January 19, 2012 Posted by: Liann Walborsky
Spending her junior year of college abroad in Sierra Leone was just the beginning of Chris Bradshaw’s life-long love affair with the African continent. As founder and president of the African Library Project, she left Sierra Leone desperately wanting to help, but also being overwhelmed by the challenges of extreme poverty.
It was while visiting Africa many years later with her family (Lesotho, in the Southern part of the continent), and traveling by horse with her children through the tiny mountain kingdom, that she had a revelation. Her son would get bored sitting on the horse all day and would read to make the time go by. Curious about the availability of libraries in Lesotho, she asked a guide, who responded that perhaps there was one located in the country’s capital. Awakened to the notion that an entire country could have a single, poorly-stocked library, set Chris’ wheels in motion.
In 2005, she founded the African Library Project – a non-profit dedicated to opening up libraries in Africa. Realizing that many of the countries had few books available or none at all, Chris came up with the idea of coordinating book drives in the US while partnering with African schools and villages. The group is run by a network of volunteers in the US working out of their homes. Not a day goes by without an email from Africa asking for help in setting up a library. How does it all work? “We ensure that the town has sufficient infrastructure to support the creation of a library. We are helped out by strong partnerships in Africa and our volunteers here in the US,” says Bradshaw.
The organization also holds bi-annual summits in Africa which focus on how to cross fertilize the best ideas in rural library development — turning them into thriving, vibrant small libraries and an ongoing resource for the community. Says Bradshaw, “We are truly working on the cutting edge of technology in rural Africa. People are just learning how to set up a system like this, how to run and organize a library. This concept is still all very new in many of these countries.”
Bradshaw opened up the organization’s Business Banking account at Tech CU in 2005 with very little money and says that the experience has been “awesome.” She has received tremendous support from the Business Banking team members with whom she works. “The people who work at Tech CU have been amazing. They have been incredibly supportive of what I do on both a personal and professional level. People like Sarah Samuels have organized book drives for us – I think she opened up three libraries with all the books she donated. Being with Tech CU has been like a pebble dropping in the water. So many ripples have fanned out in multiple directions with the contacts we have made from our Tech CU experience.”
Today, the African Library Project has 701 libraries throughout nine English-speaking countries on the African continent. “We are no longer in ‘startup’ mode,” says Bradshaw, “and are able to look at what we do in a different way. I feel like we have hit our stride.”
To find out more about the African Library Project or to organize a book drive, please go to:http://www.africanlibraryproject.org/home
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