“A library is an optional extra.”
So said my husband last year during the Passports with Purpose fundraiser. I didn’t have a meaningful come-back.
When I was growing up there were some books in my house but not many and certainly not a lot of extra money to feed my bookworm habits. Our Saturday morning visits to the local library were the high point of my week. I know he used his local library too. There was a library at my elementary school and a pretty big one at my high school – I bet his was the same.
Even with that, I had to concede that he had a point. Maybe the Passports crew had deviated from our goal to fund basic needs projects by partnering with Room to Read.
Of course this conversation was in my head when I met with the Room to Read team in Lusaka, Zambia.
Of course I thought of it when we visited one of the libraries funded by Passports with Purpose at Chilileka Basic School out side Lusaka (read my co-travelers stories about this visit on DeliciousBaby or WanderlustAndLipstick).
But really, I couldn’t wait to get home to talk to Murph about the experience. Sure, there was an aspect of pointing out how right we were to support this project (“Ahem, I was right honey”) but also I wanted to share with him – and you – what I learned during my visit.
The library we funded is so much more than “just” a library it is also a literacy and literacy education program for the teachers, children and parents associated with this school. Room to Read trains the teachers and a parent representative on how to manage the library and how to catalog books and operate a check-out system. The program funds a literacy teacher who integrates library time into the school day for all children. The kids can come to school early or stay late just to read.
The odds are completely stacked against children in rural Zambia getting even a basic education. Many (20%) do not have access to a school. The only words available to them to read are the ones the teacher writes on the board during the short school day. Only 7% of children attend high school and even if there is a high school spot available and if their parents can afford the fees the children need to test in. As one of the Room to Read staff told us “How can they pass the test when they can’t read?”
I realize now that I have been completely surrounded by books and reading material for my whole life. Sure, maybe I didn’t get the latest Harry Potter equivalent when I wanted it when I was a kid but there were ALWAYS books, magazines and newspapers for me to read. I did not understand what it means to grow up with zero reading material until I went to Zambia. I did not understand how literacy functions as a foundational element of learning. If a child can’t read, he can’t learn, it’s that simple.
[catlist tags=Zambia numberposts=-1]