to the Nima Centre for chicken and rice, again another big treat! Having fun was the focus of the Festival and by the end no one really cared who won!
TV3, a local television station, featured the OCLF on their Today’s Woman show. I was interviewed along with Talata and Paulina, a long-time literacy student. At the conclusion of the program listeners were invited to call in and their responses were overwhelming. For days afterwards we received calls from others wanting to learn to read and write and also to volunteer. Every bit of media exposure helps!
My daughter Kaitlan, a nurse, accompanied me to Ghana to volunteer. She used her expertise to teach first aid to the library staff and explained and distributed well-equipped first aid kits to our Accra libraries. She also joined Talata to help teach her keen group of adult literacy students.
Janet Hogarth, a volunteer from Collingwood, Ontario, travelled to Ghana during the time of my visit. She enjoyed her stay in Goi and made a huge contribution to their new library. (see Janet’s reflections)
On the home front, we continue to focus on the fund-raising side of our project. In late October, Deborah and I held two OCLF presentations in Vancouver: one at the Vancouver Public Library and another at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. They were both successful gatherings and allowed us to meet many old friends and to share our story with others. I also spoke at the B.C. Teacher-Librarian conference in Victoria.
At the moment I am participating as a jury member for the inaugural Baobab Prize for African children's literature. Ghanaian Deborah Ahenkorah initiated this prize to encourage writing for children by Africans. Deborah's enthusiasm for reading was planted many years ago as a child in one of our libraries. In June 2008 she wrote:
“ I was always grateful for the books and those who had made them available and I'm glad I have the chance today to say thank you. Thank you for a having added some joy to my childhood and thank you because your dream and good works have contributed to making my dreams a reality.
All of those books I read opened my eyes to a wealth of experiences and made me aspire for bigger and greater things. Presently, I have just finished my second year at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. My dream in future is to build libraries across Africa and to influence education and literacy in Africa.”
I will be returning to Ghana in late March and will travel to the north to visit library projects we assist in the Northern and Upper East regions. Written correspondence – both letters and emails – help us to stay in touch with the libraries we assist but nothing replaces a visit.
We have more large-scale
projects on the horizon and we are now sorting out the myriad of details
before moving forward!