April 3, 2020
I am writing to you on behalf of Osu Children’s Library Fund volunteers in Canada and our librarians in Ghana to update you on the effect of COVID-19 upon our libraries.
This pandemic is a world event and collectively countries are weeping for those in its path. Ghana’s first infected case was reported on March 13, and now there are 204 cases with five dead. I fear the numbers will mount quickly from here. Hospitals with well-equipped ICU beds are not readily available for those who might need them. In a system where there is no free health care the crisis looms deep. It is difficult to fathom the potential crisis.
On March 27, the President of Ghana announced a lockdown of two major regions including the capital, Accra. This measure is intended to help control the virus spread, but it is having catastrophic consequences for the multitudes who work from hand-to-mouth. No work means no money to buy food, and even at that the food prices have almost doubled since the virus arrived. Theophilus Tsedi, OCLF’s painter since 1992, phoned me on Tuesday to say that to buy a little sugar to prepare rice water for his children was difficult.
OCLF is doing its best to ensure that our faithful library workers are receiving their government pay. It isn’t easy. Some government offices are closed now because of the lockdown, and these are the same places where salaries are disbursed. The Human Resource Head of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly told me today that they are working despite the situation to prepare February salaries. Many librarians are still waiting for January’s salary to arrive.
On Monday, I asked our librarians to share their messages to you so that this letter reflected their voices, too.
Martin Legend, the Nima Centre’s Theatre Director, wrote, “I receive messages and calls from theatre members who want to know when we are resuming. I am as eager to start as they are. We can only pray and hope that we will wake up one day to meet the most exciting news that we are free and safe to go back and pursue our dreams and aspirations. May God heal the world and His people.”
Sharon Gyan-Opoku, the Mamprobi head librarian, wrote, “Everyone is afraid of what is happening now. We are also practicing safety measures seriously to help ourselves and our country to stop the cases from increasing every day. We all have to stay safe in these difficult times.”
Irene Togobo, a librarian at Korle Gonno, wrote,”I think of all the hope the library brings. Now what will the children do in this season? This is when they need the support the most.”
Joana Felih, OCLF’s first librarian, wrote, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this trying time. Please stay safe, and we hope this situation will come to an end soon.”
The Government of Ghana closed all libraries and schools three weeks ago. We are still making sure that our libraries are being looked after by caretakers.
Despite the endless grief that one hears and reads, here is a little cheerful story that spans three continents and a full year.
Last April, I found a German-made stuffed bunny washed up on the shore, not too far from where I stay in Accra. I spent several hours emptying sand from its inside, washing it, and then carefully stitching it together.
During my November visit, I told the children at one library about ‘Bunny.’ Afterwards they wrote to Brauns-Heitmann, the company that made Bunny along with its general household products and food and Easter egg dyes. The children asked those working at Brauns-Heitmann how Bunny could have possibly travelled all the way from Germany to Ghana by sea. I mailed their letters in late December.
Last month, we received a reply from the company with a possible explanation in an illustrated story format, partially inspired by the children’s ideas. Only today, I received an email saying that DHL will be delivering 20 new stuffed bunnies to my Winnipeg address. I will deliver these gifts to the young letter writers when I return to Ghana, a date that remains uncertain given these unknown times.