Sharing the Joy of Reading with an African Child
for 25 years

Reflections: Sally Bleecker (2015)

Sally Bleecker_2015_reflectionsThis November I had the great pleasure to return to Ghana as a volunteer with the Osu Children’s Library Fund and to be able to reacquaint myself with the wonderful staff of the Goi library over a five-week period. Having been there before helped many of the inevitable culture shocks, especially as I was met at the airport by Kathy Knowles and driven through the darkness of Accra at night to the guesthouse where I was welcomed by Joanna Felih and my friend Deborah Cowley from Ottawa, who now heads the Board of the Fund.

From the moment I arrived, the excitement and the preparations for  the 25th anniversary were immediately evident. Kathy was juggling multiple to-do lists with her customary good humour and efficiency and everyone had a task every day. Only a day later I was at the big Ghana International Book Fair where all the librarians were choosing new books for their libraries. There I reconnected with Vivian Amanor, the Goi librarian, who was carefully looking at all the wonderful African children’s books and trying to decide which ones to bring back to her library.

I then spent five weeks pitching in at the village library in Goi; the highlights of which included:

The green snake was inspired by Fati and the Green Snake, a library favourite!

The green snake was inspired by Fati and the Green Snake, a library favourite!

The celebrations and parade of the Kathy Knowles Community Library of Goi on November 14th which involved 240 registered local participants (and many others who came along). Singing and dancing followed the magnificent 70-foot-long green snake which was assembled by the children and two animators, Islando and Heather, who had come from the United States to help with the creative efforts for both parades. Despite the heat, I was pleased to complete this 10 km walk through several villages, with music making it one long dance.

Coconuts were enjoyed by all at the conclusion of the parade.

Parade participants were refreshed with coconuts.

The celebrations continued the following Saturday with more than 700 participants walking all through Accra from library to library. There were stops for porridge and pito (a corn drink, non-fermented I assure you), ice treats, and peanut butter buns and  coconuts at the final destination, which was the beautiful new Korle Gonno Community Library. The fact that no one was adversely affected in either of the two marches speaks to the excellent organization that went into each event. The majority of the participants were the children who so love these libraries, along with the enthusiastic staff.

The daily life in the library and the quieter satisfactions which came for me in having a daily book club’ with a group of young men where we read a murder mystery penned by a Ghanaian American author about the disappearance of street children in Accra. Their discussion of the issues was wonderful. Also, we held a reading competition for the junior secondary students and the higher grades of the junior school. We were gratified to realize the degree of comprehension they achieved, as well as finding it interesting to see what books they chose. One girl chose a book on the history of slavery and another choose a book on the holocaust. The many games of Boggle played on Saturday mornings had the children learning new words and visual pattern recognition at a fast pace.

Each day and each week brought some new learning, both for me and for the many children who so enthusiastically come to the library.  I was very sorry to leave “Auntie Vivian” and her sons, who assist so much, and Jonathan , the assistant librarian who brings a creative spirit to the library. I hope to return someday to see how this project, which is without parallel in my opinion, in the world of NGO’s, has evolved. Ghana has a way of remaining in you long after you leave.

Thanks as ever Kathy for welcoming me into all of this.

Sally Bleecker