Dear Library: From Meghan

Math Instructor

Dear Library,

A little over a year ago, I returned to the U.S. from Rwanda, a small country in the middle of Africa, where I had been teaching for a year-and-a-half. Most African schools are in dire need of books of all kinds, and the all-girls secondary school where I taught is no exception. The majority of the classes are taught with no textbooks because there are not enough to go around. Instead, any student who wanted to read about a topic they were studying, or find a book to help them improve their English, or look up Greece on a map, would have to wait until the school’s library was open. During the two hours of the day when the library was open to students, I would always see groups of two or three girls huddled over an encyclopedia or Chemistry textbook, trying to absorb as much as they could before it closed and they would have to leave. School libraries in Rwanda have very strict rules about checking books out, usually allowing only teachers to do so. Because there is no system in place to insure that checked-out books will return, and since private books are so rare and desirable, it is impractical for libraries to loan them out to the general public, because most of their books would probably disappear! My American colleague and I both love books and it was hard to see our students going without something that is so readily available in the U.S. We were fortunate enough to have had several dozen children’s books on African themes (Tololwa Mollel has some beautiful ones) donated to us by a closing library in Michigan. Just image the excitement when we distributed them to young girls who had grown up without ever having seen a storybook! I am also happy to report that the first public library in Rwanda just opened at the beginning of the summer (see http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=14966&a=52579). There are many things I miss about Africa, but also many things I appreciate in the U.S., more for my time away. Near the top of that list is quality library services, which I promptly made use of, upon moving to Athens last September.  One of the first things I did was get my library card!  And, I have been using it with a great sense of appreciation ever since!

Meghan

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