Over four decades ago, a young village African boy was summoned urgently from his goat herding chores. His uncle told the boy to wash his body, comb his hair, wear the brand new khaki uniform and the uncle was going to take him to the nearby Boyole Primary School for his first grade. The class was already in session as the uncle let the boy’s little hand go, and the teacher welcomed the boy and directed him to squeeze between five other classmates on the small classroom desk. The class of forty students was in the middle of a religious knowledge class singing a song in the Tumbuka African language: Chinjoka chikulu chikamnyenga Adam, (A big snake tempted Adam), Adam na Eva (Adam and Eve). The teacher was drawing a big long snake across the black board as the class sung the song. That African young boy was this author.
The class couldn’t have been worse equipped. No one had a pencil or a book to take home, and any writing was done in class sharing a few pencils and pieces of writing paper among several students. The entire class had only two tattered textbooks to learn how to read English. The teacher would ask each student to read aloud several sentences in each paragraph. The teacher would correct our pronunciation as each one of us read hauntingly. After each student was finished with his assigned sentences, the next student stood up to continue where the previous student had stopped. That’s how I learned how to read.
I was not introduced to many books until I passed a major exam and and was among the few who qualified to go to Chizongwe High School. I have been in love with books since then. Several summers ago in 2006 when I visited my home village, I noticed that my seventeen year-old nephew who was in the ninth grade at the village school, had his precious candle on in his hut at three each morning. I asked what he was doing. He said he was reading his class notes. There were no books available. I talked to my brother, my parents, and others in the villages about a village library. Within a few weeks, three meetings were held attended by men, women, and many retired people in the area. The Village Library Project was born: The Zambia Knowledge Bank Libraries: Nkhanga Branch. The project had zero resources.
So we all went to work. I started the Village Library fundraising campaign in December 2006 in Michigan, Bridgewater, Harrisonburg and the Valley among friends. The Library will serve students, men, women, and professionals in fifty villages, fifty square-mile area, and about a hundred thousand people. The Librarians at Thomas Harrison Middle School (Sandra Parks and Peggy McIntryre) and teacher (Michele Hughes) at Wilber Pence Middle School held successful book donation drives. The construction committee in the village and volunteers molded and kilned twenty thousand bricks. Many friends and relatives donated time, money, and over eight hundred books were been shipped in April 2007. A ton of donated books are still sitting in my basement for lack of shipping money.
If ever there was an opportunity in which so little has already done do so much, this project is a good example. The foundation slab for the thirty-one hundred square foot library was completed on July 23 2007. I was there in the village for 8 weeks. It was very hard work but so satisfying to work together with a large number of people in the community who were building a dream. Over twenty thousand dollars is now required for building the walls of the library and metal roofing which will change many people’s lives and generations for the better. Although the African country of Zambia has a literacy rate of an estimated 75%, comapred to America’s 99.0%, the rural areas of Zambia may have a lower rate as their conditions for education may not be as good as in the more urban centers. On the other hand, one of the poorest African countries such as Niger may have a literacy rate as low as 12.3%.
The most unforgettable rewarding experience for me this past summer was during the laying of the foundation and the arrival of the first shipment of some of the donated books from the Shenadoah Valley. Often news about Africa in the US tends to focus on the HIV-AIDS and other killer diseases, economic decline, people living on one dollar a day, unemployment, and poverty. But often we ignore that there are millions of people who go to school, want to read, work hard to support themselves although with modest resources and opportunities. This library will help those people. I have experienced one of those rare precious opportunities in which someone like me who struggled when I was growing up and became successful can truly return to my roots and help to give back. Many people in the local community, including the Bridgewater College students and faculty, have decided to help as individuals. If you can donate any amount to help in this effort, please write the check to: “Bridgewater College,” the memo on the check should indicate “Zambian Library project” If you would like to find out more about this project see www.bridgewater.edu/zanoba