Kiwanis members, from left, Cheryl Pongratz, Morrie Pongratz and Don Casperson pack books to send to Africa for the Africa Library Project. Courtesy photo
A group of students poses with books they received through the Africa Library Project. Courtesy photo
Children look at books they received through the Africa Library and local volunteer Sharon Allen. Courtesy photo
Despite a world-wide pandemic, Sharon Allen, retired Los Alamos teacher in partnership with the Los Alamos K Family (Kiwanis, Key Club, Builders Club and the three K Kid Clubs at Barranca, Aspen and Chamisa Elementary Schools) has continued the mission of supporting African libraries through the African Library Project (ALP). Since 2016-2017 she has sent 52 libraries to African nations in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Swaziland (e Swatini), and Lesotho.
Kenyan schools have been closed since March due to the pandemic. Recognizing that none of the school libraries were accessible, Sharon helped set up a mobile library service to loan books to children in rural areas. Books are sanitized between use. Hand washing and social distancing are taught and practiced during the exchange of books. Enabling the students access to these books will help them catch up in their classes more quickly once schools reopen as they have been able to practice English in an enjoyable way.
It is estimated that there is an average of 500 students at each of these 52 schools so approximately 26,000 African youth have been served by Sharon and Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos’ work. Most of the books we collect (1000 per library!) are preschool through 8th grade reading level and go to elementary through high school libraries. The focus on only up to 8th grade reading is because the reading level in most of the high schools in Africa is considerably lower than our high school level.
In addition to Sharon Allen, Kiwanians Don Casperson and Roger Stutz have spearheaded this ongoing project with the K Family youth service clubs. Sharon, because of her extensive involvement in ALP, is now an almost full time (unpaid) volunteer for ALP and has been to Africa several times at her own expense to visit schools that have received our libraries and help with the logistics of the project.
We are a town of readers and Sharon is a colleague of most of the elementary teachers so getting books hasn’t been a problem. The cost to the Kiwanis Family is shipping. That cost is about $500 per library ($250 to get the books to New Orleans and $250 for shipping to Africa.) Cheryl Pongratz, while Kiwanis president, applied for a “Kiwanis Across Borders” grant from Kiwanis Southwest District. A grant was awarded for $1,500 (shipping for three libraries). Three libraries head to northwest Uganda, Africa this month and many of the books will be serving children of refugees from Sudan.
Book collection for the next set of libraries will begin very soon. If you have books for grades K-12, watch for more information at the local schools. If you’d like to donate to shipping costs, a check to Kiwanis, P. O. Box 94, Los Alamos, NM 87544, will go to a designated account for the next shipment.