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"I knew that the clinics are in bad shape and that needles are reused," she said. "I kept begging the Americans with me to keep me out of the clinics. I made do with butterfly bandages and ice."

And, despite the fact that she was there to help, she was still an outsider. Once the initial fascination with her light hair and white skin–something most had never seen before–wore off, Stevenson was an easy target. At one point, two robbers went after her, but her host librarian kept them away. At dark, she was instructed to stay locked in the cabin, and she was not permitted to travel anywhere alone.

"It was a very isolated existence for four weeks," she said. "But, I would do it again. The people were very gracious and generous to the point of giving whatever little they had to me because I was an honored guest."

She recalled times when visiting families, and despite having so little, they always found something to give her."

I visited with the patriarch of one family of 10 children, including two toddler grandchildren, where the two babies were chewing on plastic, like grocery store bags," she said. "Through my host librarian, I learned that that was all they had to eat, yet when I was leaving, they gathered up four green tomatoes to send with me. That was a meal to the entire family, but they wanted me to have something to show their gratitude."

--> Funded by Muhlenberg, the Pennsylvania Library Association and private sponsors, Stevenson also is grateful for the experience and hopes to have left a lasting impression upon the community.

"The goal of WLP is to make the libraries we visit sustainable and culturally appropriate," she said. "As wonderful as donations are, sometimes they just aren't relevant to the people who receive them. I found a book on farming, which might be suitable depending on the kind of farming. Next to it was a book on fishing, which serves no purpose in this particular, land-locked community."

To help in this effort, the WLP Book Certificate Program provides libraries in developing countries with the opportunity to purchase new materials, including those written in the native language or by local authors appropriate for local audiences.

"In addition to all of the obstacles the library faces in attracting members who have such financial limitations and health concerns, when you have a library filled with donated books written by authors from other countries or in languages other than English on topics irrelevant to their daily life, people won't feel connected to the library and won't pay their hard-earned money to join," Stevenson said.

Hite, who recently returned from ITW's second expedition, this time to South Africa, said the Book Certificate Program allows librarians to choose their own materials based on their individual needs while supporting the indigenous booksellers and publishers.

"I remember Laura Wendell relaying a story from her experience in Togo, West Africa, when she brought in books in the native Ewe language, and an illiterate man came in, just to see the book because he thought only white men wrote books," Hite said. "By purchasing locally produced materials, we're supporting the local economy and better educating the communities."

According to Hite, the Book Certificate Program allowed WLP to purchase an average of 186 books for about $555 U.S. in each of nine South African sites.

"In South Africa, as in Zimbabwe, our volunteers have passed on restoration and fund-raising tips along with locally purchased supplies, so the libraries become self-sufficient," Hite said. "We are already working on raising money to send our Zimbabwean host librarians to the August 2001 Zimbabwe International Book Fair through the Book Certificate Program."

According to Stevenson, the most-read items in the Nkayi library were materials in the Ndebele language, then regular English-language novels and children's books.

"I came back with a much deeper appreciation of how fortunate we are in the United States, not just in material wealth, but to be part of a culture that values books and libraries," Stevenson said. "We take for granted the availability of a multitude of resources, accessible to everyone in this country. Imagine having few resources, most of them outdated, and limited contact with them.

"My hope is to maintain contact with my friends in Zimbabwe and continue to support their efforts to increase the community's perception of the library's value. After all, it doesn't matter what it looks like; it only matters that it functions to educate, entertain and enlighten its members well."

If you would like to contribute to the World Library Partnership and/or the Book Certificate Program, please use the donation form on the web site: www.rtpnet.org/~wlp.

In addition, Martha Stevenson will be collecting and shipping supplies after the holidays. If you would like to donate any items or help to defray the cost of shipping, please drop off or mail your contributions by Feb. 1 to Stevenson's attention at the Trexler Library,
2400 Chew Street,
Allentown, Pa. 18104.

  • novels

  • children's books (picture books as well as stories)

  • dictionaries

  • almanacs

  • current maps

  • reward stickers ("Good job," etc.) and temporary tattoos

  • crayons

  • T-shirts and bandanas or other small items to raffle off as fund raisers
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