I’ve always been an avid reader. Admittedly, I’m the daughter of an English teacher, and have fond memories of summers spent at the library, leaving with arms full of books. As a mother, I can easily pass on buying my son clothes and toys, but I have a weakness for collecting books.
As a result, a few times a year we go through the bookshelves, to make room for new books and to rediscover gems which have become hidden or forgotten.
When poking around for ideas on where to donate the books, I came across Libraries of Love, which is a local nonprofit which works to partner with Africans to create libraries in individual schools. Through fostering a love of reading in the children, Libraries of Love hopes to serve “as bridges to a better future for the children of Uganda.”
As I read more about the organization on their website, I tried to imagine having never set foot in a library. Never standing in front of shelves of books, that as a child, seem to tower over you. The way books can expand your horizons, transport you to another time and place and set your imagination free. I loved the idea of passing our books along to children half a world away, and in doing so, showing my son the value of sharing our stories. I contacted Trudy Marshall, the Founder of Libraries of Love and a former librarian at Laurel Mountain Elementary in Round Rock, to find out more about the organization.
Trudy first visited Uganda in 2001 to experience the culture first-hand. Having lived in Lithuania and backpacked through many countries, Uganda was “just one more place on my list of places to see the sights,” admitted Trudy. During that trip, Trudy came away with much more: a calling to create libraries in schools in this beautiful, yet poor country.
One should never underestimate the power of books. – Paul Auster
Ten years later, Libraries of Love has been responsible for the creation of 24 libraries, plus another four the organization played a large part in getting off the ground. Staffed entirely by volunteers, Libraries of Love commits all of its resources towards shipping books overseas, providing book cupboards for every classroom and shelving. A team of headmasters identifies Ugandan schools in need of libraries, and the school must commit to providing a room for the library and paying a librarian to manage the collection.
Each year, a travel team of around 15 volunteers arrive in Uganda to create new libraries. This year, volunteers will set up four libraries and complete two which were started last year. This team also visits schools with existing libraries to read books, sing, play sports and visit with the students. When they head back home, Trudy spends the next six months traveling between the two dozen libraries in four Ugandan cities, training students and staff on how to run their libraries, how to ensure the libraries are living up to their potential, planning for new libraries, meeting with parents and government officials and seeing what supplies existing libraries need. Each library is equipped with enough hardback books for three times the student population, to account for books which become damaged, lost and stolen, in addition to enough paperbacks for each child to take a book home to keep.
One of Libraries of Loves’ recent success stories is Damasco, who at the age of 14, has attended primary and secondary schools which have had LOL libraries. Damasco is the top student of the 687 children who attend his school. Although he lives in a mud hut, he has set his sights on becoming a doctor.
Trudy attributes the academic success of the schools in which LOL has a presence to their readers. Five of the schools in Kampala which have LOL libraries are now top in their district.
The work is not without its challenges, however. I was shocked to hear what Trudy and her team have found to be among their biggest obstacles: illiteracy among teachers. “The latest statistics from Uganda are that 60% of teachers cannot read a paragraph orally, and only 41% of 6th graders can read a paragraph,” shared Trudy. “Making the teachers understand the importance of reading is a constant challenge. That is why we never leave a library. We constantly monitor to make sure students are reading daily and taking books home on the weekends.”
Many Central Texans have been generous with their time and donations. From Girl Scout troops to the Walk to Read Program in Trudy’s former school district to birthday parties, children and adults are organizing book drives and helping Libraries of Love serve over 35,000 students. Volunteers also help prepare the books for their journey to Africa.
Trudy takes great pride in both building and maintaining the libraries. “The libraries are as well-organized and beautiful as any in America,” she added. “We feel the Ugandan students deserve this. We truly believe that our readers will eventually become leaders in this country we have come to love.”
The next time you buy your children new books, see if there are any you might be able to donate. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be helping educate a future President. That’s certainly a bridge worth building.
Photos courtesy of Libraries of Love.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]