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Public Libraries in Zambia Flourish

The first library of the Lubuto Library Project was completed on September 1, 2007 in Lusaka, Zambia. The smashing success of that library has sparked an ambitious plan by the Lubuto Library Project to build 100 public libraries across Africa in the next 10 years.

That first library started as little more than an unofficial reading room at the Fountain of Hope, which is a shelter in Lusaka. As the reading program expanded, it attracted a wide variety of volunteers to contribute to this new educational opportunity.

As more and more children came off the streets to practice reading and writing, the reading room expanded to a fully-functioning library. It was built out of nothing more than a used shipping container.

The library proved an instant success. The library was a shelter, a classroom and a social space all-in-one. Seeing hope for the future of education in Zambia, the Lubuto Library project was created. Construction on a series of similar libraries began immediately.

Those libraries in Zambia now act as safe havens for Zambian street children. The population in Zambia has been ravaged by the HIV epidemic, and the children there have been particularly damaged by the disease. Over half the population of Zambia is youth, and of that youth, one-fifth have been orphaned by the epidemic.

Most of those children are outside the reach of social services. They are forced to live on the streets. The Lubuto Library Project aims to not only take these kids off the streets by providing shelter, but also to give them a quality education in the process.

Some of the kids even used the libraries in Zambia to study for the entrance exam which allowed them to gain access to a public high school education.

The particular curriculum that the project utilizes involves increasing access to local-language literature — something which has been woefully lacking in recent years. The libraries hold frequent storytelling events to bring the kids together in a social learning environment. At the same time, there are private reading rooms for children who wish to learn on their own.

Finally, the libraries in Zambia have been using laptops to encourage reading and writing and to advance the children’s computer skills.

For this innovative solution to the educational crisis in Zambia, the Lubuto Library Project has been awarded a $300,000 grant from USAID to continue its mission across Africa. The project will use that money to expand its operations, with plans to eventually incorporate mobile technology to its libraries.

But in the end, it’s not fancy technology that’s helping these orphans; it’s having access to a safe space where the kids can express themselves and escape from the harsh life of being an orphan in Zambia. It’s being comforted by caring volunteers and mentors who sacrifice their time to give hope to these children. It’s reading and writing imaginative stories that help them dream again.

That is the driving force that has allowed these libraries to become so instrumental to the education system in Zambia.

— Sam Hillestad

Sources: Lubuto Library Project 1, USAID
Photo: Lubuto Library Project 2