It is usual in Zambia that schools have no books and no resources. Poverty is such that children frequently do not attend school, and those who do have little chance to learn.
Initially, I was just delivering school books to Graceland School, near Ndola in an effort to improve the chance for learning. In 2014, for example, with the assistance of many friends, we delivered over 40 suitcases of books (both school books and non school books) and teaching materials to the school. The effect was dramatic. Graceland came from being a school with no books at all, to having a well equipped library and they now achieve the best state exam grades in the Copperbelt province. Graceland is however only one school. There are many schools who have nothing.
Having seen the effect on educational standards that a supply of books can bring, Mrs Catherine Daka of Graceland School told me of her dream to make Zambia a literate society. Bornwell and Catherine Daka of Graceland School and I came up with a plan, to expand our initiative with a much more extensive library to be shared among a number of different schools. We decided to found a large central school library which can be maintained as one single unit but which can be located in perhaps ten or twelve schools in the Ndola area. My task was to source the books here in Ireland and to ship them to Zambia. Mr and Mrs Daka agreed to receive the books and to administer their allocation between the local schools which they choose. This new library is called the “Sister Grace Library”. (Graceland school was named after a nun, Sister Grace, who died very young while helping the poor in the area.)
From the autumn of 2014 to the spring of 2017 I collected books from individuals, schools and libraries all over Ireland, and from Ireland’s educational publishers. With the help of a lot of people who donated time and resources, we managed to fill a 40 foot steel shipping container with 26 and a half tons of books and teaching materials, and also bookshelves on which to put the books. A generous donor bought and paid for the container so that it can be the structure in which a community library can be run, and Habitat for Humanity Zambia donated a site to locate the container. The Irish ambassador to Zambia, kindly assisted with the import of the container and its passage across borders.
In the second week of July 2017, the Container arrived at its destination in Chipulukusu, Ndola, Zambia. In the weeks which followed, the books were sorted and on Friday 11th August 2017, our big day came. The Irish ambassador to Zambia, Seamus O’Grady, came up from Lusaka and spent the day with us, to preside over the opening of this facility. We had a formal signing ceremony with Bornwell and Catherine Daka at Graceland School, where the foundation documents were executed, following which the ambassador, Mr O’Grady, cut the ribbon – and the library was opened.
In the years since then, the books have been shared out among many schools, and as far away as Mongu, 812km by road to the West. The library has been in such demand and such a success, that in June 2018, we sent a second shipping container from Dublin to Zambia and in November 2021, a third shipping container of books arrived in Zambia. Those books have been shared widely among many schools. Now, in January 2023, we have a fourth container in Dublin which is half filled with more books and teaching materials.
So that we get the best use of this resource, in 2018 and again in 2019 and in 2022 we held a teachers’ conference in Chipulukusu for the teachers from over 30 local schools and our volunteer librarians, to teach them the best means to get value from the books, and how to spread literacy in Zambia. Led by Irish teachers and educational psychologists, the intensive conferences with associated seminars and workshops cover everything from basic reading to children, to introducing concepts like the first 100 words and how to work with flash cards. Coronavirus put a halt to our workshops and conferences in 2020 and 2021, but we were in Zambia in August 2022 to resume our conferences and we are going back in the summer of 2023.
The next big step, is that we wish to construct a purpose-built library, to serve all of the schools and the public in Chipulukusu and we have raised the funds to build that library, secured the site and obtained a building permit. We hope to build and complete construction in 2023.
There is a lot more to do, but each container we send to Zambia costs approximately €10,000.00 to send, and we need donations of book shelves, school books, children’s books and teaching materials, as well as laptop computers, to keep this going.
Please donate if you can. Please volunteer to come with us to Zambia if you can. There is much more to do, in order to spread literacy in Zambia. This, after all, was Catherine Daka’s dream.