Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Books by Four Wheel Drive, by Foot, and by Dug-Out Canoe!

We have been struck by the extreme poverty in the rural villages we’ve visited since leaving Nwadjahane, and equally struck by the friendliness of everyone we meet—it seems the more remote a community, the more friendly and warm the inhabitants! Accompanied by two jovial community Gorongosa outreach staff, Domingos and Verniz, and Muero, the driver, Lehla and I traveled over the past three days down miles of dirt roads and mountain paths by car, walked by foot, and even crossed a river by dugout canoe, carrying books and materials to share the Books for Kids Africa Friends of Reading Network with adults and children living in the area.

As in our visit to Nwadjahane, the giggles and smiles that broke the shyness and reticence of community members by Lehla’s funny animal impersonations were heartwarming. Children, and sometimes women, often handled books with unfamiliarity—holding them backwards and upside down—but all seemed eager to participate. Unlike in Nwadjahane, children here, living so close to Gorongosa National Park, did seem familiar with native African wild animals like elephants, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses. Books in the program capitalize on those interests, and include stories from other cultures, easy reading picture books, life in traditional villages, word identification books, and simple chapter books. Because books are mixed by interest and reading level, a whole family with different reading levels and interests can enjoy the ten books borrowed each week.

Along the way to one of the villages, we passed a well-built community library. The library was clean and neat with several tall bookcases but it was unattended and had few books, among them perhaps two dozen children books. As Domingos said, our mobile library where books travel directly to people in their homes has great potential. Adults do not have to travel far and they can borrow books at convenient times from the local coordinator and read at their leisure in their homes. It is a simple project but the multiplier effect has vast potential.

Sometimes it is hard to promote a project that does not directly address such basic needs as food, medical care, jobs, and transportation—but I am always struck by the eagerness that people with little schooling and desperate living situations have for learning. They want information, they want their children to learn to read so they can go further in school and get better jobs, they want to continue to learn themselves though they cannot go to school. Though we are fulfilling a less tangible basic need, learning to read and falling in love with reading and learning expands the mind and expands the imagination—these books are bringing hope and the light of knowledge to remote communities, families, and individuals.

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