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Beyond Books in Tanzania, Part IV: The Maktaba Project 
and the New Tanzanian Community Library Association

In a country where development can be frustratingly slow and good intentions can be easily derailed by miscommunication, cultural differences, and logistical setbacks, what does one do when one finds a program that works? Replicate it! Providing quality education to children has been a long-time commitment of Stephen and Judith Smith, founders of the Crawford-Smith Foundation, which is based in the United States. In 2006, at age 69, Judith traveled to Tanzania from her home in southern California to photograph a performance troupe at work. She had no idea the sharp turn her life soon would take. From the moment she met Deb Kelly and experienced firsthand the Jifundishe Free Library project, she was hooked. “I came home and told my husband Stephen, who was 73 at the time, we were going to help Deb develop educational opportunities in Tanzania,” she said. “He was floored. And that led to our support of the building of the Jifundishe Free Library. And now we’re building a series of community libraries.” To accomplish this goal, the Smiths have teamed up with Dr. Augustine P. Mahiga, the former Tanzanian Ambassador to the United Nations and a current U.N. Special Representative for Somalia, and Ann Hanin, a librarian from New York City, to create “The Maktaba Project.” Their mission is to provide educational opportunities to adults and youth by replicating the Jifundishe Free Library model in at least six additional rural communities across Tanzania. (From left, Dr. Augustine P. Mahinga, Ann Hanin, Judy Smith, President Jakaya Kikwete, and Stephen Smith.) “I’ve never been able to get over some of the schools,” says Judith. “There may be no chalk, and perhaps one teacher and four books to serve dozens of children. Exam scores are dismal. We may not be able to fix the schools, but we can build libraries.” In September 2009, Dr. Mahiga introduced the Smiths and the Jifundishe library to Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete. The Maktaba Project now has the endorsement of Kikwete, who has agreed to provide land and a librarian for each of the six new community projects. The Maktaba Project fits well into the Tanzanian government’s plans to address the severe shortage of teachers in rural areas by establishing long distance-learning networks via the Internet. A fiber-optic cable is now being laid across the country to support this initiative. The hope is that, if provided with electricity and Internet access, these community libraries will be able to connect rural villagers with teachers in Dar es Salaam and Arusha. Outside the scope of the Tanzanian government’s Library Services Board and often in hard-to-access, remote areas, community libraries have never before been networked in Tanzania. In fact, prior to February 2011, there was no documentation at all about most these “off the grid” libraries. “No one really knew how many there were, exactly where they were or what resources they had,” says Sarah Switzer, 28, an American volunteer who spearheaded a recent conference for community libraries in Tanzania with the assistance and funding from the international non-governmental organization Book Aid. “When we started trying to pull people together, we only knew about seven community libraries in Tanzania. We spread the word through friends of friends, e-mails, cell phone texts, etc. and soon we discovered 15 more.” Switzer is one of a handful of Tanzanians and Americans who has been working to create a “sister” organization to the successful and growing Ugandan Community Library Association, led by Kate Parry, founder of the U.S.-based non-profit Friends of African Village Libraries. “This workshop was the first attempt ever to formalize a national Tanzanian Community Library Association (TaCLA),” says Switzer. (TaCLA pictured at right.) The TaCLA is an independent organization unaffiliated with the Tanzanian government. “Our biggest challenge is that our members are scattered across some of the most rural areas of this country,” says TaCLA’s newly elected volunteer coordinator Rahim Niah, a 34-year-old husband, father, and university student from Dar es Salaam. “Our work is to disseminate information, share best practices, and help each library find ways to get more funding.” During the conference, the Jifundishe Free Library shone as the model example. Jifundishe’s library manager, Elibahati Nnko, 28, led discussions about possible ways to tackle the main challenges that a community library faces: how to deal with a lack of training for librarians; the need for more books, textbooks and relevant materials; how to accommodate people with special needs, including those who are blind, deaf, or confined to wheelchairs, and how to become self-sustaining. “Bringing meaningful and relevant library services to rural villagers is a new concept in Tanzania,” says American librarian Ann Hanin, 67. “The Jifundishe Free Library is an exciting and successful example of what is possible.” The site of the Maktaba Project’s next library is the village of Kisarawe, about an hour west of Dar es Salaam, in the mountains. The Smiths and Ann Hanin recently visited the village to meet with the regional commissioner and local primary and secondary school directors to begin to establish what they hope will be the foundation of a library board. “We need to send all of these people to the Jifindishe Free Library so they can better understand our vision,” says Judith. “By experiencing Jifundishe, they will be able to grasp that we are talking about more than just building a space to house books. We are talking about creating a vibrant center that will provide extensive educational and vocational opportunities people of all ages, and that ultimately will foster a community of life-long learners.”

Africa.com | Apr. 28, 2011

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Beyond Books in Tanzania, Part III: “What a Difference a Library Makes”

In the United States, $15,000 may buy you a used car, a family vacation of sorts, or maybe even a half-year’s tuition at a state university or a private school in a big city. In Tanzania, that same $15,000 covers the entire annual budget for the Jifundishe Free Library in Ngongongare Village in the Arusha District of northern Tanzania. Jifundishe is one of only a handful of free, independent community libraries in the entire country and is now the model for a new community library initiative taking place across the country. At Jifundishe, that $15,000 pays for the staff of eight; a large assortment of magazines and newspapers; maintenance fees; study materials, markers, paper and ink; adult literacy classes; children’s programs; an Independent Study program; Internet access; special offerings including movie nights, medical exams, mosquito net distribution, and more. And to assess the community impact of this modest investment, all you need to do is look around. At one of the six laptops in the small, window-lined computer lab at the front of the main building, Amani H. Amani, 24, tutors a 35-year-old woman who has come to learn about the Internet. Not long ago, Amani was the student. At 15, he left home after dropping from school due to family struggles and poverty. Amani went to work on a flower farm and held little hope on finishing his education. However, after hearing about the Jifundishe library and its free access to text books, he moved hundreds of miles to come learn. Amani lives in a small room in the village and supports himself through odd jobs, such as slashing grasses and tutoring students for cooking oil and rice. After more than four years of perseverance and hard work, studying day in and day out at the library and through Jifundishe’s Independent Study (IS) program, Amani was recently one of seven students to prepare for, and pass, the Tanzanian equivalent of the GED exam, which makes him eligible for university. During Jifundishe’s IS program’s first year in 2010, 27 students, ages 15 to 55, received access to necessary textbooks, regularly scheduled classes by volunteer teachers, kerosene for evening study at home, and funds to take the exam itself. One-hundred percent of those taking the Form 4 exam passed, as compared to only 50 percent from government schools. Seventy-five percent of Jifundishe’s IS students who sat for the Form 2 exam passed, as compared to only 30 percent from government schools. At a long table between the stacks that hold the library’s 5,000+ books, Isaac Nanyaro, the head teacher from the local Imbaseni Primary School, works up new lesson plans. Isaac meets many of his students here at Jifundishe and attributes his school’s 75 percent rise in test scores over the past few years directly to the library’s provision of access to text books and tutors. “We have no funds for books,” says Nanyaro, whose 20 teachers are responsible for nearly 1,000 students. “Even our teachers come to the library to further their own studies.” Outside on the back porch, curled up in a shiny red wheelchair, sit Goodness, a severely disabled woman who spent the first 25 or so years of her life (no one knows exactly how old she is, including Goodness) tucked away in her family’s mud home. Since the first library opened in 2005, Goodness’s brothers have carried her back and forth one mile each way from her home. At the library, she visits with patrons and works closely with staff and volunteers. Over the years, Goodness has learned to read and write, and knit, too. With her gnarled, bowed hands, she makes some of the most beautiful puppets, hats, and scarves the Jifundishe Knitting Club has ever seen. Each club member is paid by the library for her wares, which are then sold at fundraisers across America. Within her first year of working with the club, Goodness earned enough to purchase her first proper wheelchair. Further out back in the neatly manicured garden, at a lawn table tucked in the shade of some trees, Angelina Laisser, 56, works with Jifundishe’s women’s cooperative, Jiendeleze (“advance yourself”), to make Barefoot Beads, a unique jewelry product for the feet. Angelina and the other five women in the cooperative are paid by the library for each item they produce and then an equal amount is deposited into a collective fund, which the women manage themselves. Their first fund was used to pay for them all to travel to Arusha to have their eyes checked. For most of the women, it was their first and only time ever seeing a doctor of any kind. Their second fund was used to purchase seeds for planting in their small fields. The collective’s “Barefoot Beads” are sold mostly in Tanzanian coastal resorts. Angelina combines her Jiendeleza income with the money she earns from her piggery, which she started after finding a book at the library about how to raise and care for pigs, to care for her three children and ailing mother. In the community room, a separate building to the left of the courtyard, Doricas Unvanjoka, 16, works with a Canadian volunteer to practice her English. Doricas, her mother, and five brothers and sisters were abandoned by her father years ago and left with no home, no money, and no land. Today, Doricas is one of Jifundishe’s 40 “Houston” scholarship students. The program was started by Annie and Andre Houston after Annie visited Tanzania in 2007, and it covers the complete cost of a 4-year education at a government school, which is about $1,000–$1,200. Each year, more than 50 students apply for three to five coveted spots. Doricas’s oldest sister, Debora, was one of the first “Houston” scholars. She graduated from secondary school and is now studying nursing in Moshi, supported financially by former Jifundishe volunteers from the United Kingdon. The secret to Jifundishe’s success? “While we are always struggling to make ends meet, we are blessed with a dedicated staff, a phenomenal group of international volunteers, and an involved and committed Board,” says executive director Deb Kelly, 55, who made Tanzania her home after founding Jifundishe in 2003. “And our community cares deeply for this library and embraces it as their own, so ultimately, it is.”

Africa.com | Apr. 27, 2011

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Beyond Books in Tanzania, Part II: Deb Kelly and the Jifundishe Free Library

Dozens of kilometers from the nearest paved main road, in the midst of bush lands speckled with narrow dirt paths and tiny homes made of mud and sticks, sits the Jifundishe Free Library. Nestled in the remote rural village of Ngongongare in the Arusha District of northern Tanzania, on a 2.7 acre plot with views of both Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, this 2,200-square-foot, yellow and cream-colored cement building is home to more than 5,000 books; textbooks for every subject through primary, secondary, and university levels; six new laptop computers that provide free Internet service, and assorted newspapers and magazines. Out back, the manicured yard is decorated with gardens of flowering indigenous trees and shrubs. Dozens of people study at the six picnic tables and under the shade of the trees. Children chatter away in the nearby community room while exploring books organized in neat rows of colorful buckets on the floor, accessible to all. To the right, there is a small staff house and an outhouse for the latrines. Each day, hundreds of villagers from ages 2 to 82 come here, often from miles away, to study, work, learn, and play. They fill the buildings, the tables, the stairs, the yard, and never a penny or shilling changes hands. This Jifundishe Free Library is one of only a handful of free, independent rural libraries in Tanzania. It is also the model for a new community library initiative taking place across the country. Jifundishe (which means “teach yourself” in Swahili) began with the vision of a 55-year-old American named Deb Kelly, and is now a Tanzanian non-governmental organization that was created to provide educational opportunities to rural communities. Deb, who first traveled to Tanzania in 2001 as a volunteer, built the library in response to a request from local villagers. “One day in 2005, I asked some villagers what they wanted most,” recalls Kelly. “Their response? Not electricity, potable water, roads or even money. They wanted books!” To test the waters, Deb rented a tiny building with two rooms from a local family for $15 a month. There was no electricity, shelves, or furniture, just an empty space. She called on her friends in the United States to send money and books, and together with a group of Tanzanian and American volunteers, Deb set about organizing a library. “We sorted through the donated books—the nonfiction, fiction, children’s books, and textbooks—and separated the relevant, useful books from the useless,” recalls American librarian, Ann Hanin, 67, who incorporated the U.S.-based non-profit Project A.B.L.E. to raise funds for Jifundishe. “We catalogued books, arranged them on the shelves using rocks as bookends, placed the children’s books in baskets for easy access, trained the librarian, and we were ready!” In November of 2005, the Imbaseni Free Library opened its doors to a curious village audience. “Most of these people had never seen a library before and really had no concept of what it was,” recalls Chrissy Burnham, 29, Jifundishe’s long-term volunteer and current treasurer. “The students were the most eager. Then the men came to read newspapers on the porch. Next, the children came to sit on laps and rifle through pencil boxes. The women were the most hesitant. They were expected to be home working. Many had never attended school. It took a few months, but eventually they made their way, staked out a few picnic tables on the lawn, and started engaging in literacy classes, women’s groups, and more.” It didn’t take long before Deb and her team recognized the need for a larger space. “There were always lines of villagers, as far as the eye could see,” recalls Deb. “Thanks to the generosity of the Crawford-Smith Foundation, Project A.B.L.E., and many others, we were able to raise the $60,000 necessary to construct our new Jifundishe Free Library.” In January 2009, the new, solar-powered Jifundishe Free Library opened its doors in the Ngongongare Village. The event was marked by a large ceremony that included the district commissioner and other local government officials, the Tanzanian Ambassador to the United Nations, local school representatives, villagers, and the library’s lead donors, Ann Hanin of Project A.B.L.E. and Stephen and Judith Smith, the founders of the Crawford-Smith Foundation. Today, Jifundishe continues to fulfill its role as a vibrant and active library and community center by offering scholarship programs, independent study programs, eye and dental clinics, malaria prevention clinics, net distribution, book clubs, computer classes, women’s empowerment groups and classes, movie nights, children’s reading programs, and much more. And, as it goes, nothing is left unused: the old Imbaseni Free Library building is now home to a village family.

Africa.com | Apr. 26, 2011

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Beyond Books in Tanzania: Part I

As babies, we chew and drool on our tiny board books. As toddlers, we color and rip the pages of our beloved nightly readers. By ages six or seven, we are reading and have graduated into a new world of wonder and discovery. Over the course of our lifetimes, there are few activities on which we will spend more time than reading. We read to learn, work, escape, entertain, evolve, explore, and connect. From our morning newspapers to our letters, e-mails, favorite paperback novels, computers, and Kindles to our nightstand piles of literature and magazines; from Shakespeare, Sartre, Shelley, and Salinger to social psychology, sports, science, and everything in between, the written word is as essential to our lives as water, food, and shelter. (At left, a photo of used books in Tanzania. All photos from Anne Wells.) Now imagine a world where there are few, if any, written words. There are no books, no magazines, no newspapers, no Internet, and no textbooks. Imagine it. In this year of 2011, when most of us are hyperlinked and “content-ed out” beyond reason, is this even possible? Welcome to Ngongongare Village in the Arusha District of northern Tanzania. Here, as it is in so many other impoverished outlying communities across the continent, there are few, if any books. Schools are overwhelmed with too many students, too few teachers (an average of one to every 45 students, according to the UNESCO EFA 2000 Assessment Tanzanian Country Report), and even fewer textbooks. A report by the non-profit organization Textbooks for Tanzania states, “It is not uncommon for a class of 40 to share a single textbook.” The Newton-Tanzania Collaborative that operates under the Do Something umbrella estimates a textbook to student ratio of 1 to 80. Texts that do exist are often decades old, filthy, and falling apart. To keep them from disintegrating altogether, teachers often keep them under lock and key, pulling them out only to copy their contents on blackboards for masses of children to memorize or, if lucky, to copy down on scraps of paper. In the United States, there are 122,101 libraries, according to the American Library Association, ones that complement our educational systems by providing free access to literature, periodicals, the Internet, and ongoing educational opportunities. That’s one for approximately every 2,500 citizens. In Tanzania, it’s a different story. There is just one national central library in Dar Es Salaam; a single library in some of the country’s 26 regions; and a handful of other government libraries scattered throughout various districts, which at best would be one library serving many hundreds of thousands of people. The Tanzanian Library Association, in its 2008 SCECSAL XVIII report, notes that these libraries all face many challenges, including a lack of qualified librarians and adequate resources. “We visited a number of regional libraries in Tanzania,” says Ann Hanin, 67, a librarian at the Beacon School in New York City and the founder of Project A.B.L.E., a U.S.-based non-profit established to promote literacy and education in the developing world. “They were filled with old, dirty, dilapidated materials that most people find irrelevant, unnecessary, and unusable. We could not find any books on farming and agriculture. We could not find any books by African authors or in local languages. It was so sad and disheartening.” (At right, photo of children in an old library) Deb Kelly, 55, an American volunteer in Tanzania, experienced firsthand this great need for free-access to relevant books and educational opportunities. In 2007, she founded the Tanzanian non-governmental organization Jifundishe (which means “teach yourself” in Swahili) to provide educational opportunities to rural communities. Her first project, the Imbaseni Free Community Library, was so successful that she soon replaced it with a larger library, with financial support from the U.S.-based Crawford-Smith Foundation and Project A.B.L.E. Villagers came from miles and miles away, even from around the world, all to patronize, partner with, assist, and help grow Deb’s vision of a free library and community center that supports literacy development for all. Today, that library, the Jifundishe Free Library, is the model for a new initiative called the Maktaba Project (“library” in Swahili), which is currently working on building a network of “Jifundishes” in six more rural communities over the next 10 years. The Jifundishe Free Library is also the poster child of the new Tanzanian Community Library Association, formed independently of the government in early 2011 to develop a network of community libraries, disseminate information, share best practices, and help obtain necessary financial support. For more information, visit www.jifundishe.org and www.projectablefoundation.org.

Africa.com | Apr. 25, 2011

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