As a librarian, I was particularly tickled to hear about Peace Corps volunteer Karri Stout’s endeavor to establish a library at a school in a small African village in Tanzania. Education and access to information are important developmental tools everywhere in the world.
Of course, this young lady wasn’t just thinking of a standard library, but a bilingual library that would serve students as well as adults living in the village of Utelewe. For the 2013 school year, the school has 342 students enrolled; a library serving this many children will improve literacy rates, and can have a far-reaching impact on their lives.
Library-Building in Africa: Interview With Karri Stout
Despite unstable Internet connectivity, Karri was willing to answer some questions posed by Decoded Science as to the reason she decided to undertake this particular project. When asked why she wanted to start a library, Karri explained that an empty room built in 2007, which was earmarked for a library, was already available. The donor who funded the building of the room died in 2008 and the library never got off the ground.
Her love of books and coming from a family of readers provided the impetus for this project. In addition, this young volunteer wanted to open up the world to the children she met and developed a relationship with while living with them for two years. She said, “Books have the ability to take you to a new land, give you knowledge or show you the world. Children reading and actually being excited about books will be my biggest achievement in the two years living in this beautiful village in Africa.”
When asked why a bilingual library, Stout said that, “The English books will assist the children who will move on to secondary school. The books in Kiswahili will benefit everyone in the village. She noted, “Any book written in Kiswahili that can be found should be stocked in the library.” The official languages of Tanzania are both English and Kiswahili.
Library for All Ages
While the library will be housed in the Utelewe Primary School, it will serve all age groups and not just school kids who are from 4 years old to 14 years old. The plan is to make it accessible to other members of the village who want to improve their knowledge in various areas. Stout states that “We hope many others will also benefit from the library, those youth that weren’t able to go on to secondary school and the adults of the village who would like to continue their education and learn new subjects to further improve the lives of themselves and their families.”
Stout also noted that, “The response from the school has been wonderful. They have already put in the windows, added ceiling panels to the once bare ceiling joists and the students helped paint the walls white. The carpenters living in the village have contributed their time to helping complete the room and the village officials have been very supportive of the project.” She quoted Greyson Mbisa, a teacher at Utelewe Primary School who said that the library will help foster “a good relationship with the community’ and ‘people can be encouraged to provide their children with a good quality education’.”
I questioned the project description on the Peace Corps website, which stated that bright colored picture books were needed for the library – since the new library is meant to serve all ages including adults. Stout’s answer explains why the library was not only a great idea, but a necessary one. She stated, “When you think of the age level of English books in a tiny village in Africa, you need to think that 7th graders are on the same level as 3rd or 4th graders in the USA. Adults in the village would benefit from seeing brightly colored pictures because very few can actually read.” The school, according to Stout, plans to address this level of illiteracy by offering evening classes to those who want to learn to read or improve their reading skills.