We are happy to report that thanks to the support from so many of our donors, we are able to continue offering services to the public in Gwanda town and Gwanda district. The adult wing of the library is a refuge for students who need to find a relevant book or just want a quiet place to study, or sometimes to read the newspapers. The children’s wing is popular with many of the young children who will in coming years become the intellectuals of the district. Some of our readers are now finishing school and proceeding to college and university. Two students who completed A Level in December are currently working in the library helping us to reduce the backlog of unprocessed books while they wait for the academic year to begin in August. One of these is going to the National University of Science and Technology to begin a degree in Library Science. In August we will have another student join us for her third year attachment from the same university. We are happy that we are not just contributing to the education of our young people, but also laying the basis for professional librarians in the future.
Part of the backlog in book processing has come about because of the departure of our librarian and one of our library assistants last year. They have joined the library of one of the local universities at substantially higher salaries. We were initially unable to replace them, but are glad to be able to report that new staff will be engaged shortly as funds have become available as the result of a grant from OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, the regional branch of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation). We believe it is significant that they have recognized that library work is part of creating an open society which is the foundation for democracy.
Going back a little, late last year we received funds from the Austrian organization known as Entwicklungshilfeklub (development assistance club). They have given us funds to help stock our book boxes with materials useful to the study circles members. A substantial number of these books are in the Ndebele language, and where necessary we also translate sections of English language books for them. These are mainly books on agricultural production of various sorts, as well as small business techniques.
Also towards the end of last winter (August) we facilitated the donation of rice by one of the local Naik families to elderly people in the communities in which we work. In several of the areas where we have study circles operating, elderly people were identified and asked to come to receive 5kg of rice each. Each member of the study circles also received this donation. In rural Gwanda rice is considered a luxury, served on special occasions, so one can imagine the excitement experienced especially by the old people. In the photographs you can see evidence of mobile phones. This is a new development for our rural communities. Only in the past year has a signal been available, and very cheap solar lamps which also charge the phones have become popular. A new development in cash transfers allows people in other parts of the country to transfer cash by mobile phone. Thus the divided families are able to keep in touch, even if younger members are overseas – great relief to the elderly.
Recent activities of the past two months include a strategic planning held by the staff and attended by two of the trustees. Planning was being done for the coming three years and a strategic plan is now being finalized which will guide our activities as well as our budgeting.
The season has been dismal, however, with very little rain. This has affected even those projects which use irrigation, as in many cases the boreholes which produce water for them have dried up. The ladies who were producing soap from jatropha beans have had to resort to making candles using purchased wax, as even the drought-resistant jatropha tree has failed to produce sufficient beans. So there have been setbacks for some study circles, but others, especially those raising goats, chickens and pigs, have fared better. Those raising pigs are working out how to manage their production schedules as well as plan more effectively for the costs of transport to market. Some of the suckling pigs are now being sold within the community in order to enable them to afford the feed to raise others to maturity.
All of these activities are part of our work in Gwanda communities – bringing information and knowledge and helping people to use it to improve their lives. It is a struggle, especially in our harsh environment, but it continues with the help of many around the world.
Another grant has recently been received from the Embassy of Australia. An amount of $23,000 has been used first to replace our tired old photocopier with a new smaller but faster model. We have also purchased $14,000 worth of books with this money, mainly publications from local publishers, some in the local languages. More furniture has been ordered for the children’s wing, and we have been able to buy a projector and screen to be used for power point presentations.
On March 28 we opened the library for a new form of information dissemination. An agricultural products company show-cased its new form of drip irrigation to pensioners in the area. First a session was held inside the children’s section of the library, followed by a demonstration on the lawn in front of the library. The photos show a good attendance. It will be interesting to find out how many of those who attended were able to take advantage of this new “intermediate technology”.
On April 3 and 4 the director was back again into the rural community around Ntepe in Gwanda South. One of the aims of our study circles among adults has been to assist them to move away from subsistence production to commercial level production. This requires a shift in mindset as well as new knowledge of planning and marketing. We organized a workshop for the members of several of the study circles in the area which taught them the rudiments of marketing. This was facilitated by Mr Emmanuel Noko of the Swedish Co-operatives organization which works with one of our donors, Africa Groups of Sweden. The participants were very excited and said that their eyes had been opened. We hope that this will take them forward with commercializing their projects.