By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog
The Ugandan library that started as an ambitious idea in West Seattle is now open for business.
The 200-square-foot library, stocked with nearly 5,000 donated books, opened July 24 in the Hope of Children and Women Victims of Violence compound in Ndejje Central Zone south of Kampala, where English is commonly spoken. Run by a small staff backed by refugees and volunteers, the non-profit supports people traumatized by violence and extreme poverty with education, health care, and social entrepreneurship. Most are refugee children from South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, and other African countries.
Alina Guyon, going into her junior year at Holy Names Academy, spearheaded “Libraries for All,” from writing the business plan to stocking the shelves. Long interested in the plight of refugees, she chose the project for the impact it would have and as a way to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.
The All the Sky Foundation got the ball rolling by offering Alina a $25,000 grant toward expenses. She put out a call in December for book donations, with VAIN Hair Salon as the principal drop-off point for West Seattle residents. Fauntleroy Church UCC and Hope Lutheran School donated by the boxful. Alki Lumber and Home Depot came through with building supplies and Better Built Barns in Salem, Oregon, signed on to prefabricate the building. Gifts from family members and friends rounded out the budget.
A shipping container left West Seattle in mid-April, packed with 8,000 pounds of building components and books. Alina, her mother Sheryl Guyon, and builders Patrick Anderson and Justin Laughery then finalized plans to meet up with the container in mid-July in Kampala.
After several days on site to get acquainted with the refugee agency and area, Alina and Sheryl faced the unexpected challenge of getting customs to release the container. A little assertiveness with “higher-ups” ended the standoff, leaving the crew only three and a half days to assemble and stock the library.
Each day was long and hot and the paint was barely dry when they hung the curtains right before the opening celebration.
Uganda has the fastest-growing refugee population in Africa, and violence and protracted poverty deprive many children of an education.
Through newly appointed librarian Alice (above), a 19-year-old refugee from the Congo who spent a year concentrating on learning English, Hope of Children and Women Victims of Violence will sustain free access to the library’s resources and offer movie screenings and other community events to foster literacy.
“None of this would have been possible without all the amazing support I received from people all along this journey,” said Alina. “A BIG thank you to everyone!”
Visit libraries4all.com to read more about this project and subscribe to receive updates.