As a kid growing up in Taiwan, I was definitely an introvert. While didn’t realize it at the time, I didn’t have a ton of friends. Partly culture, partly personality, I passed most of my free time either fighting with my sister or relishing in books. My parents were too busy to read to me, but they bought me lots of books on tapes to listen to before going to sleep.
And then there were times when my mother is too busy with errands or work, but instead of finding a baby-sitter for a few hours, she dropped me off at the children’s library near our house. I loved it there. The library was kid friendly and had hard-wood floors. I could lay on the floor and read all day long. The only thing I did not like about the library was their 3-book check out policy. I could only borrow three books at a time and I’d often finish those three books by the next day.
The hours spent at the children’s library shaped me in ways I hadn’t realized. I became very curious about the world and its people. Years of reading also gave me the skills to learn anything I want through a book. In college, I often said that going to classes can seem like a waste of time since I feel like I teach myself most things from textbooks. With advent of Internet, I don’t visit libraries anymore. But just yesterday, while sitting in a small village of West Africa, I was indulging in the collection on international finance and development from Google Books.
My first few months at post, I was bored out of my mind. So to find something to do, anything, I began teaching English at the 4-room primary school by my house. Through my interaction with the children, I realized they can’t read, at all. Even at a 5th grade level, many of the kids can’t read. And then I realized most of these kids have never even seen a story book in their life. I thought how differently my childhood and life would be if my mom hadn’t dropped me off at the library during her errands and busy afternoons.
Most of us take the ability to read for granted. But being here allow me to see the harsh reality that in fact, a lot of people have trouble reading. Even the adults in my business classes. While they can read, they can’t read at ease. Hardly anyone in village ever read for leisure. I wanted to change this, and I thought it would be the easiest to begin at the schools. Bring books into the country, and then provide training so people know what a library is and how to utilize it.
I never imagined that I would be building 30 libraries. But since I somehow got myself into this situation, I will somehow find a way to make it happen. In honor of International Literacy Day, I hope all of you reading this will consider making a small contribution to this project (Http://www.booksforcameroon.org). I know I haven’t picked the best time to launch a project like this given the state of economy. Yet, $5 isn’t much to much people, and with just that, it can change lives.
We are fighting poverty with literacy; one latte at a time. Will you join us?