Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ghana 2014: Building With Books

Do you have a childhood memory so strong that to this day, by simply concentrating, you can remember the exact smell of that environment? 

Do you remember the smell of a library?  I vividly remember going to libraries with my mom when I was little, ones with thousands of books, wooden index card boxes, children’s corners with soft seating and bright colors, and the distinct smell of paper mixed with the smell of the clear tape they used to affix the white Dewey system labels to the backs of the books.  You could go to different libraries – the school library, the public library, even a library in a different town, and the scent of books was still so familiar.

I couldn’t wait to learn to read.  What an amazing key to the world:  opportunities to learn about the world around me, about people, adventures, faraway places... endless stories to be discovered.   My mom was a school teacher, so trips to her school or the library, or access to books were abundant.   I had my own collection of books at home, and when I needed something different to read, I’d venture into newspapers, travel brochures, catalogues, and old Reader’s Digests from the 1960’s from the bookshelves at my grandfather’s house.  There was never a shortage of textbooks in our schools, we even had used ones at home to use and play 'school' with.

The hardest thing for me wasn’t learning to read, or picking out a book...  it was simply the limit of books I was allowed to check out at a time.   I had one friend in elementary school who didn’t share my love of reading.  We made a deal – I would sign out my maximum of 4 books, and she would sign out another 4 for me under her name.  I’d be all set until we went back to the library a week later.

It was something that I took for granted as a child growing up in Canada.  I don’t think it ever dawned on me until I became an adult that reading isn’t always a part of childhood, and neither is access to books.

In 2011, one of the 17 children I sponsor, a boy from Ghana named Ato Sam, shared with me through one of his letters that his Ghanian village, Enyan Abaasa, struggled with the scarcity of books.  He explained that he had a thirst for knowledge, dreamed of becoming an engineer, but without access to books, it was difficult to learn English and to learn to read, much less to find the vast amount of knowledge he sought to learn.    In my response, I told him that every town and every school in Canada had its own library, that even our church had a library. 

Our church library is as big as Ato Sam’s house. 

Astounded, he struggled to imagine this.  

I had made efforts to send a book to Ato Sam with every letter I wrote to him... within mere months, he had more books than his entire village combined.  I told him that someday, perhaps he could open his own library and bookstore, and be the manager of such a tremendous resource for his village.

The boy who once had very little hope, was beginning to boldly dream.

So was I.

I continued to ensure that with every letter I wrote to him, I also sent an educational book that he could read and share.  In a subsequent letter, Ato Sam boldly told me that since I help so many people around the world, would I consider helping the children of his own country?  Knowing me well enough to know that I wouldn’t let him down, he boldly asked me when I was coming.

Although my initial thought was to help only his family or his village, I wanted to demonstrate my love for him by first doing something for his country.  After some research, I learned of the thousands of kids enslaved in the Lake Volta region of Ghana.  After carefully studying the options, a plan was formed to raise funds to increase the resources available so that more children can be rescued.  By November of 2011, our tiny team had not only successfully raised the $30,000 required, plus the travel costs, but we traveled to Ghana and took part in the rescue of two more Lake Volta children.  (Read about our project *here* and about our trip *here*)

It was during this trip that I also traveled to Ato Sam’s village for the first time and met this amazing boy in person.  

(Photo credit:  Tia Kollar)

Being in his village and meeting him fueled our dream to provide book resources to his village, to help the entire village community increase not only their literacy, but their ability to lift themselves out of poverty.

(Photo credit:  Tia Kollar)

And yes, we brought many books with us to give to them during our time in Ghana.

When I returned home, I couldn’t shake the dream of seeing Enyan Abaasa have the resource of books accessible to everyone.  I began collecting books, knowing I would see that dream come to life in time.
Imagine how hard it is for a child or an adult to be encouraged to learn how to read and write when reading materials aren’t readily available?  It’s also hard for people to find work, for teachers to teach, for business owners to write receipts or understand the laws, for students to continue their education... for people to know their rights...  illiteracy has a much greater impact than I can wrap my mind around.  Above all, it enters into a vicious circle with poverty – they feed each other.

A library would help break that cycle for one village and for the generations that will follow...

(Photo Credits, Tia Kollar)

After much planning, research and prayer, I knew it was time to turn this dream into a reality.  In January of 2014, I reached out to the Enyan Abaasa community through Compassion Canada, asking them how they felt about the possibility of a library in their community.  It was important to me that this was their dream too, that their community was truly interested in this and would benefit from it.  The response was very positive.  Not only did they respond that yes, a library would greatly benefit their community, that it would help increase the level of literacy and help people break the cycle of poverty, but they were prepared to provide the land and the logistics of building it. 

I asked them to provide to me a plan of what they had in mind, and how much it would cost to build.  They responded with a very thorough, thoughtfully drafted plan for a library that includes a small bookstore, an office, and even a restroom – a welcomed luxury in rural Ghana.  True to these humble, gracious people, the plans weren’t flashy or excessive; rather, the library/bookstore plans are very functional, methodical and well thought through...  And much better than I could have dreamt on my own.

The detailed material list I received from them included the quantity of and price of everything, including boxes of the nails they’d need, cement bags, lumber, tiles, measurements, labor, etc...  even the water barrels and the truckloads of sand are accounted for.  The land has been secured by the local church, the management team is in place, sustainability has been thought through long-term.  The community, from the children to the elderly, will benefit as a whole and are engaged and ready to invest into this invaluable resource. 

This is no longer my dreams, but theirs.   In fact, it is no longer a dream, but becoming a reality. 
A fundraising team has been established to raise funds to build the Greater Grace Library & Bookstore for the village of Enyan Abaasa, in partnership with Compassion Canada, who will oversee the project logistics in Ghana. 

I’m experiencing strong feelings of déjà vu – just as we did in 2011, we are starting empty handed with the finished project estimated to cost $23,000US, ($16,000 for the construction, with the rest for the books, resources and furnishings).  This includes a contingency buffer in the event that construction costs increase or something unforeseen happens during the construction phase.  Once again, our only plan is to step forward in faith, one certain step at a time, believing in what we set forth to do.  It’s a sacrificial dream, it will take everything we have to make it happen, and God’s only plan for this project is His people.  He has promised this to us, and He will provide.

We cannot stop at only the construction costs; once the constructions costs are raised, while the library is being built, we will shift our focus to stocking the shelves with educational books and resources.

My son Brandon and his girlfriend Maddie will be raising funds at their high school, while my other son Joshua and my daughter Jillian will be raising funds at each of their schools.  My husband and I will be raising funds together through family, friends, work, church, social networking and the community at large.  

Once the library project is completed, we hope to accompany Ato Sam and his family to the opening ceremony.

As we did in 2011, we start empty handed.  I don’t have $23,000, and it’s likely that neither of us have $23,000.  To you and I, building this library may seem like an insurmountable challenge.  What matters is that we serve a God for Whom nothing is impossible, a God who has gathered us together to make a difference in this community.  Every penny counts, every bake sale and yard sale important, every donation precious and life changing. 

What an amazing opportunity to make a difference.

Alone, we can’t.  Together, we can.  

Please join us!


Donations can be made by Paypal using this email:


Donations in Canada can also be made 
easily through Interac Funds Transfer

Tax receipts will be provided for donations exceeding $20, in both Canada and in the U.S.  
(We will need your full name and address for the receipts).

Thank you...   merci...  meda ase.


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