An International Effort

BC Prof's Push For Library Finally Realized

Posted: January 8, 2013

Six years. That’s how long it took Dr. Mwizenge Tembo, a representative of the Nkhanga village in Zambia and a professor at Bridgewater College, to realize his dream of bringing a library to the area.

During a 2006 visit to his brother’s village, Tembo woke in the middle of the night to find a glow emanating from his nephew’s hut. When he asked the boy the reason for his being up so late, Tembo learned Gasione Banda was reading over notes distributed to the class by his teacher.

“I asked him, ‘Don’t you have any books to read?’ He said, ‘There are no books here, we just read the notes over and over,’ ” the professor explained.

The next day, Tembo asked his brother, Vincent, his thoughts on building a library so that villagers could have access to reading materials. Five days later, 40 people — who, as assistant head man, Vincent had assembled — sat beneath a tree in a Zambian village to discuss how such an endeavor could be undertaken.

Stateside Efforts

With his brother Vincent organizing a construction committee in Zambia, Tembo returned to the U.S. to begin raising awareness and funds. Through emails, newsletters and, eventually, a website dedicated to updates, he shared ideas and progress updates.

Though these efforts contributed to the eventual opening, the in-person interactions brought a personal feel to the fundraising.

“I’m a story teller,” he explained. “I’ve done a lot of programs in the area … wherever I went, I’d mention the library and, in many cases, people would donate.”

Though often in small increments, donations began pouring in from the area.

“This community [in the Shenandoah Valley] was very much involved, from the very inception,” said Tembo.

Tembo recalled one boy, six years old or so, at a library in Monterey saying to his mother, “I have a little piggy bank. Can you give it to the library so the kids in Africa can read?”

The need for a library also stood out to Sandra Parks, the librarian at Skyline Middle School, who was working at Thomas Harrison Middle School when she and another coworker hosted a fundraiser to benefit the library fund.

“Research shows that the best way to get better at reading is to read; the more you read, the better you read. If you have nothing to read, that process stalls,” explained Parks.

“When Dr. Tembo talked about his nephew having nothing to read but his school notes, that created an image in my mind as to what it would be like to not have anything to just pick up and read,” she recalled.

In her capacity at Thomas Harrison, Parks launched a drive that collected both books and funds.

“We collected over 20 boxes of books …  it was between $1,200 and $1,300 dollars that the kids donated,” she said, still proud of the efforts made by students. The children were excited about the project, having heard first-hand from Tembo during one of his story-telling sessions.

“We had a little Turkish girl that hadn’t been in the country very long as all. She brought in two brand new, paperback books her family had bought, still in the bag with a note that said ‘For the children of Africa.’ They understood the importance of giving and the importance of books,” shared Parks.

Bridgewater College also hit the ground running in support of the project. The faculty and students made donations, hosted dinners and other fundraisers, including a drive in 2008. The mission even spread to Michigan, Tembo’s wife’s hometown — his late mother-in-law made the first sizable donation to the library construction fund.

From The Ground Up

Building the library proved a bit more challenging. In the U.S., the concept of construction is very different from the realities in Zambia.

“[Here] people will say have you heard, at this corner of this block there could be a [building] within a couple of weeks — you can get a contract and trucks and earthmovers within two weeks, and within months it opens,” Tembo explained that is not the case in Zambia.

“The foundation itself took about three months because it required so much cement and crushed stones from the nearby hills,” said Tembo, recalling how, during a visit in 2007, the committee got a truck and asked if anyone in the area was interested in making a little money in exchange for a day’s labor.

“There were no contracts or large sums of money, it was really all done the hard way. In Zambia, I told the committee ‘This is not a job, you aren’t going to be paid. You’ll be sacrificing to help your own community and yourselves,’ ” he recalled.

From the day laborers pouring the foundation to a group of 50 young men who were responsible for kilning the more than 10,000 bricks needed to construct the building, the village got his message in the same way as the students of Thomas Harrison Middle School.

Nkhanga Village Library

The Nkhanga Village Library opened Dec. 8 after six years of international effort. From the Shenandoah Valley to a village in Zambia, a message not found on the pages of the books, but in the hearts of all involved, rang loud and clear: It does not matter where on the earth one is, a book should be there, too.

The library itself currently has 3,897 books on its selves, with the capacity to hold another 4,000, and is divided into two sections: the library itself and another half comprised of several more rooms, including a space to be used for community activities and discussion groups, office spaces, a kitchen and a living area for guests.

“It is a very powerful community center,” explained Tembo, sharing the story of a man who will likely never use the library for its literary purposes.

“At the opening ceremony, an older man came up to me with a friend and said, ‘We built that thing,’ pointing at the library, ‘It was a lot of hard work, but we built that thing,’ ” said Tembo.

After six years filled with ups and downs, it took two villages — on in Africa and one here in the Valley — to build a library that will forever change the lives of those in Zambia.

“It’s one of those good stories at the end. Everyone, I think, will feel good,” said the storyteller.