Windsor man brings libraries to Africa

Nicole Neuts
By Nicole Neuts April 20, 2018 15:08

African Library Project volunteers pose with books donated by the Windsor African Library PRoject in Sierra Leone, Africa 2017 (photo courtesy of Phil Ouellette)

By Nicole Neuts

A local man has been using his free time to help build libraries for African children.

Phil Ouelette, 52, has been collecting gently used children’s books for the organization African Library Project since early 2017. Ouellette started the second annual Windsor book drive in early March and has already exceeded his goal of 2,400 books and has collected 3,000 so far. Ouellette said he has been doing volunteer work since he retired from the OPP in 2015.

“Since I retired, I travel to the Middle East every year for a month to do volunteer work. Last year, I couldn’t do it, so I looked for something else to take on,” Ouellette said. “While volunteering in Israel, I met a lady from the U.S. who goes to Kenya to build libraries. While googling to find out about that project, I found the African Library Project online. It didn’t require travel so I jumped on board.”

The African Library Project has been helping start libraries in rural Africa since 2005. The organization was founded by Chris Bradshaw, 65, after a family vacation visiting remote villages in Lesotho, located in southern Africa. Bradshaw says it is satisfying to know they are changing the lives and opportunities of millions of Africans.

“Even though I’ve visited hundreds of our libraries, it is difficult to really grasp the extent of our work,” Bradshaw said. “A surprise for me has been how meaningful it has been to Canadians and Americans to have such a concrete way to support African development. It feels almost magical to me that in this way, the African Library Project is a boon to both sides of the Atlantic.”

The African Library Project has helped over two million children by starting around 2,300 libraries in 12 African nations. Before the project began, teachers in Lesotho were teaching from memory. Now the organization works in seven countries including Malawi, Kenya, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Bradshaw said in 2019 they will be expanding into their eighth country and will continue to grow.

“There are 22 Anglophone countries in Africa and eventually we’d like to work in all of them.  We also aspire to eventually help Francophone Africa start libraries, but need to find a partner in the Francophone West that can source the books,” Bradshaw said.

Ouellette’s book drive last year collected over 6,000 books which was enough to open four libraries in Malawi and one in Sierra Leone. This year, Ouellette is expecting to collect enough books to open three to four libraries in Malawi. It will cost around US$500 to get the books where they are needed most.

“The books are the easy part,” Ouellette said. “The hard part is that we need about US$500 to get each library to where it belongs.  About US$250 to get them to a shipping container in New Orleans and US$250 to ship each library to Africa.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up by Ouellette to help raise funds to ship the books to Africa.

To learn more about the African Library Project and how you can get involved visit their website at www.africanlibraryproject.org

Nicole Neuts
By Nicole Neuts April 20, 2018 15:08

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CAPSTONE PROJECTS 2017-2018