The first Osu Children’s Library was founded in 1990 under a tree in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Canadian Kathy Knowles was posted to Ghana with her husband, John, who worked as an accountant for Sikaman, a gold mining company. She enjoyed reading to her four children but noticed that Ghanaians did not have the same opportunities. So each Thursday afternoon, she carried a basket of books into their garden and offered story times to six neighbourhood children.
Word spread and more and more children came to the Knowles’ garden. To accommodate the increased numbers, Kathy transformed their garage into a library, filled it with shelves and small stools, and looked for more books. She hired Harry Lartey, a University of Ghana student, to read to the children and trained her housekeeper, Joanna Felih, to be the first librarian. She called her refitted garage the Osu Library after the street where they lived. Before long, 150 children were lining up each week to explore the magical world of books.
As the Knowles family prepared to return to Canada, Kathy looked for a way to create a more permanent structure. After a lengthy search, she bought a 40-foot shipping container for US$1,200, moved it to a donated patch of land and converted it into a library. She tacked up colourful wall hangings inside and planted flowering shrubs outside. On November 13, 1992, the first permanent Osu Library opened. Its volunteer board of directors has since renamed it the Kathy Knowles Community Library.
After returning to Canada in 1993, Kathy continued her efforts. Working with dedicated volunteers from their Winnipeg home and strong support from Ghana, OCLF has built six additional libraries in Greater Accra. OCLF has also given assistance and training to 200 smaller libraries in Ghana, and has supported projects in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Cameroon and the Philippines.
Spreading the joy of reading remains the cornerstone of all OCLF libraries although many quickly become centres for community development. Activities include free literacy classes, arts and crafts, cultural dancing and drumming, theatre, sports festivals, feeding programs for needy children and high school scholarships for deserving library members.