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The Mitchell Group Newsroom

Nov 06, 2015

Zambia Library Project Update

The idea for a library at Chilena School in the rural village of Zambezi was first discussed in 2008 by the school’s headmaster and Josh Armstrong of Gonzaga University’s Gonzaga- in-Zambia program (which my girl Paige attended in 2012). Many of the 700 students at Chilena had never seen or held a book, and their teachers lacked resources needed to access and teach improved curriculum. A need was identified, a partnership was formed, and the work on this essential project began.



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Proceeds from Gonzaga’s Zambia Gold honey sales (www.zambiagold.org) and from private donors were used for construction. In 2014, with your help, we began raising the additional funds needed to purchase and ship 20,000 books, which were delivered to the library on Sunday, May 16, 2015. Dozens of men, women and children unloaded several hundred cartons of books, with subjects ranging from math, reading, literature and composition to astronomy, history and geography, computer sciences, medicine, art, and business.

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Bookshelves were built and painted, the ceiling was installed and floors were swept. Books were organized into broad categories and shelved.

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We didn’t anticipate the challenges the upper classmen would have in shelving the books, which was a simple but very new task. They had so little experience with real books that the concept of shelving them spine out and title up made little sense to them. But they figured it out and suddenly, there was a library.

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Invitations to the dedication ceremony were delivered to hundreds of community members, tribal leaders and representatives of the Ministry of Education. We traveled by boat and on foot to spread the news of one of the most important events in recent Zambezi history.

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The library dedication took place on Wednesday May 27, 2015. It began with a 3-mile Walk for Literacy from the Ministry of Education to Chilena School.

About a hundred students ran clapping and singing traditional Zambian songs from Chilena to the Ministry so that they could march back to school with us. Watching these children, listening to their thunder, was an unforgettable experience.

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Villagers came out from their huts to cheer us.

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Marchers held up books in their hands; among them, some personal favorites: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty, chosen in memory of my father Edward Pskowski; The Guide to the Opera, chosen in honor of my mother Catherine Pskowski; and To Kill a Mockingbird, the book that I would ask every student everywhere to read, if I could.

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About 500 people attended the ceremony, dressed in both modern and traditional garb. There was song and dance, and speeches by community and tribal leaders, Ministry officials, and Josh Armstrong. I spoke briefly about my parents, and about how their love of books and dedication to reading inspired me to get involved in this project.

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Dignitaries and guests were treated to a lunch that the teachers had prepared and that included about forty chickens, a few goats, many pounds of beef, potatoes and squash, and huge pots of nshima, a local porridge that’s eaten at almost every meal. It was an incredible day of celebration and promise for the future.

But the best part of the day was when the guests and officials began to leave, and the students gravitated towards their library. Girls and boys settled themselves amongst the bookshelves, at the tables and chairs their community had built for them, and leaned into books, many for the first time in their lives.

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They quietly explored everything from picture books to novels, unsure of their abilities, but hopefully confident that their skills will improve if they just keep reading.

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Hanging on the wall above them is a photo of my parents, whose faces, I hope, will become as familiar to these kids as they have to so many other kids who know and love them simply as Grandma and Grandpa.

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These kids are learning that, as Grandpa always said, they can do anything if they have the right tools. This library, filled with new information, fun facts, ideas and dreams, is the tool they need to prepare themselves for a better life. These students, and this community, will always be grateful for your generous support.

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I’ll leave you with final note about the future of the library. A librarian was recently hired, and has begun cataloguing the books. The headmaster reports that the library is open Monday through Friday, with the librarian and teachers working with school children as well as visitors from the community. He says that every day children have their hands on books, and that it is making a difference. The community is establishing a library board, which will write a mission statement and establish guidelines for everything from the renaming of the library to lending policies. It’s been decided that this will be a community library, instead of a school library, and will be open to everyone in the district. Discussions are taking place regarding a mobile library, or a branch system with locations at other schools or at the district’s administrative offices. Once the remaining books are distributed, the room they are currently stored in will be transformed into a technology lab, equipped with three

desktops and three laptops that have already been purchased, as well as a permanent reading room - Grandma & Grandpa’s Reading Room. This space will offer visitors a quiet place to read and study, and serve as a place for meetings, workshops, book clubs and community events.

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Your ongoing support, at any level, is needed and greatly appreciated. Please send your check to:

The Office of University Advancement Gonzaga University

502 E Boone Avenue Spokane, WA 99202-9904 Attn: Chilena Library Fund


With gratitude,

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Ann Brunett
 
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