In ten short days in Accra in November I realized more about the breadth and depth of the work of the Osu Children’s Library Fund than I had in nearly twelve years of volunteering in Winnipeg, far away from the scene of the action. Visiting the libraries made them come alive for me. Each one was unique, reflecting the community in which it was located and its place in the history of the organization, from the school in Taifa, where Pat, the vibrant and resourceful librarian, was thrilled to at last have a classroom of her own instead of having to tote her boxes of books from one classroom to the next to Madina, a stately-looking two storey building, set among tall trees in the grounds of the Accra College of Education, where dozens of secondary school students were absorbed in their studies in the quiet, well-lit study hall with a reference library at their disposal. Each library built on the one before in terms of size and facilities, from the tiny Kathy Knowles Community Library, built from a shipping container, to the two-storey Nima Centre with its theatre and a flourishing drama troupe as well as a reference library and study hall. Each of them had become as much of a community centre as a library, offering free adult literacy classes, summer reading camps, sports teams, and cultural activities such as drumming, dancing and drama etc.
At the same time, the libraries all had much in common, not least the predominant colour blue and the well-kept grounds planted with shrubs, trees and flowers. Everywhere we went we were greeted by friendly, capable staff in their Joy of Reading uniforms, accompanied by enthusiastic children, eager to learn and participate in whatever activity was being offered, even when it was “cleaning up”.
There were several highlights of our visit – presenting Library in a Bag kits to children in Taifa, whose serious little faces lit up when their name was called; attending the book launch for The Many Faces of Zainabu at the Nima Centre with 9 year old Zainabu present, along with several members of her family; the cultural presentation afterward, starring members of the drama troupe and dancers, accompanied by extremely enthusiastic (and very loud) drummers; meeting and spending time with Patricia Matira, a talented librarian and gifted storyteller from Zimbabwe; visiting the library in Goi, a fishing village along the coast from Accra where Ed shared his childhood experiences of growing up in a Newfoundland fishing village; helping with the literacy classes at the Kathy Knowles Community Library where Ed was happily paired with James, a retired fisherman. We agreed that we enjoyed working with the literacy students most of all.
Then there were two “super highlights”. The first was meeting our foster daughter, Leticia, whose schooling we have been helping with for several years. She is a member of the Mamprobi Library, and persuaded Sharon and Emma, the librarians there, to organize a welcome program in our honour. Imagine our surprise to arrive at a library that was fairly bursting at the seams with excited children, with the audience every bit as excited as the performers! Leticia proudly led us to a bulletin board which welcomed us and confided that her dance group, which she organized two years ago, would be performing. It was an evening to remember, filled with songs, riddles, games, dancing, drama and poetry. Leticia also accompanied us on our visit to Cape Coast Castle, one of the most well known sites in Ghana related to the slave trade. She is a very lovable, thoughtful and sensitive girl and a truly talented dancer.
The other super highlight, of course, was the 20th anniversary celebrations for the Kathy Knowles Community Library. There we were privileged to experience the wider library community that Kathy has fostered and developed over the years, through events like this, the annual sports day and the annual meeting and workshop of all the staffs of all the libraries. It was attended by a group of library members from each library who performed wonderfully for us. We were proud to note that Leticia led the Mamprobi group in a series of dances and were just as proud to watch the adult literacy group at KKCL perform a skit they had written about the value of being literate. It was inspirational to watch these confident, enthusiastic and talented people, young and not so young, express themselves.
We are grateful to Kathy for inviting us to the celebrations and setting up such a wide-ranging schedule. Our thanks go too to Kwame, our competent, friendly driver and especially to Deborah Cowley for quietly and calmly “mothering” us through the seemingly chaotic streets of Accra.