May 2018

DIRECTOR'S NEWSLETTER

May 16, 2018

Dear Friends,

Once again, I am writing from Winnipeg after returning last week from a five-week-long visit to Ghana.

OCLF’S exciting new Reading to Babies Campaign took much of my time as it involved  trips to different fishing villages along Ghana’s coast. Vivian Amanor, Goi’s librarian, had already given mothers a copy of My Animal Book, an OCLF-published board book especially designed for babies, in January, and she and her son Enoch had followed up by visiting the mothers in their homes.

A mother from Anyaman told Enoch, “This program has changed our attitude towards our children. I realize that as a mother you have to love books, make good comments about books to your children, and I think it will motivate them to do the same.”  Another from Akplabannya said, “I follow my kids to school thinking that the teacher is the only one who can teach them. After this education, I have started reading to them in the house. I am seeing changes.”

The nurses said that attendance at their clinics has never been so high, and they credit our book campaign for this. We were happy that the news of this campaign received media attention. A reporter from Ghana Television filmed a feature that aired on national TV last week while Obonu TV, a local station, aired another program that included bringing two mothers with their babies to Accra to share their enthusiasm about the project. Vivian’s desire is to follow these same babies until they reach first grade while offering additional support, including more book donations and presentations.

During my stay I took pictures for My Food Book, another board book suggested by the nurses. It will feature healthy locally-available foods such as watermelon, fish, and coconut. This time we will use both English and Dangme in describing the pictures. Manitoba Council for International Cooperation’s matching grant is funding this publication.

I was proud to see Joana Felih, OCLF’s first librarian, honoured at the inaugural Ghana Reads event, as was our Korle Gonno Community Library for their initiative to host a monthly visiting writers’ series. Such recognition makes a huge difference for those who work tirelessly to foster the joy of reading and to bring about positive change.

One challenge for young people in Ghana these days is securing employment, even for university graduates. Our Madina library hosted a Career Day event with an inspiring young female economist who shared her story. She also told the group of high school students that one day she wants to be a wedding planner, a second career. It is important for young people to appreciate the realm of opportunities, including those that are more likely to earn them an income.

Theatre has always been an important outreach at our libraries. Five libraries have formal instruction for children, with two having full stages and audience halls.

Our Nima Centre continues to be busy seven days a week with dance and drama rehearsals. The facility also offers free space to community groups organizing workshops and events. Musicians Without Borders, a German group, teaches stringed instruments, trumpet and guitar, and the Nima Green Movement uses the back of the Centre for a seedling project. Recently we added Keep Fit classes on Saturday mornings.


My days were full with meetings, library visits, and hearing from those who once attended our libraries as children. Ben Ababio, one of our former high school scholarship students, is now working for a successful South African company. He offered to help OCLF with media exposure and networking within Africa.

Talata Abomoi, also a scholarship recipient, has finished her Physician’s Assistant degree and hopes to return to university to complete a full medical degree and then eventually to become a surgeon.  She invited us to her workplace where she was wearing her lab coat and attending to a patient. It doesn’t seem like too long ago when she arrived at the Nima library as a small child anxious to learn to read and with a desire to attend primary school (at that time in Ghana primary education was not free).

All these many developments would not have been possible without the support of our many donors. On behalf of all those who have benefitted from our project, I thank you for your continued interest and support.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Knowles

December 2017

DIRECTOR'S NEWSLETTER

December 13, 2017

Dear Friends,

I have just arrived back from five weeks in Ghana. One thing that always takes me by surprise is the stillness here, especially now that winter has arrived and snow blankets the earth. The sound of crashing waves and loud music from a beach bar, all within ear’s reach of my tiny apartment on top of our newest library in Korle Gonno, Accra, is once again a distant memory.

Soon after my arrival in Accra, I attended the Pan African Writers’ Association Colloquium [PAWA], a grand affair with writers and publishers from across Africa and attendees from different parts of the world. PAWA’s Secretary General Atukwei Okai invited me to speak on the topic Libraries and Forming the Reading Habit. It was a tremendous honour.

Our annual librarians’ workshop gives each library director a time to share their special programs and for their staff members to connect with the larger OCLF family. I announced that OCLF would start a retirement fund for all its full-time employees. From now on, employees will be able to track OCLF’s monthly contributions and watch their fund grow as interest accumulates. Everyone welcomed this new initiative, and they expressed their gratitude.

The Sports Festival took place on November 11th with children from six libraries. Organizers arranged for races and football matches, and then more alternative games like “threading the needle” and dance contests. I enjoyed watching a three-legged race that changed into a two-legged race when the winning partners hopped on only one foot!

We had lots of laughs during a staff relay race. I dutifully waited at the 2nd starting position to receive the baton after my 1st position teammate recovered from a fall, only to find out that when I arrived to hand over the baton to my 3rd position teammate, he had left without me. Sport at this level is all for the fun of it.

Vivian Amanor, Goi’s spirited librarian, arranged a reading workshop for mothers with their newborn babies on the same day public health nurses visited Goi to weigh babies and administer vaccines. The nurses had never seen so many babies. There were 232!

Vivian divided the mothers into groups of 20 or so and explained the important roles that mothers (fathers, too) have in reading to their little ones. Afterwards, we gave out a copy of My Animal Book, an OCLF publication, to each baby, and a frozen yoghurt treat. We will follow this first group and extend the workshop to five nearby rural communities. Vivian said that some of the mothers are already bringing their babies to her library. Two university students from Accra, including a longtime Nima library member, will spend January in Goi to help out.

If the Reading for Babies program gains momentum, we will introduce the same idea to public health clinics in Accra. Nana Aba Anamoah, GhOne TV news editor and a big promoter of reading, is fully behind the project.

Dozens of schoolchildren from an Accra government school wrote about their grandfathers. By reading their stories and using excerpts, I wrote Grandfather and Me, a soon-to-be companion to OCLF’s Nana and Me.

It was fun collecting images for My White Book, a title that will join the other seven in our colour series. I hope the remaining images will be found during my April 2018 visit.

The 25th anniversary of our first library was a month-long celebration. This humble library, initially housed in a 40-foot shipping container and opened on November 13th, 1992, has come of age. It now boasts of a 52-foot-long library, an office, a computer room, a storage shed, two washrooms, and an extensive garden area. The major anniversary event was a six-day trip to Ghana’s north with all four staff members, including Joana Felih who was there at the library’s inception. The trip involved a visit to Bonwire (the Ashanti Kingdom’s kente weaving centre), a stop at Kintampo Falls, two nights at Mole National Park to see savannah elephants and other game, a tour of Ghana’s oldest mosque in Larabanga, and a trip down the Black Volta River in dugout canoes to see two herds of hippos.

What I really enjoy most on my twice-yearly trips is observing and being part of the ebb and flow of daily library life. I witnessed countless senior students stream into our reading halls to prepare for their term exams, and hundreds of children who eagerly read from their favourite books.

Adult literacy students inspire me as they struggle to grasp basic literacy skills. Barikisu, a literacy student who is likely in her late 70s, has come to our classes for more than 15 years. Her son recently built a new home for her in a different part of Accra, but she refuses to go. She said going to “school” is more important to her than a new home.

Dancers and budding actors put in their best as they mount our stages to rehearse. It seems there is always a new show to prepare for. On my way to the airport, I stopped at our Nima Centre where dancers were in the middle of a rehearsal. I received numerous hugs from sweat-drenched dancers as they said good-bye.

On behalf of all our library staff and those who benefit from your support, I send you my best wishes for this season of joy and peace in the coming year.

Yours sincerely,

 

Kathy Knowles

May 2017

DIRECTOR'S NEWSLETTER

May 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

I returned to Winnipeg a week ago, and Vivian Amanor, our librarian from the fishing village of Goi, followed a few days later after spending a week in Ottawa visiting past volunteers and sharing her story. She also took part in a presentation by OCLF for Ottawa area donors and friends.

This trip to Ghana, like all others, was filled with special events, visits to libraries and meetings with officials.

The libraries were especially full during this period because the children were on their Easter break. At our “mother library,” the one built from a shipping container, the children were often waiting at the front gate before the librarians arrived. They were quick to offer their services to sweep the compound in preparation for the library to officially open. One young boy named Tutu eagerly wiped down all the mosaic-tiled surfaces each morning to clean the dirt left behind by neighbouring hens.

Children showed great enthusiasm for reading, singing, dancing, listening to story times, playing Scrabble and Boggle, and “fixing” puzzles. They enjoyed using the library’s new mosaic-inlaid tables for Ludo and draughts.

A highlight was receiving Joan Rankin, an award-winning illustrator from Johannesburg, South Africa, who came to understand the subtleties of Ghanaian culture in order to accurately illustrate Vivian’s new story Princess Abena and the Magic Plant. She watched a play performed by the children of Goi that told the story and then spent the remainder of the week doing creative art workshops for children and adult learners in three different libraries. She believes that everyone is an artist if given the necessary skills.

Joan taught the adult learners how to make colourful collage covers for their “life story” books. They took this task to heart. I read a story by David Anankaning, a farmer who has come to our free literacy classes for seven years. It was eight type-written pages long, and he told me that it was only the beginning. The ability to record one’s life story for family and future generations represents a legacy that only the tools of literacy can offer.

 

Nothing inspired me more than meeting Mariam, the President of the Nima Mothers’ Club and a former member of our literacy class. She exudes confidence with the conviction that their new project – Nima Green Movement – has the possibilities to transform their community. She and her team have introduced urban gardens to 250 homes in a community where, according to Mariam, “even finding a place to put one’s head is a problem.” She and her team use empty rice sacks and a growing medium of compost, sand and wood shavings to grow a myriad of vegetables and herbs. This month they held a hands-on workshop for our librarians which included a tour of a few urban gardens; seeing is believing. We are very keen to support this outstanding initiative and are giving our librarians the materials to start gardens in their own homes and libraries.

The Government of Ghana changed political parties as an outcome of their December 2016 elections. This resulted in the appointment of Mohammed Adjei Sowah as the new Mayor of Accra. Because Osu Children’s Library Fund has always worked in close partnership with the City of Accra, I was pleased to meet him in his office. He told me more than once that the City was most grateful for our efforts to offer library services for its citizens. His personal assistant subsequently spent a full day touring five of our six libraries within the boundaries of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.

Vivian arrives at the Ottawa airport!

Last weekend Martin Adjei Legend, our Theatre Director, left for Cape Town, South Africa to attend a 10-day international theatre program. He told me that his roommate was going to be from Cuba. How wonderful!

This week we heard that OCLF was one of six organizations out of a total of 31 submissions short-listed for the  inaugural Systematic Joy of Reading Award . It is an honour to be recognized by an international jury. The winner will be chosen on June 13, 2017.

Vivian is taking each new experience in stride. This week we will be driving to Brandon, Manitoba, to share her experiences from Goi and to meet other Canadians involved in development. I am most grateful to those generously hosting Vivian and showing her the Canada that she has only heard and read about. So far she calls Canada a “Place of Magic.” This is a fitting tribute for a country now celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Knowles

December 2016

DIRECTOR'S NEWSLETTER

December 9, 2016

Dear Friends,

I returned from Ghana just in time for Winnipeg’s first major snowstorm. During my visit I saw countless individuals pass through our library doors. The majority were children who came to read storybooks and listen to story times. I also met adults who attend our literacy classes, students who flock to our study halls, and theatre members who take their rehearsals seriously.

Librarian Joyce Yeboah with a mermaid.

Librarian Joyce Yeboah with a mermaid.

The Mamprobi Gale Community Library held its first Food & Arts Exhibition. The place was decorated with amazing art, including a papier-mâché mermaid. Staff members displayed food and drinks on a hand-beaded “Joy of Reading” tablecloth, and dancers kept the audience entertained for five hours, and this is no exaggeration!

I attended Korle Gonno Community Library’s 4th monthly Visiting Writers Series [VWS] with Ghanaian writer Samelia Bawuah. She read from her novel, invited questions from the audience, and assigned a creative writing activity. Samelia wrote, “The VWS is laudable. It spotlights writers in a way the media doesn’t do in Ghana. Your team is doing wonders for these children … reading, building memories. I can only say Wow!

The Accra College of Education Community Library held its 4th reading competition. This year the organizers included zonals leading up to the final event. Ghanaian students and their teachers adore competitions, and they are proud of their participation in this annual event.

Our first library, built from a 40-foot shipping container, is undergoing a major renovation with a new roof and ceiling and the installation of a tiled floor. Our remarkable carpenter, now 81, continues to inspire me with his ability to take on new jobs. He is now replacing all the window frames, ones he initially installed when the library was first built in 1992.

One poignant moment was meeting past members of the Kathy Knowles Theatre Company from our Nima Learning Centre. They are now in their 30s; some are professional actors while many others are earning an income based on their theatre experience. They are giving a special performance to honour seven members who have tragically passed away. Their statement reads, “These gone souls have contributed to the growth and achievement of the theatre company and still fill the vacuum in our hearts. We shall forever be grateful for their service to mankind.”

Another special moment was meeting Moses, an elderly man who walks with the assistance of a cane. He expressed his gratitude for being able to visit our library every day to read the newspapers, an opportunity he wouldn’t be able to enjoy otherwise.

Vivian reads to a nursery school class.

 

Vivian Amanor, our librarian at Goi, was thrilled when I invited her to come to Canada in May/June of this year. She is most deserving of this opportunity as she is the most passionate person I know when it comes to books and their transforming power. We are already planning speaking engagements in Ottawa and Winnipeg where she knows several Canadians who have come to Goi to volunteer.

Three weeks ago, Martin Adjei Legend, OCLF’s long-time theatre director, received the thrilling news that he was one of only 30 individual selected for South Africa’s International Cradle of Creativity program next May. This is a significant step for him and our entire theatre outreach.

I returned home to Canada with letters of appreciation from children. Michael, 12, wrote, “I and my friends went to the library to read, but I don’t like reading so they brought me a book to read and the tit(t)le of the book is Jennifer Goes to the Library. I was just looking at the picture(s) of the book. But now I like to read and write stories and draw on my own.” His words convey the importance of luring children into the written word with meaningful books and accessible language.

I join our library staff, library members and volunteers in wishing you our warmest greetings for this season of joy and for peace in the coming New Year.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Knowles

May 2016

Director's Letter

May 25, 2016

Dear Friends,

I returned from Ghana two weeks ago and continue to admire the dedication of our hardworking staff and celebrate the enthusiasm of our library members and adult literacy students. In 2015, we recorded 283,382 visits.

Lizzy and her newborn.

My month-long visit included events reflecting the passage of time: I was honoured to attend a traditional naming ceremony for Lizzy Acheampong’s eight-day-old baby girl. I also attended Kate Akwa’s wedding ceremony with her library colleagues. A group of us expressed our sympathy to the family of the late Malam Awudu, a committee member who for more than 15 years guided the Nima library.

I spent much of my first week at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly office including meetings with Accra’s mayor and senior city officials. Their office values our partnership, and we rely on their financial support for staff salaries and utilities. It is not always easy. Energy costs have gone up 70% since January 2016.

A victory cake!

For more than two years our ‘Mother’ library, housed in a 40-foot shipping container and opened in 1992, was at the risk of being demolished by a developer. After countless emails, letters, phone calls and several visits to see the mayor, we received a letter from the Lands Commission on May 6th giving us approval to stay. This was a significant victory! Soon we will be carrying out extensive renovations including the construction of two flush toilets.

Joanna Felih, our head librarian who has been with us for 25 years, taught library skills to three lay librarians. They left with boundless enthusiasm for their new assignments. Learning how to instill the joy of reading is critical as few children associate reading with anything beyond academic gain.

Planning the next move!

Planning the next move!

My husband, John Knowles, introduced chess during his November 2015 visit when we celebrated our 25th anniversary. I was encouraged on this visit to see chess gaining popularity. One librarian told me that he was planning to Google ‘chess competitions’ so that he could plan one!

I was honoured to cut the ribbon for a new community library in Accra. It was initiated by Florence Adjepong, an Osu Library Fund board member, and her husband, Sammy. Such places provide hope for communities where educational opportunities are limited.

On each visit it is always special to meet with past library members, especially beneficiaries of our high school scholarships.

Lardi is in her first year at Islamic University College. She told me that she and four others have started a drama club there. This came about because one of her fellow students knew that she performed at our Nima Centre where we have a flourishing theatre company.

Nana and Me

Nana and Me

Talata is in her third year at the University of Ghana and will graduate in 2017 as a physician’s assistant. She still finds time to work four evenings a week as a literacy instructor at our Nima Centre where she imparts her eagerness for learning.

I am working with Ghana’s talented illustrator Edmund Opare to create a book about the sounds where I live in Nima, an urban ghetto of Accra. Where else does one hear a three-wheeled garbage truck sing alongside roaring cars and trucks and wandering animals?!  Edmund and I are going to Washington, D.C., in October to accept an award from the Children’s African Book Award jury for our most-recently published book, Nana and Me. It will be Edmund’s first trip off the African continent.

There is always a lot happening. Now that I am back in Winnipeg, I will continue to follow the progress of our libraries, including a new project in Kaneshie, a densely populated community in Accra.

Your support allows us to transform lives through the power of literacy. I join our library staff and members and OCLF’s team of committed volunteers to send you our warmest greetings.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Knowles