I came home the weekend after my dad’s visit to a quiet school. It was mid-July. My students were still on break, and I expected to use the week to catch up on unfinished business around my village and finish drafting the grant applications for our Southern Province GLOW and BE camps which were due the following week. But as is often the case, that is not quite how things played out.
The date I had agreed on with the Executive Secretary of Kitabi for our library launch ceremony was the Friday of that week. Since the date had been postponed so many times, I imagined I would get home and find no preparations had been made and that we would have to choose a new date. How wrong I was!
Instead, I found that the library room had been painted, the shelves moved in, and everyone asking what we were going to do for the launch ceremony. Things were finally moving, and this time I was the one who wasn’t ready for them.
So the week turned into a controlled scramble of preparations. Wednesday we held our preparatory Library Committee meeting, just two days before the actual launch. We agreed on different tasks for everyone on the committee- including getting refreshments, inviting guests, organizing the books, etc. It was too late to get announcements in to the local churches for the launch, but I drafted some fliers to publicize the event and brought them to the meeting for feedback. I spent the day rewriting the fliers, getting them officially stamped at the sector, posting them up around town in the afternoon. Thursday I spent the morning with another committee member organizing the books by level and putting up some posters, then all that was left to do was wait.
Friday morning found me trying to be patient in the library room as we waited for committee members, guests and refreshments to arrive. EDC, the organization sponsoring the mobile libraries project, had given me some Community Mobile Library shirts, which I brought as a sort of uniform for each committee member. People trickled in and out for the first hour, and I showed off our collection of books to whoever would listen. Finally, when enough guests had arrived, we went ahead with the ceremony.
Although the event did not attract a big crowd, we did have good representation from local educators and leaders. Among the guests were some staff from the local government, directors from many of the schools in Kitabi Sector (including KCCEM’s Principal and Librarian), the Mother Superior of the nuns living and working in Kitabi, and of course the library committee. The ceremony went off without much fanfare- it was really just a series of speeches explaining the project and thanking those involved before a ribbon cutting ceremony. I was glad to see the Sector Education Officer (responsible for education at the local government level) take the lead during the ceremony, though, and give a good explanation of the importance of the project.
After the ribbon cutting, we all went into the library for fanta and peanuts. While the guests perused the books, I took one off the shelf and started reading in Kinyarwanda- just as a joke and to show off a little, initially. Then I decided to pass the book to the person sitting next to me, and pretty soon each person was reading a page, round-robin style. On the last page there were some comprehension questions, and seeing those launched us into a small discussion about how we can get students in the sector interested in using the library. This part was totally unplanned, and was lead by committee members and my Principal without any prompting from me. It was really encouraging to see people taking an active interest in how the project might continue to move forward, and made me feel like the project is a little bit more secure after I leave than I thought it might be.
The library has been open a month now, and I still have many concerns about how the project will continue to run when I leave in December. For now, the library is open 6 hours a week, and we are not lending books out yet- people are supposed to come to the library to read. (In reality, I have noticed some books missing, and I hope that these have been lent out to responsible people by other committee members.) There are a lot of things that need to be done if the project is going to reach its potential, including trainings of committee members in some kind of a record keeping system, events and competitions to generate interest in the library, and trainings for the community about how to treat books respectfully before we start lending them out. Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to a close, and I while I will do what I can to move the project along while I am here, eventually it will be up to my community (and perhaps a future volunteer) to make what they will of the library.
So, I have mixed feelings then about the library. On one hand, the library is OPEN! After a year of prodding and patience, failures and little successes, we have books and library room, shelves and chairs, and of all that I am very proud. On the other hand, the future of the library remains tenuous- all that effort could still come to naught. What I can say, though, is that as frustrated as I have sometimes been with the project, whether it fails or succeeds in the end, I have never yet regretted trying to make it work, and if I can leave Peace Corps feeling that way about my service, I think I can call it good.