When a little-known boy, William Kamkwamba, set up a wind turbine using bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and other materials collected from a local scrapyard in 2002, he instantly soared to stardom.
His small village, some 32 kilometres east of Kasungu Town, also became the centre of attention as it sparkled with clean light, a rare commodity in a country which only manages to supply electricity to a little over 10 percent of its population.
But behind Kamkwamba’s curiosity lied a small community library that had stocked books which aided the then-14-year-old old to meet his dream halfway.
“It was books from a community library that helped Kamkwamba build the turbine. That is how important a book can be even if it is not in a formal school library,” says president of Early Childhood Development Learners Association of Malawi, Henry Kumwenda.
The library, which was located at Kamkwamba’s former primary school— where he had dropped out of because his poor family could not afford to keep him in school— also became a symbol of optimism.
It had helped the young avant-gardist’s home obviate the need for toxic paraffin from where hazy, unstable and expensive light came during nighttime.
And Kumwenda passionately believes that everyone should have access to at least one book from where they can learn something new.
“Schools need books so do communities, in general. A school without books is a dead school; a community with a library is a step ahead,” Kumwenda says.
He is particularly passionate about making books obtainable to children in preschools as they prepare for their formal education.
So, when a batch of books, some of which will go to early childhood development centres, arrived at Development Aid from People to People (Dapp) Warehouse in Blantyre on Tuesday, Kumwenda began to envision a situation where the children would be ideally equipped for primary school.
His association has slightly over 150 schools out of which 35 presented their applications to be considered for the support from donors in the United States of America, through Dapp which works with African Library Project (ALP).
“Ten schools under our association have benefited from this first consignment. This is a very big gift because there are many other schools that are also getting their share.
“We expect that those that have not benefitted this time will do so in the future. Otherwise, our drive to improve early childhood development education has been significantly enhanced,” Kumwenda says.
For the sustainability of the latest support, he declares, all schools getting it are supposed to have properly secured libraries with officers strategically placed to man them.
And beyond the preschools, where teaching and learning is very basic, advanced schools have no freedom to blemish the aid.
“A book can be used for generations if it is properly taken care of. The essence of libraries is that they should be open to people for more years to come,” Kumwenda states.
Probably, even the 8th grade American textbook Using Energy, which Kamkwamba rented from the community library to build his dream, had changed several hands before.
Essentially, that is the spirit for the existence of ALP—that gently-used books must reach several African schools and villages for their libraries—according to the project’s Malawi Coordinator, Patrick Jafali.
He is hopeful that the latest load of over 66,000 books from the US, going to 64 libraries across the country, will considerably advance the reading culture in Malawi.
“Since 2008, 11 containers of books have been distributed to libraries and schools. Our aim is that everyone should have access to books even outside the formal school system,” Jafali says.
Tuesday’s support, Jafali adds, came after schools and community libraries had applied for the books through Dapp which leads a group of ALP partners—others being Malawi Institute of Education, Chancellor College and Wungwero Book Foundation.
Perhaps, as they skim through the books, one or two of those accessing them will come up with some unique innovation for their communities like Kamkwamba did.
“There is great need for reading materials in communities and primary and secondary schools. The government alone cannot meet the demand. So we engaged our partners in the US who responded positively to our request,” Jafali says.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje