Are you a family who loves reading and is looking for a way to make a small difference in the world? Did you know that there are more than 23 nations in Africa that officially speak English? Maybe you know some people (ahem, home schoolers!) who have extra books that are in need of a good home? Maybe you'd like to consider starting an African library! Through a partnership with African Library Project, your family (or scout group or youth group or co-op) can collect 1,000 books and raise $500 in shipping, and - there you go! An African library is born.
The steps are outlined clearly on the African Library Project's website (www.africanlibraryproject.org), and ALP is an extremely "easy" and professional group to work with - an ideal connection for a middle school or high school student looking to get practice navigating the adult non-profit world. The way it works is that a village group in one of the Anglophone nations of Africa contacts ALP (African Library Project) and receives approval for a library. ALP then lists that opportunity on their site along with the type and reading age level books desired by the village. Some villages are also interested in teaching materials / curriculum, and some are not; some are interested in K-12 reading level, while some focus more on younger books. When you choose your village and register, you'll know exactly what kind of books you're collecting. Most libraries are interested in both fiction and non-fiction; less useful (or even misunderstood) to them are books that are specifically America-focused or specifically religious. Sometimes you get to see the hand-written application from the requesting library and even to see pictures of the buildings the community members have made to house the books. (That's our family's favorite part!)
Collect your books anywhere you can find them - set a laundry basket at a sports event or co-op meeting, ask around to friends and neighbors, even clean off your own shelves. Look for books that are clean and gently used. While you're collecting the books, also consider fund-raising options. For the library projects our family has participated in, we have made and sold homemade dog cookies, worked with the pre-established fundraising mechanisms at both Panera Bread as well as Savers, and have been hired by neighbors to do yardwork, to babysit, to process apples, and to pet sit. We learned through our last project that you really need closer to $600 total shipping from the New England area (the books go media mail to Louisiana where they are loaded onto a surface container ship to cross the ocean).
Although the process is fairly straightforward, our family did learn some tips along the way. The first time we did the project, we felt really pressured by the deadline, and as home schoolers we also didn't have very good fund-raising ideas, which took some of the joy out of it for us. For our second library, we actually started fundraising and collecting books before officially signing up (which isn't technically recommended by ALP, but took nearly all the pressure off of us). Obviously, we had to guess on level & type of books prior to our formal commitment, but it did work out just fine in our case, and we did it that way again for our 3rd library. Our younger teenagers learned how to speak to and work with the non-profit staff, and it was a fantastic learning opportunity. I'd encourage parents to practice the phone calls & emails with the kids, and then let them do all the communication work themselves. Once you have all your books and all your shipping money, follow the packaging and shipping instructions from ALP, and your library is on its way!
Tangentially, as part of our home school journey, our family read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (William Kamkwamba, 2019), which tells the true story of a boy from Malawi whose life was completely changed by having access to a community library even when his family could not afford school fees due to famine. Through connections and his own astonishing courage and creativity, William made a TED Talk about his electricity-harnessing success, and even found himself eventually enrolled in Dartmouth College! Hearing his story (and then watching the movie by the same title) really made us excited as a family to keep on making libraries as often as we can. Books make a difference.
Making an African library is the ideal family or group project because it really does open doors to so many other learning experiences. Through the years, we have learned many lessons from our African library projects. We learned that even young children can sort and count books, and that kids really are capable of changing the world. We found that the library project is pretty covid-friendly, and we learned that people in our community are generous with books and with encouragement. We learned that Ghana is 7,500 miles from our home town (if you go through Louisiana), and we learned why some of Africa's nations speak English. We learned that children in Malawi are still hungry. We met a lady from Ghana who became a dear friend, and who taught this mama the "real" way to carry a baby in a simple fabric wrap. We learned that without books, the school children write with sticks in dirt, and were impressed by their resilience and creativity and high literacy rates. We learned that sometimes love is best expressed between the covers of a book.
Our family has grown closer together through the shared project of library-making, and many of you reading this newsletter have donated books that are even now in a rural African village library. Thank you! Maybe you'd like to take the next step and start one of your own?
By Katie Webster