Originally published 8/21/12
My interview with Chris Bradshaw, Founder/President of the African Library Project. The African Library Project changes lives book by book by starting libraries in rural Africa. Their grassroots approach mobilizes U.S. volunteers, young and old, to organize book drives and ship books to a partner library in Africa. Their method makes a concrete and personal difference for children on both continents (taken from here) Find them on Facebook.
Naomi: How did you come to start the African Library Project?
Chris: In 2004, my family went pony trekking (aka horse packing) in Lesotho, a small mountainous kingdom that is completely surrounded by South Africa. There were no roads, no running water, no electricity and certainly no books. When my then 14 year old son got bored and pulled out a book to read while riding his horse, I asked our guide about libraries in the country of Lesotho. “Uhhhh, I think we do have one…in the capital city!”, he said proudly.
One library in an entire country! I couldn’t stop thinking about all the American bookshelves overflowing with books and American landfills overfilling with books. A few days later, when we returned to the village where we had rented our horses, I learned from a village leader that the village had always wanted a library, but could not get the books. Their teachers had few textbooks and were teaching from memory.
Of course, a library is much more than just books. I made a deal with him. If your village committee will commit to providing the space for the library, book shelves, staff to run it and a library committee dedicated to the ongoing success of the library, I will get you books. Two months later, they told me the building was half done! Gulp. I realized I need to make good on my promise.
The village leaders decided to give the library project to a Peace Corps Volunteer scheduled to arrive in their village two months later. Great idea! How can you organize a library if you have never seen one? When Maryann Eisemann, the Peace Corps Volunteer arrived, coincidentally, she turned out to be a retired librarian! Together, Maryann and I helped start five libraries in Malealea Valley in Lesotho, the first of the African Library Project’s now 890 libraries in nine English speaking African countries
Naomi: How can librarians help African Library Project?
Chris: First, let me say how much I love librarians! Librarians everywhere dedicate their lives to helping people gain access to ideas and information, ideas that allow us to figure out who we are, who we want to be and how to get there. In the US, librarians have been some of our most passionate and supportive advocates. In Africa, the growing body of teachers that we train to be “teacher-librarians” are at the forefront of the education movement in their local villages, helping teach other teachers how books can be used in their classrooms and turning students on to the wonders of reading in cultures that traditionally have not valued reading.
Our biggest need is for book drives. Every book drive turns into a small rural African library. We’ve created a system that makes it easy for any American to help start a library by collecting 1K gently-used children’s books and raising about $500 to cover the costs of shipping. We match each book drive with a specific library project so they can collect the types of books most needed. At the same time, book drive organizers end up helping their own community by donating book that are inappropriate for Africa to a local organization that needs books. So, start a book drive!
If a librarian had prior experience working in a developing country as a librarian, and wanted to volunteer with the African Library Project in Africa, I think I could place them with our partners to help train teacher-librarians. They are always eager to learn more.
Naomi: Can you speak a little about your experiences with libraries? Any favorite libraries or experiences with them?
Chris: I am not a librarian, but have always loved them. As a homeschooling parent, my children and I visited our local library in Cupertino, CA weekly for many years, often checking out 50-60 books at a time. My son, especially, devoured books. My favorite libraries now are in Africa, started by the African Library Project, of course! I especially love the many unique features of our libraries that particularly address the challenges Africans face…e.g.,HIV/AIDS sections and Culture Corners, an area where traditional clothing, food, weapons, tools, housewares, etc. are displayed to help preserve the rapidly disappearing native culture.
Naomi: Favorite book(s)?
Chris: Oh boy. I do love Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One and Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram.
Naomi: Favorite adaptation (book to film or even film to book)?
Chris: I always like the book better!
Naomi: Are there any blogs or websites we should be following?
Chris: africanlibraryproject.org, of course:)
Chris “was inspired to help start libraries in Africa after being told on a pony trekking trip in Lesotho that the country had just one library. As Founder of the African Library Project and President of the Board, she has led the organization, coordinating Americans across the United States and Africans in nine countries to start and improve small libraries. Her interest in Africa began during her junior year in college when she studied at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone and traveled throughout western and central Africa. An ardent traveler, she has now traveled, lived or worked in 58 countries on five continents including 19 African countries. Her background includes ten years as a YMCA executive directing camps and conference centers in Indiana, California and North Carolina and home schooling her two children, Ben and Mariah. Over the years, she has worked with nonprofits serving the homeless, children of war torn countries, a soup kitchen, and home schooling education and support services. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Denison University with minors in African Studies and Studio Art. (ALP Board 2005-present)” (quoted from this source)