The Fisherman’s Dance

Theatre and dance director Ebenezer Commey of the Korle Gonno Community Library (wearing OLF’s blue library cloth) choreographed a traditional Fisherman’s Dance for the occasion of ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’ book launch. He stands with members of his talented troupe who performed on stage.

May 2024

May 15, 2024

Dear Friends,

Another visit has passed by with vivid memories lingering, each with a story.

We are busy now preparing for our annual fundraising events to be held in Winnipeg at Saucers Cafe next month.
We were honoured to have former Winnipeggers Paul and Holly McNally join us in Ghana. They helped at our first Molly’s Camp, which took place at the Goi library. This five-day camp for 40 children was made possible thanks to a generous gift from the family of the late Molly Higginson, a former OCLF volunteer. Paul taught each child to make a wooden stool and Holly taught crocheting. It was exciting to see girls sawing away and boys eagerly crocheting. Local instructors taught broom making, reed mat construction, and weaving too. It is now up to other libraries to think of ideas for their own version of Molly’s Camp.

Freshly painted stools drying in the sun in preparation for the Camp’s celebration day

Ghana’s highly acclaimed illustrator Edmund Opare attended the launch for OCLF’s newest book, The Fisherman and His Wife, a retelling of a Brothers Grimm tale. Edmund’s watercolour illustrations beautifully convey the fisherman’s anguish as his wife’s demands go beyond reason with her final wish asking for dominion over the sun, the moon, the heavens, and the earth.

Children from Korle Gonno’s library performed a stage play based on our new book.

Our local board met and among other issues we discussed ways to raise funds to help our librarians facing health issues not covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme and beyond the scope of OCLF’s modest medical plan. During my month-long visit, I spent many hours in clinics with librarians suffering from malaria, typhoid, hypertension, and heart failure. Each condition required multiple tests and not one was covered by the national plan. Medications are costly too.

Adult learners at our Nima Centre embraced the writings of the late Efua Sutherland as part of the centenary celebrations for this remarkable Ghanaian woman, who was a playwright, author, and child’s advocate well before her time. Learners recited poetry from Sutherland’s book Playtime in Africa and shared games they played as children. The Centre was filled with laughter as we all stepped into the shoes of young children. Have you ever heard of “Ant and Tree”, a variation of “Simon Says”?

Former users of our Nima Centre of Accra, including an army sergeant, a nurse, and a midwife, approached me to thank OCLF for constructing this facility back in 2006. Rahma said her parents were very strict, and the library was the only place she was allowed to go apart from school. She went every single day. Rahma mentioned the kindness of Mr. Joseph, one of the librarians (now retired), who took a special interest in her well-being and ensured she had all the necessary textbooks to study. We were invited by CLASS FM radio to share this news on live radio.

Literacy facilitator Jibril Iddrisu (lt) with former users of the Nima Centre at CLASS FM

Mabel Hoduameda, the head librarian in the salt mining village of Kablevu, has the book, The Boy Who Grew a Forest by Sophia Gholz, in her library. She is striving to create a forest too. Since her library’s opening in 2020, she has planted trees and bushes on her library grounds and with little success. That has not deterred her from trying! Recently Mabel introduced new species of trees known to have a greater tolerance to salty soil and all 25 are growing. Each requires daily watering, not an easy task considering their village doesn’t have a water source.

Warmest wishes,

Kathy Knowles

Holly and Paul McNally

Ghanaian children are beautiful. Statuesque with pleasing features, they are cheerful, attentive and respectful. With their indefatigable powers of concentration, they are a pleasure to teach. This was the conclusion of my husband Paul and myself after spending a week as part of a library camp in Goi where we taught woodworking and crocheting respectively.

The Osu libraries are welcoming community hubs where wonderful things happen. Reading of course is primary but theatre and adult literacy classes are also prominent. There is even a small symphony orchestra. Older students are provided a quiet and lit area to study (it is dark at 6 pm) with textbooks provided on site.

Yes, Ghanaian children are beautiful but so was the entire Osu experience. I recommend it. It may change your life.

Holly (and Paul)

Hearing from grateful users

“We, the Nima-Maamobi Community Learning Centre’s beneficiaries, are immensely appreciative to Madame Kathy Knowles, the philanthropist who changed the story of our education by building the Centre with art and cultural facilities. Our education was impacted positively to a huge extent and all thanks to her. Not only did we have access to books in a setting that encouraged learning, staff members consistently provided assistance, direction and guidance to promote the community’s overall academic growth and success.

My name is Rahma, a professional nurse, and together with Elham Ibrahim, a midwife, and Army Sergeant Adamu Abdul Rasheed, we represent the entire community. We say, “May God bless your endeavors and efforts and continue to guide you towards your goal. We will always be grateful to you Mum.”

The Fisherman and His Wife

The children and staff at our Korle Gonno Community Library in Accra will be launching OCLF’s newest publication, The Fisherman and His Wife, a retelling of a Brothers Grimm tale written by Kathy Knowles and illustrated by Edmund Opare, on Thursday April 18, 2024 at 3pm. We will also be celebrating the Centenary of Efua Sutherland, a Ghanaian playwright, director, dramatist, author, poet, child advocate, and cultural activist. All are cordially invited!

If you are able to come kindly RSVP to kknowles@mymts.net

December 2023

December 13, 2023

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from another month-long visit to OCLF libraries in Ghana, and I’m pleased to offer an update of some of the activities.

November proved to be a busy month with several annual events. The Sports Festival is always a highlight with a range of games offered. I – along with dozens of children — played ping pong on the outdoor concrete tables. OCLF recently donated several new paddles and balls to satisfy the steady stream of ping pong enthusiasts. During the week at this library, one has to read a book before playing! Alongside the sports activities, a local clinic ran free health screenings.

The annual meeting of 2023 brought together 70 library workers from nine libraries, ranging from cleaners to head librarians. Our guest speaker, David Anankaning, described how he makes bins from recycled bottles for plastic waste. His goal is to make Ghana cleaner, one bin at a time. Years ago, when David first came to our literacy classes, he could hardly write his name, and now he has the confidence to send letters and proposals to every level of government. Not long ago, he received a cash donation of GHS 20,000 (CDN $2,265) from Ghana’s First Lady to help.

The meeting continued with breakout sessions where library teams brainstormed ways to make their facilities more environmentally friendly. An enlightening discussion followed, with each panelist highlighting the pivotal role reading played in their lives. The day concluded with a buffet dinner and dance to celebrate another successful year.

The Nungua Community Library held its final 20th anniversary event. The celebration began with a 90-minute health walk accompanied by a lively marching band. The formal program included speeches, poetry recitals, a drama and several dances. The library’s verdant grounds are beautifully kept, creating an oasis in what is otherwise a barren litter-strewn environment. We planted a tree in memory of Molly Higginson, a volunteer who was present during the library’s construction in 2003.

I spent four days in the fishing community of Goi and nearby villages. Librarians in these OCLF-sponsored libraries, both working in buildings and informally under trees, continue to do an outstanding job to inspire young minds.

The Korle Gonno Community Library, in partnership with German volunteers from Musicians Without Borders, honoured teacher librarian Irene Togobo with a concert. Irene is well loved by everyone and has spearheaded the library’s music program for the last four years. Thanks to Irene’s efforts, Korle Gonno’s library boasts an orchestra comprised of library members, including children whose lives have been transformed by this experience. Sadly, Irene is presently battling cancer..

An MP invited a small delegation of librarians and myself to the Ghanaian Parliament to be formerly introduced to the speaker. It was an honour to be invited for such an occasion and to be recognized.

Yet, despite these accolades and the more formal events I attended last month, a true highlight of this trip was encountering a father reading to his two young children. According to Isaac Ofori, a volunteer librarian at Korle Gonno, the father faithfully brings his children every weekend. This was a first for after more than 30 years of visiting OCLF libraries.

During these days, when there are more people in conflict than at any other time since World War II, it is heartening to find a bit of hopeful news and peace at our libraries that are changing lives one reader at a time.  Thanks for your help in making this happen.

Warmest wishes,

Kathy Knowles

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.”

 

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

Martha Helgerson

Since the mid-1990s, I had been a behind-the-scenes helper and minimal volunteer with the Winnipeg branch of the Osu Children’s Library Fund, sitting on the local board and assisting with writing and editing duties. Kathy was my close neighbour and friend, and I was only happy to help with her worthwhile project.

And for those same many years, in some ways, I had thought of the OCLF network generically as “Kathy’s libraries,” which by all accounts is true. Yet after a visit to Ghana with Kathy in August 2019, I realized that I more accurately needed to add a few more “owners” – names like Abena and Lordina, Enoch and Conrad – as these places really belong to their members, from young to old, whose lives have been enriched and transformed through knowledge and opportunity.

During the visit, place names like Korle Gonno, Mamprobi, Nima and Goi, which I had only known about “on paper,” now came vividly to life as I experienced first-hand how vibrant and beautiful and well used each of Osu Library Fund’s eight libraries in the Accra area are.  These libraries are not located in the most privileged sections of the teeming metropolis. Yet, the evidence of well-run facilities  that are led by head librarians and staff who really care about their jobs was easy to spot; in a big city like Accra that is dusty and noisy, the libraries are true oases that provide clean, safe, nurturing and creative spaces for children and young adults to read, to study, to learn, to have fun, and for many, to have extra food to eat. The success stories are many.

Every day was jam-packed, (doubly so for Kathy), and as a volunteer one definitely gets the insider’s view of life in Accra, far removed from any ex-pat reality. Yet, the busy schedule and minor hardships were eased substantially by the warm hospitality of OLF’s most senior head librarian Joana Felih and the calm navigational ability of Kathy’s friend and driver, Kwame.

Over the course of three weeks, I visited each of the eight libraries in the Greater Accra Region, yet spent most days at the Osu neighbourhood’s  Kathy Knowles Community Library (the original shipping container one). There, I worked primarily with library assistant Rachel, 17, to introduce the children to the stories of Pippi Longstocking, a character who shares many traits with the familiar and favourite Fati, from the eponymous OLF-published series of popular books.

In addition, I accompanied Kathy when she entered into negotiations with the chief and elders of a  fishing/salt village near Goi, east of Accra, to build a small library with grant assistance.

Other highlights included attending an annual Theatre Festival at the Nima Centre featuring dancing, drumming and several original plays, from each of the OLF libraries. A memorable moment came when  Korle Gonno librarian Irene premiered her original “Sharing the Joy of Reading” song as accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra comprised of young library members who are being nurtured and taught by Irene with assistance by the German-based Musicians Without Borders.

Besides working in the libraries, I attended the African Regional Conference of the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY), at which Kathy, who was on the local organizing board, was a speaker.  In addition, Rachel and I staffed the Osu Library Fund’s kiosk at the annual Ghana Book Fair for one day, where Kathy’s beautifully produced books for children were on sale.

There was a bit of time for relaxation. Along with a group from IBBY, I made a worthwhile day trip westward to Cape Coast and Elmina castles where one learns about the inhuman slave trade that persisted for 350 years to provide labour to the Americas. On another Sunday afternoon, Kathy and I, along with Joana, Rachel and her brother, Desmond, strolled through the packed streets of the colourful Jamestown neighbourhood to take in the sights and sounds of the arts-oriented Charlie Wote Festival.

And, finally, on our penultimate day, Kathy and I, along with Kwame and his lively 6-year-old twin girls, found an hour or two to take a late afternoon stroll on the vast stretch of  beach that lay just a block from our guest house atop Korle Gonno Library, which fronts a busy street filled with  family compounds, resorts, small businesses, schools, churches and mosques – not to mention a continual stream of taxis and the occasional early Sunday morning parade.  The nearby beach with its pounding surf had provided welcome “white noise” during the nights of the preceding three weeks, and so now walking its white sands, (unfortunately strewn with the ubiquitous plastic), was a lovely ending to an amazing visit that underscored what I already knew, but now had witnessed first hand: Kathy’s Libraries – oops, I mean the OLF libraries, which belong to Abena and Lordina, Enoch and Conrad, and the list could go on  —  continue to provide invaluable opportunities and make significant differences in the lives of so many.

Martha

Hailey Knowles

I spent three weeks this August volunteering in OCLF libraries in Ghana. I spent the first week in the Kathy Knowles Community Library [KKCL] in Osu, Accra. I stayed with the head Librarian Joana Felih above the Korle Gonno Community Library and commuted there every day.

Before I arrived, I bought some games (Guess Who? and Dominoes) as well as a puzzle and two copies of a simple chapter book that I love. I gave these to the children when I arrived and they loved them, especially the Guess Who? In the KKCL, we did adult literacy classes in the mornings which I loved because the women I worked with were super eager and therefore fast to learn and really appreciated my help. We did lots of sound work and I also loved how much material progress they seemed to make with the learning while I was there.

In the afternoon I did lots of work with the children such as math lessons or games which helped me get to know them really well. While I was there, they were on vacation, so they played more games than usual, and the numbers were lower as many children were away. As shown to the top left, Jennifer, Joana’s daughter, and I also made pencil cases out of two water bottles with the children. This was really fun, especially as the materials we used were so simple and the children were very excited about having a pencil case that they wouldn’t normally have.

I then spent the next two weeks in a very small fishing village up the coast called Goi, working in the KKCL there. I lived in the guest house of the library and worked there from 9-5 every day. The first few hours of the morning I read with individual children helping them not to skip over words they didn’t know and also pushing them to read new books. This is how I got to know the children best as they were shy at first to read to me but became more confident and much stronger readers. For the rest of the day I would often help to create and lead dictations for the children at varying levels of difficulty and mark them after. I also introduced the idea of making the children re-write all of their spelling errors that they made in their work so they wouldn’t repeat them. We played lots of games together as well as creating word-searches based on the most popular books at the library which they really enjoyed. I also taught them how to make mini books and told the younger children to make, for example, ‘My A Book’ and write words beginning with A on every page and draw pictures. For the older children I told them to write about who they are and their families, which again helped me to learn more about them.

I spent my time with Paulina, a wonderful young librarian there, and we ran every morning, visited the beach when people were buying fish, went to church and got to know many people in Goi.

Overall, I had an incomparable experience where I gained so much perspective because of each child was so eager to learn, bringing themselves to the library each day, and I also loved getting to know so many people in Ghana who will be lifelong friends of mine. I certainly plan to go back as I would love to see the development of the children I met and the librarians, as well as longing to help more.

Hailey