Friday, May 01, 2009

An aborted village library in Zimbabwe

Kim Dionne sends a link to an interesting but too brief short article from a library friend from Zimbabwe who tried to start a library in his home village.
This (if it had succeeded) would have been the first ever library in Ruwa and Zimre Park 30 kms East of Harare. I could envision how this small step in the right direction was going to change the educational landscape in this area one child at a time. However this was the beginning of the end for the project as my contact ran into bureaucratic hurdles that are typical of our African culture and politics. The local councilor had to be involved, and the Member of Parliament for the whole district, the Education Ministry officials all the way down to the Zanu Pf youth league. It saddened me to know that although none of these people were paying a dime for the project they denied every poor child in the area a life long chance to read a book and improve themselves in their educational pursuit. Needless to say even their kids were going to benefit. These fat cats wanted to be associated with the project obviously for political gain. The books are now sitting at my friend’s house, and I hope his kids and their friends are reading them.
The politics and obstacles are all too real, but I do not see any lessons being drawn in how to go about doing things differently. It occurs to me that maybe one reason for "failure" (a word I intensely dislike when talking about development projects) is that there may have been too much talk, too much setting up expectations, and too little action. That is, if the books had been sent to the friend's house, and the friend had simply opened a room for reading, and hired a local secondary school student to sit and be the librarian, monitoring use, I wonder whether there would have been any opposition? The library would have been started, to no great fanfare. This is actually a lesson I take deep to heart. Although many of our libraries open with some ceremony, with visits from the U.S. Ambassador, myself and the local FAVL team know these are potential dangerous "shutdown" moments. So in general we eschew ceremonies and such, and try to just get on with day-to-day business, and not ruffle any local political feathers. Low profile, is the lesson.

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