A few years ago, former YMCA camp director, mother, and intrepid educator Chris Bradshaw was pony-trekking through the small, landlocked country of Lesotho with her two home-schooled children, as part of an uber-field trip, when she looked at her oldest son reading as he rode, and asked her guide where the nearest library was. The guide said, “South Africa.” And that was when the blazing idea of the African Library Project came into being.
Once she’d confirmed how fervently the Lesotho community wanted a lending library, Chris sprang into action, mobilized her friends, and before you can say “The Cat in the Hat Is Back” she’d put together the structure for this amazing project whose partners include Peace Corps volunteers, the National Library Service staff, a host of African education districts & Ministries of Education, and numerous African NGOs – essentially, anybody who will work with ALP to get things done.
And boy, can these folks get things done. To date, African Library Project has opened 437 libraries with 450,000 donated books in Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Nigeria and Malawi. Right this minute, a container ship is set to be filled with 50,374 books for 48 new libraries making their 10,000-mile journey to Botswana. Apparently, Winston-Salem Symphony’s Assistant Director challenged every elementary school in the city to do an African Library Project book drive and darned if together the symphony and schools didn’t collect 1,000 books apiece — the ALP requirements for anyone, anywhere, to start a library in Africa.
Once an African school or community applies and commits to providing the space, bookshelves and staff to sustain its free lending library, ALP matches them with an American group of book drivers, like the one near me in Inman Park. An all-volunteer, all-donor organization, African Library Project has engaged enthusiastic 8-year olds to 80-year olds, Brownies to Silicon Valley billionaires, in its efforts to get books into the hands of people who so desperately want them.
And really —what could be a better gift or legacy? In Lesotho alone, 40% of the people live below the poverty line, and Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world. Books are the key to increasing literacy, and literacy is the #1 tool for climbing out of poverty. Yet many African teachers teach reading, writing, math and English without a single book to use as a resource, while we throw millions away every year.
Granted, books may not be the answer to alleviating poverty in Africa, but they most definitely are an answer. And for doing this work so creatively and joyfully, African Library Project gets my $100 today. And an A+ for a job well done!
Follow African Library Project & the 50,374 books for Botswana at www.facebook.com/africanlibraryproject