I first became aware of the OCLF through my mother, who spent a six-week volunteer placement with them almost three years ago. She came back and told me that I would love it, and that I should go as soon as possible. So, after I graduated university, I got in touch with Kathy Knowles, Deborah Cowley, the OCLF volunteer coordinator, and together we went about planning my placement.
In late March 2015, I finally got on the plane that would fly me into the capital city of Ghana. I had never been to Africa, and initially, I felt like I was being thrown forcefully out of my comfort zone. But, I found my footing with the help of the wonderful Ghanaian people that work within the OCLF network.
I spent the first two culture-shocked days of my visit at the Kathy Knowles Community Library in Osu. This is the library that started it all. The library is situated inside a converted shipping container, surrounded by huge trees, in a very peaceful part of Accra. The people who work there and the library members instantly made me feel better about being in such an unfamiliar place. One of my favourite memories from these two days was learning how to play Oware, the traditional African board game, with one of the library’s young members.
Then, after Easter weekend, I spent two weeks volunteering in the newest addition to the OCLF: The Korle Gonno Community Library. I was honoured to be their first volunteer. The library is beautiful, situated in the coastal community of Korle Gonno, a region of Accra. You can see the ocean from the windows, and there is even a roof-top balcony. The library is three storeys, towering above most of the other buildings in the community. The top floor houses the culture room, with an amazing stage for dance, music and theatre performances. Aziz, the dance and drum teacher, along with some of the senior library students, taught me different traditional Ghanaian dances, and even tried to teach me how to drum. I am, however, terrible at drumming. I had so much fun all the same, and these are some of my best memories of being at the Korle Gonno library.
I met Joana, Geoffrey and Irene, the three superstar librarians of this library. They are very busy keeping the children occupied with various activities. I helped them lead some activities, getting the kids to make bookmarks and other crafts. This was so much fun, and sometimes completely chaotic because there were so many children excitedly moving about the library.
About three weeks into my stay in Ghana, I moved to Goi, the small fishing village about an hour and a half away from Accra. It is beautiful in this remote village. I felt so far away from everything else that was happening in the world, but that was alright. I met Vivian, Jeremiah, and Jonathan, the librarians in this location. They made me feel so welcomed into the community. In Goi, I started making colourful board games for the children to play. We also did origami activities.
The kids in both Accra and Goi were so enthusiastic and made me feel like a rock star every day. I had so much fun doing activities with them, making book-marks with them, teaching them how to make different origami animals, and reading with them. They have so much energy and at the end of my placement, I felt like all of them were my best friends. They truly made the experience so much more rewarding, because seeing how passionate they are about reading is inspiring.
My experience working with the OCLF was incredible because it was so unique. I felt truly immersed in Ghanaian culture and in the OCLF community, which is so loving and welcoming. After 25 years, this community has grown under the direction of Kathy Knowles. It brings parents, children, librarians and volunteers like me so much joy. These libraries have transformed the structure of the communities in which they were built, and it is wonderful seeing such positive development, especially in some of the more deprived areas of the Greater Accra Region.
The experience opened my eyes to how people live in such radically different circumstances than the ones in which I live in Canada. I felt so naive when I first got there, because it felt like everything was done differently, and there was no familiarity. But, becoming more comfortable in an unfamiliar place is inevitable with time, and every day I felt more empowered and more at home. Ghana is definitely a place I will return to, simply because of the generosity and friendliness of the people. It was an amazing first impression of the African continent, and I look forward to returning, as well as exploring other parts of Africa.
Thank you so much for everything!
I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the amazing OCLF community. I feel as though it is a bond that will last a long time, and I look forward to seeing the wonderful things that the OCLF will make possible in the future.
Much love, Sarah Marquis