HARRISONBURG — For Bridgewater College professor Mwizenge Tembo, one event from 2012 stands clearly above all others: the opening — after six years and various ups and downs — of the Nkhanga Village Library in Zambia.
The idea for the library originated in 2006, when Tembo noticed his nephew studying notes from his teacher, rather than from books. Tembo took on the project of building the Nkhanga Village Library in his home village to supply books to residents.
After breaking ground in 2007, the building finally opened last month to the joy of the village, Tembo said. Because the area in Zambia where the library was built is so remote, transportation of materials and construction on the $56,500 initiative took longer than is typical for a project of this size.
Bricks for the building’s construction, for example, were fired in a handmade kiln at the site. Additionally, between November and March each year construction halted due to the “rainy season” when Zambian residents tend their crops.
“It’s been a long process. I’m happy, but the real feeling is relief,” said Tembo. “This has been on my shoulders the last six years, so just to experience that opening day was just a huge relief.”
The success of the library is shared by numerous workers and officials in Zambia as well as local donors, Tembo said, who played a large role in stocking the library’s shelves with books and funding the construction.
In 2007, Thomas Harrison Middle School students aided the project by collecting books and money for the library’s construction, as did Wilbur Pence Middle School. Together the schools donated more than 800 books to the library. Bridgewater College also held a fundraising campaign to aid the project and The Laughing Dog, a custom print shop and retail store in Harrisonburg, made T-shirts for the library’s construction committee in Nkhanga.
Other individuals also stepped up when tasks needed to be done. In 2011, when more than 3,000 books bound for the library were stuck in Harrisonburg with no way to get to Zambia, New York City resident and Zambian citizen Mbumwae Suba-Smith included the books in a shipment she was making to the country.
In one of the project’s larger setbacks, the shipment was subsequently held up again for a couple of months due to higher-than-expected shipping charges. Those costs were eventually waived, though, after which the books were shipped to Zambia.
Contributors also stepped up to donate in 2011 when funds were needed to push the project to completion.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people were involved and the effort that went into it; it is incredible,” Tembo said.
A ribbon cutting ceremony with a top Zambian government official, Janet Mvula, who represents the office of the president of Zambia, helped commemorate the opening of the library in early December.
Mvula and other district leaders were given tours of the facility, which houses 3,798 books and has room for another 6,000, Tembo wrote in an email. The 3,100-square-foot building also includes a meeting room that will be used for community events, a kitchen, office and cataloguing room.
The library will serve thousands of people from local villages and provide job opportunities to community members.
“The community efforts here were just phenomenal,” Tembo said. “It just seemed like we struck a chord with people with this project. Everybody sort of jumped on the bandwagon, which was really good.”
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