Monday, March 23, 2009

Reflections on FAVL

Kate Parry writes from Uganda:

All the news in the US at present is about the economic crisis and the financial problems that people are experiencing as a result. People here worry about money too, but their concerns are of a different order. I’ve just heard a story of a boy in a village called Tekera, not far from Kitengesa, who broke his leg and needs 1.8 million shillings ($900) to get it set properly. The family doesn’t have anything like that money, so he will probably be crippled for life. Another story: a woman in our own village (Lwannunda, near Kitengesa trading centre), who is in her sixties and responsible for several orphaned grandchildren, was given a valuable exotic cow by an international development organization that is based in the US. The cow was in calf and was expected to produce some 40 litres of milk a day, which would translate into an income of 300,000 shillings per month (c. $150) – a tidy amount in this part of the world. But the cow required a lot of grass, which had to be cut, and about 30 litres of water a day, which had to be fetched, and if the children were late coming back from school, the woman couldn’t manage it. Then the cow got sick, so the women sold her goats to pay for the medicine. The time came for the cow to give birth; the woman sold her chickens to pay for the vet to attend her. Then the cow died, and the calf, naturally, died too. The woman is now poorer than ever. Dan, the librarian for FAVL’s library at Kitengesa, told me this story as an example of why the more than $1,000,000 that this organization has pumped into our sub-county has not produced any visible sign of development.

But the Kitengesa Community Library – which has cost us about $40,000 to date, including the money we’ve put into our new building – has! (See For one thing we have our old building, which is still in use, and the books; and the place is very active, as I’ve seen over the past few days, which I’ve spent working there. There’s also a link with the University of British Columbia, which sends a constant stream of volunteers. Besides working with NGOs such as the AIDS organization TASO, these volunteers donate money to a local committee that puts it into projects – one such project being preparing the garden for our new library (the idea is to have lots of beautiful trees and shrubs so that people will pay to have their wedding photos taken there). There is also a tree nursery on the new library land set up by FADA (Forestry for African Development Association), which employs a number of boys so that they can earn money for school fees –another result of the British Columbia connection. Then I heard a story on Saturday about a boy who is orphaned and is living with my informant’s family. There’s no spare money in the household, but the boy has apparently learned how to grow passion fruit by reading agriculture books in the library and cultivates them on land that he rents. He’s able to pay his school fees and has even bought himself a bicycle from the sale of his fruit.

There are other libraries too: I’ve just received an invitation to visit a new one that is in Ggaba, just down the road from our house in Kampala. Then on Saturday I’m visiting another new one at Budiri in, I think, Iganga District (Uganda keeps creating new districts, so it’s difficult to keep up with the geography); that one is a direct consequence of the workshop that FAVL’s Ugandan affiliate, UgCLA (Uganda Community Libraries Association – see organized in July on how to initiate community libraries. From there I’ll move on to Busolwe, where I will talk with the library committee about the link that I’ve set up for them with two libraries in British Columbia. The Busolwe library will be receiving some CAN$3000 with which to pay a librarian and buy new books, and in return will send the British Columbian libraries information about Busolwe and library activities and will host a couple of volunteers. My friend Eric Morrow of the Maendeleo Foundation (which is dedicated to providing computer access to young Ugandans – see ) is also coming to Busolwe that weekend to conduct a computer workshop for primary school teachers in the district, and I will be helping with that. We’ll finish on Monday afternoon, after which I’ll go to Mbale, further east and north, to visit yet another new library, or, rather, resource centre, which is being initiated in a village called Bududa. I have yet to find out what inspired that, but the organizers seem to have found out about FAVL by trolling through the Internet and so wrote to us for help. They wrote to our collaborating organizations, Under the Reading Tree and the Osu Children’s Library Fund as well, so we agreed that I should visit the place and report back so that between us we can decide what each organization can contribute. It will be great if one can help support a librarian, another provide books, while UgCLA can offer training and support.

Nor will this be all. While at Kitengesa last weekend, I was visited by a senior district administrator, a man who comes from the far west of the country, near the Congo border. He is anxious to set up a library in his own home village, and came to me for advice on how to do it. He had visited the Kitengesa Library before and had seen how active it is and how it is contributing to the development of the area. So in due course we will travel to his village together and look into how the building that he already has can be converted into an active institution for disseminating information – and UgCLA will begin to build up its membership in the Western Region.

All this constitutes a strong argument for what FAVL is doing – carrying out small scale library projects at the village level. It is important that the amounts of money be small, for then they can be absorbed without waste, on the one hand, and the projects can be emulated by local people on the other. So thank you, everyone, for your support!

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