Halfway along the journey i realized that our car was ill equipped for the road, it had a low suspension and the road humps were scrapping against the bottom of the car. We drove at a slower speed than I was comfortable with, with these roads a pothole might just appear from nowhere and before you know it, you have become a statistic. The reminder on my phone sounded an alarm, it was 8:50, exactly ten minutes before the scheduled beginning of the library Launch and we still had at least thirty minutes before we got to the venue. I did not like being late and especially on such an auspicious day.
“Its Kuda calling.” Nolwazi said from the backseat. “Snap, I hope they haven’t started, answer him.” I muttered swerving to avoid some bricks which had been thrown into a pothole, which were even more hazardous than the pothole they were trying to fill. Kuda was waiting for us by the road so that we could go together to the exact venue of the launch. We picked him and left the main road to drive in what resembled a road towards the community hall, which was supposed to be the venue for the launch.
The door to the hall was locked and the only living beings in sight were three goats browsing the grass in the shade. They stared at us with a mixture of mild irritation and curiosity. I realized then that things were seriously wrong. I looked from Kuda to my team and the looks I saw there sent my heart to the bottom of my stomach. We had driven all the way for a launch and there was not a single person present. What had gone wrong? Where had Kuda missed it?
“Ah people are scared shamwari, I tried to assure them, but haa this is election season and you know how it’s like here. Mwana wangu-even my daughter is greatly disappointed, she had been looking forward to this Library launch.” The lady who was helping Kuda with mobilizing the community said and we both held our heads in our hands. “Let’s plan for next week and we will talk to the people again.”
“No, Dinika, I put too much into this to give up. It has to work, We have to do something.” Kuda said hitting his fist against his palm. “Lets go to the Library then strategize from there.“ Domboshava is an interesting community. The community is in the middle of a transition from being a rural to an urban community. In some areas, the houses are too close to each other like in a high density location, while in some they are far apart.
The two roomed library is located at the center of the community. He had planned on having the Launch in the more populated part of the community but well, politics had scuppered those plans, now we had to save the situation. If Mohammed won`t come to the mountain, then the mountain will come to Mohammed…while the rest of the team began setting up and arranging books in the Library we teamed up with Kuda and one of his volunteers and got into the community to do a mobile door to door sensitization of the Library. The sun was hot and fiercely hitting the tops of our heads but we were determined. We moved from door to door, a few books in our hands speaking to everyone and anyone who cared to listen to what we had to say.
“kungoti hamuna masutu tatombofunga kuti murimaJehovah’s witness, tatakuda kutiza- its only that you have no suits, we had thought you were Jehovah’s witnesses and we almost ran away.” One elderly lady said looking up from where she was washing her dishes. “Uhmm guys, i`m hungry.” Brian, one of the volunteers said and i looked at my watch and gasped. It was 3:47pm. We had been walking and preaching for exactly four and half hours and had spoken to more than 80 people! We took a different route back to the Library, speaking to people on the way. We met several people coming from church and we added the message of books to their sermon for the day.
We finally got to the Library, tired and hungry. Our spirits where lifted when the team at the site told us that at least 25 people (adults and children) had come and they had read to the children. As we sat in the shade, a couple of parents we had not met on our “preaching” exercise walked in with children as we sat down. So it seemed word had spread… A week has gone by and the library opens on Saturday only for now for the reading club. Each week new faces walk in and he serves more than 10 children each time and the numbers keep increasing.
So what have we learnt about setting up community libraries; community ownership and buy- in is critical, even though challenging in our highly politicized environment where books are a luxury given other pressing bread and butter issues. Engaging schools and other institutions where the target beneficiaries are in helps, which is why we work with schools during the school term. It takes a lot of perseverance and hard work to start anything. After all is said and done, a lot of work still needs to be done to change the perceptions of local leaders, parents, children and even teachers on books. Reading is a critical skill that needs to be nurtured and developed at a young age and not just reading textbooks but all other kinds of books.