Ginny Knowles

This is Ginny’s speech at OCLF’s fundraising dinner in Winnipeg, June 2023:

“Hello Everyone! My name is Ginny, and tonight I’ll be talking about my time in Ghana.

My grandmother Minnie has a life outside of Canada. Every year, she spends three months in Ghana, which is in western Africa. She has committed those months of her life since 1990 when she first started a library.

She started with a little library under a tree and it has now expanded into nine library buildings. Her libraries are such a big part of her life and I only knew about this part of her life through her stories. For years, it would just be “Minnie is in Ghana” and I would hear her stories when she returned. But this always left many questions. I only knew this part of her life through pictures in my head.

Don’t get me wrong, stories are powerful, but it is different to experience these things in real life. This is why Minnie hopes to take all of her grandchildren to Ghana when they are around age 10.

I went to Ghana last August for four weeks. I met many people Minnie has talked about for years, saw places I’d heard of, and did some of the work that she commits so much of her life to.

I went to all of Minnie’s libraries. A project we introduced was making a globe. We brought each library an atlas, a geography card game and material so that everyone could make their own paper mache globe. We spoke to the children about the different continents and oceans and we taught them The World Game. This game teaches about countries’ size, capital cities, and flags.  They would also get very competitive over the game and added challenges about who could name and memorize the most flags! After that, we made paper mache globes using balloons and paper cut outs of continents. The children painted them and were able to take them home. They enjoyed the art project and learned more about the world.

I also met a lot of Minnie’s friends and made friends of my own. I loved hanging out with Kwame, Minnie’s very funny and friendly driver.

Another person I met was a man named David. He attends literacy classes at the Osu Library. David recognized the amount of garbage in Accra, and he wanted to change this. He came up with the idea of making recycling bins out of water bottles and rebar. He has made about 40 of these bins for a 10 km loop. Every Sunday, he walks the loop with a wheelbarrow to collect the bottles. We joined him one Sunday to see him in action. He said he has noticed a difference in the amount of garbage strewn around and hopes to continue making more. Ghanaians have also recognized his work. Even the President’s wife wanted to meet David to interview him about his project.

Talk about the tedious stuff- bank negotiations, salaries, human resources, staff arguments. I also saw the tedious side of Minnie’s life in Ghana and just seeing how patiently she waited at the bank or how she made sure to always listen to both sides of the story. This confirmed to me that Minnie really loves her libraries and the people who keep them running.

I loved my trip in Ghana and I now can clearly see the places that Minnie talks about in my head. I appreciate the things I have more and loved seeing the libraries make so many people happy.

And that’s why I thank you for coming  tonight to support the libraries because so many people depend on the libraries and love them dearly. Many children receive meals there, and the  libraries have taught many adults how to read and write.

Thank you.”

 

Ginny Knowles Read More »

Cheryl Schramm

After a couple years of delay due to the pandemic, I made my visit to the libraries just past Easter in late April 2022. I spent the first block of time at the original library in Accra and then the latter two weeks in the small fishing village of Goi east of Accra.  The libraries were full all day because the children were on school break. I came with science experiments, book club ideas based on Anne Frank’s diary, story exchanges with local Canadian grandmothers that I know, and techniques for teaching chess.

Our days were full of reading. The first children would trickle in as the library opened, reaching for their favourites from a collection ofbooks with lots of local African representation, thanks to the genius and hard work of Kathy and librarians such as Vivian who have written and published many introductory reading books – about colours, the alphabet, and local stories – taking photographs with some of the children as the stars. Some children read quietly on their own, but much reading is done communally with several children crowded around a book. The smaller children learn from the older ones as they all read aloud. Story time is held daily with Vivian in Goi being the consummate story teller holding the rapt attention of 90 children for an hour.

I contributed to the program with my clubs – chess, science, writing and book clubs, and new games such as Wordle.  Within a day or two, interested children had mastered the moves of all chess pieces and were enjoying the game. I must say as an aside that in Goi, it was the adults – Enoch and Promise – who were seen playing well into the evening, engrossed in long periods of thoughtful stares at the board.  The older children journaled along as we read Anne Frank’s daily journals, relating their own thoughts to those of Anne about their families, foods, hobbies, and aspirations.

Everyone joined in the science experiments. We drew mazes for the magnets to race through and intricate pictures from graphite in pencils for electricity to flow through while we explored the conductivity of materials. We also made a piano using my little computer combined with onions, potatoes, mangos, and bananas.

The days were full, but it’s the people that stay in your heart.

The children are naturally charming with all their energy and potential.  Yet it is their hunger that inspires, not hunger for food but hunger to learn, to engage, and to participate. The children devour any activities that you open to them with exuberance. They come to these libraries for stories and for lessons on spelling and math while they are on their school break. And, they work for this opportunity: cleaning tables, sweeping floors, and stacking chairs. It is their library. They care for it.

Some children especially touch your heart. My 13-year-old friend Desmond earned his nickname “Tutu” with his quiet demeanor. He tended to the safety of the little ones even while cleaning and setting up and when studiously joining the book and science club with a burning desire for higher education built into his being. Abraham is the rough-and-tumble boy that tries your patience with his physical energy but also falls into bewitched trances when devouring a book, truly experiencing the joy of reading. Winnifred is quiet but her writing reveals both an earnestness and a lightheartedness. She wants to be both a police officer to protect people from harm and a fashion designer to celebrate the joy and beauty of clothing.  And Mark from Goi – a builder of model planes, a portrait artist, and a rock star drummer.

The staff are dedicated and very multi-talented. In Osu (Accra), Enoch is ostensibly the math teacher and the office worker who writes the necessary reports of an NGO, but he also has a clear photographic eye and a creative bent in developing arts activities for the children. Justine is quiet and constantly working preparing and cleaning up after activities, keeping the library books clean and repaired.  In Goi, Faustina is the quiet partner who is always moving to keep children on task and things in their place while Paulina is the active lead, pumping the children into frenzies with songs and dances. Another Enoch – Goi’s Enoch – creates programs not only for the Goi library but for satellite libraries that are being nurtured by weekly tours with mats set up under trees.  Enoch is the next generation raised in Vivian’s library with his eye to the next steps to support his community. I am left in awe by each of them, individually, by their tireless work and their sheer love for their children. Collectively, I see the power of teamwork in the daily dances that they performed in their work together.

I am thankful for the opportunity of staying in these libraries to learn so much from both the children and staff.  The joy of reading – of education – is palpable.  It was an honour to be able to witness the inspired work being done in these community libraries which are so deserving of our support.

Cheryl

Cheryl Schramm Read More »

The Land of Plenty

Joana Felih (left), a longstanding librarian and a good cook, displays a page from The Land of Plenty, a Ghana-centric word book written by Kathy Knowles and illustrated by Toby Newsome. Justine Ativor, a colleague, is with her.

The Land of Plenty Read More »

May 2023

After a month away, I am back to Winnipeg and my rhythm of life. This visit, like all others, was rich with varied experiences, each one linked to books or to libraries. A focus was OCLF’s newest book, The Land of Plenty. Clearing these books from the port, coordinating storage logistics, and seeing to its launch three weeks later took considerable time. There was a flurry of activity at our Nima Centre. There is nothing like an event to make a place shine. Launch day featured children singing Imagine with lyrics by John Lennon from a new library book with the same title, a quartet of young musicians playing a Ghanaian melody, two library dancing troupes, adult literacy learners reading from their creative writing pieces (as encouraged by The Shoe Project, a Canadian initiative), and the mayor speaking on behalf of her municipality. Ronke Ampiah, local board chair, and I presented copies to all head librarians.

This book features day-to-day scenes from Ghana with vocabulary reflecting local terminology. Award-winning South African illustrator Toby Newsome did an outstanding job. It was a joy to see the reactions of young library users when they first opened its pages. For many children, their favourite page was Auntie Joana’s Food Joint as it features several favourite Ghanaian dishes and, most significantly, because they know her in real life. I wrote to Huck Scarry, Richard Scarry’s son, before the launch to let him know that his father’s many word books inspired this one.

I visited nine OCLF libraries. It is always encouraging to see that these facilities remain welcoming and neat. At Goi I marvelled as their librarian Vivian Amanor read book after book for 2 ½ hours (!) to kindergarten children. She swiftly changed back and forth from English to Dangme with such ease and enthusiasm. Vivian strongly believes that books change lives.

I also ventured to a small farming community in the north where Mawuli Fianyo, a former library member, is now teaching. Living there is challenging with no potable water (water is fetched from a river 15 minutes away), no electricity, and the school is void of any learning materials. Just the same, Mawuli does his best. After reading OCLF’s Fati and the Green Snake to a group of students, Mawuli divided the children into different characters from the story. Soon children were jumping around as monkeys and flying like birds, Fati was collecting firewood with her family, and, of course, the snake was nearby waiting in a bush. His school even has a chess club, a skill Mawuli learned from his library days.

Librarians continue to expand their outreach with ideas and new activities. Many now go online to find out what days are celebrated around the world, and they create their own rendition whether it’s Mother Language Day, Earth Day, Colour Day, Chocolate Day or Poetry Day. Library Coordinator Winifred Kyeremeh organizes monthly meetings for head librarians. These sessions provide opportunities for librarians to learn from each other.

Thank you for believing that OCLF is making a difference.

Warmest wishes,

Kathy Knowles

May 2023 Read More »

December 2022

December 8, 2022

Dear Friends,

Winnipeg’s minus 26 degree temperature took my breath away when I stepped out of the airport last week following my one-month stay in Ghana.

These days Ghanaians are struggling with inflation rates above 40% and the high cost of living. Road traffic is down as many car owners can no longer afford the high fuel prices. Fortunately Covid is no longer a major health concern.

Our libraries remain community hubs with a constant flow of children, activities, and events. Our original library, renamed the Kathy Knowles Community Library in 1993 by local directors, celebrated its 30th anniversary November 13. Children came in their numbers for a party, which included games, a book reading, singing Happy Birthday, and sharing ice cream and cake. Joana Felih, the original dynamic librarian who cut the ribbon at the library’s opening, remains passionate about what she does.

This year’s annual librarians’ meeting theme was Inclusion for All. A physiotherapist spoke about the importance for families with children with disabilities to have their children assessed and treated. Massawudu Zakari, now in his twenties, shared his experience as a child when he could only crawl until receiving surgical and physio treatment .He said, “Handicapped people are made to feel inferior and not useful; however most handicapped people are greatly talented and have a lot of ideas to contribute to the growth of the world.

In November, the libraries featured the work of Eric Carle, the late American children’s writer and illustrator. Children and their librarians took great delight using Carle’s style of cutting out decorated papers and creating their own works of art.

Literacy learners from one library went on an excursion to Parliament House. Everyone was fascinated with the lively discussions (and heckling!) between political parties as they debated the recently-announced budget.

The Accra College of Education Community Library held their 10th reading competition for neighbourhood schools. Competing students and their supporting teachers and fellow students came together to enjoy the occasion. A teacher generously donated a cake.

Children at this library showed me a modest power-generating windmill that they constructed with their science teacher. For more than a month they used the library as their classroom. This project was inspired by their reading of the Malawi-based true story of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. 

During my stay I carried around a draft copy of OCLF’s newest book The Land of Plenty to ensure that readers of all ages and backgrounds approve the illustrations and accompanying text for this 750-word book. This included spending three hours with a poet one evening where each word and illustration was pondered and, in many cases, deliberated on. This book will be printed in early 2023.

December 2022 Read More »

June 2022

June 3, 2022

Dear Friends,

After a month away, much of it spent in the bustling city of Accra where traffic is ever-present and concrete covers much of the land, it was soothing to arrive back in Winnipeg and see its emerging green canopy. (When I left in late April, our city was still covered in snow.)

Yet, while in Ghana, I adore the rhythm of my day-to-day life and library routines, my extended ‘family’ of Ghanaian friends, and delight in the various events that keep me busy. Here’s a snapshot of a few recent library highlights.

Mother’s Day is an honoured tradition in Ghana. OCLF’s library in Korle Gonno hosted a multi-media production of Eté, a poetic eulogy written by Ladé Wosoru, a highly acclaimed Ghanaian poet and retired surgeon, for his late mother. He generously graced the occasion. His powerful words conveyed the depth of his love and admiration for his strong mother. Youthful narrators and a chorus recited his poem against a backdrop of dancers, drummers, and a small musical ensemble of recorders and a violin.

On May 17, the Nima Centre offered blood pressure checks to commemorate World Hypertension Day. Naomi Awusi, the Centre’s manager, set up a table outside the main reading hall and 87 adults came. High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” as many people are unaware of their condition until it’s too late. Offering such a service identifies individuals at risk. Participants were grateful.

Throughout the month, OLCF was privileged to host Cheryl Schramm, a volunteer from Ottawa. She delighted eager minds with daily science experiments, Wordle puzzles, chess games, and book clubs. Thank you, Cheryl.

Another event, and this one in the rural community of Goi, celebrated Grandmothers’ Day. Seventy grandmothers arrived clutching their hand-drawn invitations. They enjoyed hearing their grandchildren recite poetry, read from their favourite stories, and act in plays. The grandmothers had their turn to share their words of wisdom too. The event was supposed to begin at noon, but some of the grandmothers were in their seats by 9 a.m. To accommodate the early arrivals, we started just after 11 a.m.

Two hundred female upper primary and junior high school students gathered at the Mamprobi Gale Community Library to attend a program highlighting World Menstruation Day. Librarian Belinda Dogbatse presented information and gave detailed explanations as to the different products available. Everyone left with a package of pads.

At our newest library in the village of Kablevu, I was in awe of the dozens of children who sat on the floor for hours while listening to stories read aloud in their mother tongue.

David Anakaning, a long-time current literacy learner, provided constant inspiration. He is making plastic recycling bins using discarded plastic bottles and putting them on street corners near his home. Every Sunday he travels with his wheelbarrow, empties his plastic bins, separates the plastic accordingly, and builds more bins to extend his outreach. His dream is to “help keep our environment clean.” How beautiful is that!

My favourite moments are always sharing books with children. I delighted in meeting little Edna, just over age 2, who lives next door to our library in Osu. She was often the first to arrive and among the last to leave. On this visit, I was most grateful to OCLF donors who donated their Aeroplan Member Donation Program miles for my travel.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

June 2022 Read More »