Sharon Allen sells items with young volunteers at a recent event where she raised funds for the African Library Project+. In addition to collecting books for more than 30 libraries and shipping them to Africa over the past two years, Allen has been involved in some amazing projects that have bettered the lives of a great number of people in poor, rural areas of Africa with water storage, furniture for classrooms and more. Readers will be surprised at what can be accomplished by the generosity of friends and community members here in Los Alamos County and how little some of those projects cost. Every little bit counts. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY SHARON ALLEN
African Library Project+
Editor’s note: The following is an extensive report by Sharon Allen on recent projects undertaken and completed by the African Library Project.
During COVID, “packing parties” for donated books were non-existent due to kids being out of school, school clubs not meeting (main source of our packers!), and folks staying home for fear of spreading the virus, but there was no shortage of donated books. These were being continually dropped off outside my home, in addition to many donations from local thrift shops and the local public library as they were being overwhelmed with donations. So needless to say, myself, close friends and a very few family members did a lot of packing and hauling over these past two years!
A common scene at Sharon Allen’s home where the floor is covered with one week’s donations of books bound for libraries in Africa. Courtesy photo
Boxes of books for six libraries taped up and ready to go. Courtesy photo
Helpers of all ages join in the project including Allen’s grandson Damian, 11 and her son Nik. Courtesy photo
Allen’s neighbor Kathy and mom help with packing books for shipment. Courtesy photo
The list of books and other materials sent through the African Library Projects is as follows:
June 2020 to MALAWI: 3 libraries plus 6 boxes of special request vocational books
Nov. 2020 to UGANDA: 3 libraries
Jan. 2021 to KENYA: 5 libraries plus 6 boxes teacher materials
March 2021 to BOTSWANA: 2 libraries
May 2021 to MALAWI: 1 ½ libraries
Aug. 2021 to LESOTHO: 2 libraries
Nov. 2021 to UGANDA: ½ library
Jan. 2022 to KENYA: 11 libraries
April 2022 to MALAWI: 2 libraries
The total cost of sending 30+ libraries in two years at a cost of $600 per library to ship amounts to $18,000.
These libraries have all been funded by donations from friends and family, churches, Kiwanis and its kids’ clubs, lemonade stands, used toy sales, Popcornopolis sales, craft project sales (and more) from donors like YOU in donation amounts of 25 cents to $1,000!
Update June 2022:
There is now a large backlog of donated books in storage at my house and a neighbor’s garage and I am hoping that these can be packed by various community groups and volunteers this summer. The goal is to have 10 libraries funded and ready to ship by January 2023. Each of our 7 local schools is “on board” to help pack and fund a library in the next 6 months so this goal seems attainable. Our local Los Alamos Kiwanis Club has been very supportive of this library project and intends to continue hands-on and some financial support.
There’s more to come:
Over the past few years I have developed an excellent working relationship with a few very trustworthy individuals in Kenya who make sure that any funds I send are dispensed only for intended purposes. First they suggest needed projects. Then they help me by documenting everything they do with photos and videos, so that I can feel comfortable about facilitating opportunities for friends and relatives to help make projects happen. While these donations are not tax deductible, the money often goes further because every penny goes right to the source. I am not a 501-c3 organization but I do enjoy helping ordinary folks make a tangible, visible difference in the lives of those less fortunate. And so far, that’s what these projects seem to be doing! You’ll hear about and see all of that soon.
But first, I have a few projects that are in urgent need of funding before they can proceed. I know many, many of you have “given ‘til it hurts”, and I do understand! Yet others of you often ask, “How can I help? I just want to know that my money is going to make a difference.” So here are some opportunities!
1. Lunch feeding program for 600 Kakrigu Primary School students (preschool-grade 8) for one month until they can start raising some of their own food. (see #2)
$850 needed as soon as possible
I have advanced some funds to get this program started as there is a shortage of food right now. Here’s what the headteacher (principal) wrote a few weeks ago:
“Most of our boys and girls come from humble backgrounds, many are orphans, and many have to drop out of school due to lack of food. Teachers are finding students asleep in class after being sent home at lunchtime. Students share with teachers that they don’t get any food at home and have to return to school on empty stomachs. This leads to absenteeism, dropping out, and sometimes even early pregnancy. Some community volunteers, teachers, and parents are providing vegetables (just kale) but we desperately need rice, beans, corn and cooking oil.”
Students receiving lunch at Kakrigu Primary School, Kenya in May. Courtesy photo
Children at Kakrigu Primary School, Kenya are no longer sent home to eat as most return hungry, so they are being fed at school. Courtesy photos
2. School Garden/Farm Project to raise food for feeding the 600 Kakrigu Primary School students at lunchtime. Students and teachers will provide labor to create the gardens. This is a proposed long-term solution to the lack of food for school children at lunchtime. This will allow the school to be self-reliant as they will be able to raise maize and vegetables as well as possibly sell extra produce. Students, guided by their teachers, will provide all of the labor as well as learning new techniques for sustainable farming.
Cost: $1500 for purchase of water pump, water pipes, and installation of the water pump.
Project can begin as soon as funds are raised.
3. Days for Girls Menstrual Pad Project for 200 girls, including 2 hour training, AND for additional educational program for 140 BOYS
$2500 (or more) needed as soon as possible
*This is the GoFundme site for donations: https://gofund.me/07df23eb
This is an ambitious undertaking but is a long-term solution (we hope!) to a large increase in the number of young girls getting pregnant during the pandemic (schools were completely shut down for a long time in Kenya) and thus dropping out of school. Girls have very little access to accurate information and few resources for obtaining menstrual products. Older, often uneducated, men prey on young girls, offering them the desired menstrual products in exchange for sexual favors. In many cases this leads to pregnancy in very young girls, girls dropping out of school, and these girls have few options for supporting their children.
The initiative would provide reusable menstrual products for 200 girls, ages 10-16. In cooperation with Days for Girls (www. daysforgirls.org), menstrual kits are made in Kenya at Hearts for Kenya in Oyugis, Kenya, out of Kenyan fabric and sewn by Kenyan women, thereby helping those women support their families too. Each girl would receive:
A Supreme Kit ($10 USD each) which includes: 2 shields, 8 liners, 2 panties, 1 pouch, 1 instruction sheet, 1 soap, 1 washcloth, 1 drawstring bag,
From the Days for Girls website: The Days for Girls (DfG) Pad is a washable, reusable, beautiful menstrual health product that’s built to last. Our patented design, which includes a protective shield and absorbent liner, is backed by the latest menstrual health research and a decade of feedback from women around the world. It is a truly sustainable solution that menstruators can count on month after month, for up to three years
In addition, this project includes funding to send two certified employees of Days for Girls to Mfangano Island for two days of education for staff and students (10 and older), both boys and girls. Any additional funds raised will go toward including more schools in this program.
May 2022: Headteacher of Kakrigu Primary School, ‘Mr. Bernard’, passes out disposable menstrual products donated by their teachers for students to use over a school break. Courtesy photo
OTHER COMPLETED PROJECTS
All of the projects listed below have grown out of relationships established with educators met when delivering libraries to Mfangano Island, Kenya, in 2018. Except for the sponsorships of the college students, all these projects have been 100% funded!!! So now I am finished asking for donations and it’s time to celebrate what’s been accomplished in the past two years!
June 2020: KAKRIGU PRIMARY SCHOOL PRESCHOOL BUILDING UPGRADE
This is a primary school (preschool-grade 8) that received a library from our town through the African Library Project in 2017. I visited the school along with two teachers from Los Alamos who helped collect the books for that library in 2018. We helped deliver the books, via boat, to the school. In March of 2020 I returned for a visit and was so impressed with how well the library was being used. A young, very shy student, Spency, had taken responsibility for organizing and running the library. Then, shortly after I left Kenya (due to the pandemic) the island experienced extensive flooding that destroyed the preschool building’s dirt floor. The children were out of school due to COVID but a GoFundMe raised the funds necessary to replace the floor with a cement pad (no more pneumonia and other sicknesses due to sitting in wet mud!), and add doors, windows, bookshelves, tables and chairs.
Delivering the library in June 2018. It had been shipped six months earlier. Courtesy photo
Sharon Allen in March 2020 with Spency, age 13, who had organized the entire 1,200-book library. She also kept it spotlessly clean and read every single book. Spency earned high marks and is now attending a national high school where she boards. Courtesy photo
Early June 2020 damage to preschool building. Courtesy photo
Late June 2020 – the new cement pad. Courtesy photo
Preschool students return to school in January 2020 after a long COVID shutdown. Courtesy photo
By late January 2020, lots more students had turned up. Courtesy photo
The total cost of the Kakrigu Primary Preschool upgrade/remodel was $1,950 with half the funds raised on GoFundMe and the other half raised from individual donations solicited via email. Courtesy photo
OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2020: MOBILE LIBRARY PROJECT
The Mobile Library Project arranged for local Kenyan, good friend, (unemployed) college graduate, and library enthusiast Abbas Swaleh to carry books on his piki-piki (small motorbike) to outlying areas that would normally have been serviced by libraries we had sent earlier, but due to COVID shutting down the schools, children had no access to the books. With Abbas’ input, a plan was made to load up books from an idle school library, visit different villages weekly for 12 weeks, and allow the children to take books home with them, returning them the following week.
This proved to be very successful, parents were very supportive, and the program was only stopped because the children returned to school in January 2021. Abbas also provided lessons on keeping safe during COVID by demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques, mask wearing, and he also sanitized all the books upon return. A budget was created and funding was provided to provide a salary for Abbas, mats for spreading out the books for selection, masks for participants, and a book fogger to sanitize the books after return.
Abbas and his piki-piki off to deliver books in October 2020. Courtesy photo
Children in a rural village get their books in October 2020. Courtesy photo
Happy children with their books in November 2020. Courtesy photo
Even the youngest children love books. Courtesy photo
November 2020: Even the village elders participated. You’re never too old for a good book. Courtesy photo
TOTAL COST of Mobile Library Project (3 months): $2300. Includes $1300 for the purchase of the piki-piki (motorbike). Funds raised via an Aug. 2020 email to over 300 friends requesting donations and also on a Facebook GoFundMe fundraiser.
JANUARY-JUNE 2021: STORY MOJA PARTICIPATION FOR 21 SCHOOLS
With students back in school in Kenya as of January 6, 2021, the Mobile Library Project was no longer meeting a need and the books needed to remain in the schools, so it was decided to use previously donated funds to continue supporting literacy initiatives. As Abbas had benefitted from our financial support and had proven to be ambitious and creative, we agreed to continue to provide a monthly stipend ($225 per month) in exchange for his work with the schools on literacy activities involving reading and books.
StoryMoja is a small publishing house based in Nairobi, Kenya. It promotes literacy in addition to publishing readers and storybooks. They organized a country-wide Read Aloud Event on June 16, 2021, using a book written by a Kenyan and published in Kenya to mark the celebration of the Day of the African Child. Abbas spent months encouraging our rural schools to commit to participating as these small schools rarely heard about events such as this. Due to Abbas’ efforts over 2000 students from 21 schools all who read out loud a chapter from the book between 8:30-9:00 AM. In all of Kenya 74,000 students participated, and while they did not break the desired Guinness World Record of 200,000 reading aloud at once, they sure had fun trying! Afterwards, teachers commented that the event gave the pupils “morale to love reading and gave a boost to the culture of reading”.
Our funds purchased 210 copies of the book used, 10 for each school, and those books will remain in the libraries for students to read. The book has a positive, uplifting message, encouraging peace among all tribes, and has characters and a story line that really appealed to the students.
June 2021: Mawanga Rock Art School students read aloud. Courtesy photo
June 14, 2021: Nyamuga Special Needs students read aloud. Courtesy photo
June 14, 2021: Kendu Bay Muslim School students read aloud. Courtesy photo
June 14, 2021: Kakrigu Primary School students wearing masks we provided for the read aloud event. Courtesy photo
TOTAL COST of Story Moja Read Aloud Event (January-June 2021) $2050
Included in cost is 6 months of salary for Abbas, gas for piki-piki, internet costs, paper and Xeroxing, 210 copies of the book Attack of the Shidas (10 per school), delivery charges for books, and masks for participants.
Funding was covered by previous Mobile Library fundraiser on Facebook GoFundMe and email donation requests.
JULY-AUGUST 2021: NYAHERA PRIMARY SCHOOL WATER TANK PROJECT
Nyahera Primary School is located high in the mountains in the middle of Mfangano Island. On July 23, 2021, the school’s headteacher (and a former student at the school!) alerted us to the need for clean water at his school. In his words, “Our school is on the island uphill many kilometers from Lake Victoria. The school is in dire need of a water tank to enable collection of rainwater, as now the children are forced to get water from the river which is not clean. They carry heavy buckets up steep slopes on often wet and muddy paths. Children complain often of stomach problems thereby missing lessons.”
The proposed project was to install gutters on the roof of the school that could collect rainwater and store it in a large tank which then filters the water before it is used for drinking. I asked for an estimate of cost which I received via WhatsApp in one day! In addition, the community would provide the sand/ cement and labor needed for the slab. Total cost was estimated at $1000. I set up a GoFundMe on Facebook and 5 days later I sent the first $500, with the remaining $500 sent on August 1.
The biggest challenge was getting the large tank onto the ferry that crosses to the mainland once a day. I am sorry I did not receive a photo of that but the tank was delivered on August 5, less than 2 weeks after the original request! One month later, September 2, I received the photos of the newly installed tank and a video of the school kids thanking all the donors. Five weeks from start to finish, our fastest project ever!
August 25, 2021: Tank arrives by ferry. Courtesy photo
September 2, 2021: Gutters collect water from roof of school. Courtesy photo
September 2, 2021: Kids from Nyahera Primary School say ‘ASANTE SANA’ (thank you). Courtesy photo
The total cost of the Water Tank Project $1000 which was quickly raised through a Facebook GoFundMe.
SEPTEMBER 2021-ONGOING: SUPPORT FOR COLLEGE EDUCATION OF THREE YOUNG MEN
The three young men pictured below were all serious, hard-working students at Kakrigu Primary School but all came from challenging backgrounds and lives of extreme hardship. The headteacher took them under his wing and helped them successfully finish grade 8, finding sponsors for school fees along the way. He then found high schools that would accept them with reduced fees based on their academic records.
These are ambitious young men and each one faced numerous challenges in life, but eventually each graduated high school with excellent grades and were accepted at well-respected universities. Yet each one was destined to be turned away on day one of college classes with no tuition money available. I helped them financially through year one but would love to find a sponsor for each who could commit to providing tuition and boarding costs for their remaining years of college. I have letters of introduction from each young man and each one has a touching life story. They have access to email and a good command of English. They often return to their former primary school to help out because of the support received from their headteacher (who considers them like sons). In his words, “These boys are disciplined, unique characters. I picked them out in primary school and molded them. They highly respect people. They all really starved in childhood and understand what life can be like. I promise they will surprise you! I love them and now can only pray for their success.”
He so wants these young men to get a chance at a better life! These are kids who will give back to their community once they graduate, I am quite sure! Contact me if you might be interested in helping sponsor one of these young men’s college education. It costs less than you might think!! (And I am always on the look-out for young women who need help with education…but none available right now.)
Dancan Ochieng Kinyara, Pwani University – Education, Geography and Business. Courtesy photo Charles Odhiambo
Samuel Titus, Chuka University – Engineering and Physics. Courtesy photo
Charles Odhiambo, Multimedia University of Kenya – Analytical Chemistry. Courtesy photo
NOVEMBER 2021: STOVES FOR MOMS
In early November the school’s headteacher contacted me about two mothers of school students who were having an extremely hard time feeding their families. They were trying to cook over a fire on the side of the road and sell fried potatoes or a few cooked vegetables at a make-shift stand. Their numerous children, and additional orphans they had taken in, were hungry and lacked school fees. Firewood, charcoal, and dung are traditionally used for cooking and often costly and hard to come by. Many families have lung issues due to breathing smoke. The ambitious women were looking for a way to start a small business so they could feed and educate their children. After some research I found a small, almost smokeless stove that uses very little wood, and was actually designed in Kenya. In addition, it was just starting to be made, marketed, and sold in the area. Two stoves were purchased and now these two widowed women have an easier, healthier way to make a small income.
Stall for selling cooked vegetables. Courtesy photo
Pan over wood fire on metal grate. Courtesy photo
A mother shows off her new stove. Courtesy photo
A delighted mom with her new stove. Courtesy photo
The total cost of the Stoves for Moms Project was $100. Funds were provided by anonymous donor.
MARCH-JUNE 2022: MAUTA PRIMARY SCHOOL PRESCHOOL BUILDING
Two years ago, when I visited Mauta Primary School, 3-5 year old preschool students were being taught under a tree. Then COVID hit and students had no schooling at all. They patiently waited for 2 years for the chance to learn in classrooms. Their story is similar to the one for Kakrigu Preschool. The headteacher saw the building we built for Kakrigu (both schools are on the same island) in June of 2020 and wanted the same for his students. The educator was worried as the cost of building materials has risen in Kenya, just like everywhere else! But I couldn’t say no!
Children sit on the floor prior to the arrival of four tables and 60 chairs. Courtesy photo
June 13, 2022: More than 60 Mauta Preschoolers in Early Child Development classes sit on the floor of their new classroom. Courtesy photo
June 20, 2022: Students enjoy new tables and chairs in their classroom. Courtesy photo
June 21, 2022: More new tables and chairs. Courtesy photo
The total cost of the Mauta Preschool Project was $2,662 which was raised recently on GoFundMe.
APRIL-MAY 2022: NYAHERA NEIGHBORHOOD WATER TANK PROJECT
The school got a water tank (see earlier post) but it only holds enough water for the students, so we took on an additional water tank installation for the neighboring community. The headteacher’s elderly mother was hauling water daily from the lake, and I could relate to the daily pain she must feel – and my pain is mainly from hauling books, which is not necessary to keep me alive. Needless to say, another water tank was installed for use by the school’s neighboring homes.
May 8, 2022: Headteacher’s mother (top photo) and her granddaughter (here) with the water tank installed on Mother’s Day. The teacher said he had never seen his mum so happy. She made a video of profuse thanks in her native language. Courtesy photo
Total cost of Nyahera Neighborhood Water Tank Project was $1,095, which was privately funded.
Thank you so much, my dear friends, for taking the time to read and celebrate with me. This is what I do with much of my time now and I do not want thanks or accolades or recognition, but it just makes me feel good knowing that even small things can make a big difference.
I do plan to get back to Kenya to see all these projects in action, maybe next year sometime, so if anyone might be interested in going along just let me know. It is very rural and transportation is difficult but it is so rewarding.
Should you be interested in making a donation toward any of the listed projects or desire any more information, please contact me. And there are many ways to do that.
Sharon Allen, 926 Tewa Loop, Los Alamos, NM 87544
Phone: (505) 795-1570
Venmo: Sharon Allen@Sharon-Allen-86