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

  • Anne M. Wells, UNITE the World with Africa
  • 2 May 2012

This article was published by our friends at Africa.com, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Africa.com Blog. This is the third entry in a four-part series. Previous entries: Part I, Part II.

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.

The Jifundishe Free Library, Tanzania, offers adult literacy classes, children’s workshops, an Independent Study program

The Jifundishe Free Library in rural northern Tanzania offers a wide range of community programs that include adult literacy classes, children’s workshops, an Independent Study program and much more. Photo by Anne Wells

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.

Jifundishe Knitting Club, Tanzania

The local Jifundishe Knitting Club knits wares which are sold at library fundraisers across America. Photo by Anne Wells

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-plus 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, sits 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.

Goodness, a local resident and patron of Jifundishe Free Library, Tanzania

Goodness, a local patron, has been coming to the library since 2005. Through her skillful knitting she earned enough to purchase a proper wheelchair and has also learned to read and write. Photo by Anne Wells

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 four-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.”


• Part IV Beyond Books in Tanzania: The Maktaba Project & The New Tanzanian Community Library Association

Anne Wells is the founder and director of UNITE The World With Africa, a social organization working to provide impactful connections, resources and expertise to help advance women’s health, education and microfinance programs in Tanzania. She recently launched a new online store called The Ashe’ Collection, a 100% philanthropic initiative to grow an international demand for African artistry and raise funds to support UNITE’s work in East Africa. For more information, email Anne at atmwells(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Africa, children, disability, Eastern Africa, handicrafts & shopping, local knowledge, personal experience, poverty, Tanzania, women,

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