Last Friday the director of the youth center, the library club, the new Peace Corps volunteer at my site, Liz, and I held the grand opening of the new library at the youth center! The library is one of the projects that I am most proud of. As the Peace Corps librarian M’hamed said, “a library is one of the greatest resources you can give to your community.” It has taken over a year to secure Arabic, French, and English book donations and catalogue them.
The library project started when I arrived in my town in April 2015 and I noticed some packages of scholastic English children’s books in cabinets in the youth center. The director of the youth center, Anaas, said the first Peace Corps volunteer, Maroof (who served in 2005-07), had brought them here. That summer I gathered some teenage girls together and organized the few Arabic, French, and English books into fiction and non-fiction books and categories. I love how many languages Moroccans know!
That summer a Peace Corps volunteer in my region, Kelsey, received a huge grant from Books for Africa, an incredible American non-profit whose mission is “to end the book famine in Africa.” I asked her if she had any books left over and in October she delivered 400 French books to our youth center! We were so happy to expand our collection. Among the books she sent, there are many children’s and chapter books, and even some graphic novels. I recognized Harry Potter. There are also many French language textbooks and I thought about starting to learn French with them!
No one in the community seemed interested in working in the library until April 2016 when some university students started a book club at the youth center. I was thrilled! We met and decided to start by making a shelf list and cataloguing the books with numbers and letters but then the book club and other volunteers helping us got busy with university exams in June and Ramadan (holiest month of the year for Muslims, where they fast from sun up to sun down) started. We also received 50 English book donations, mostly chapter books with older titles, from the Peace Corps library and the American school of Rabat.
In July, Simohamed, the secretary of the book club, and I attended the Peace Corps library workshop in Agadir, which motivated us to keep working hard to catalogue the books and hold the library opening. See this blog post on the workshop. Through the Peace Corps, we would receive 200 Arabic books from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to start our library.
This September we decided that cataloguing the books with colors would work better than using numbers and letters. We received the USAID Arabic books in October and it took until December to finish cataloging them. Cataloguing is quite tedious! In the Arabic collection, there are many children’s and chapter books, and a couple science books, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. I recognized Pinocchio, Snow White, and other fairytales in the children’s books and Khalil Gibran among the chapter books.
We also had leftover funds from the Peace Corps partnership grant to increase the capacity of clubs and decided to use them to purchase paint to paint a room in the youth center to be a library and wood to make extra shelves. We also had a poster for the library designed as well as labels for the Arabic, French, and English book sections. See the last update on the grant. Community members, Simohamed, a carpenter, Radouane, a professional painter, and Mustapha, a graphic designer, all graciously donated the labor!
I was astonished by how each step of the way the room started to look more and more like a library but most of all once we placed the poster and labels on the walls and shelves and made book displays. I told Liz I could not believe it! We had transformed the room into a library! It looks beautiful!
At the opening, we gave a big thanks to Books for Africa, USAID, the Peace Corps library, and the American school of Rabat for the book donations and the book club and other volunteers for cataloguing the books. Local authorities and community members came out despite the rain and cold to see the library and drink some warm mint tea and eat cookies provided by the municipality. They were all impressed and thanked us for our efforts. We also exchanged many great ideas for programming. The Pasha, or the equivalent of the Sheriff of the town, stressed the importance of reading from a young age to develop a love of reading and build literacy. He recommended we create library cards and allow books to be borrowed. The director of the elementary school asked if teachers could organize field trips to the youth center library since they do not have a library in their school and there are many children’s books in our collection that they can benefit from. The director of the youth center added that we could organize reading activities in the farming villages nearby for a day. I said Inshallah (God Willing) we can all work to establishing a public library with the support of the municipality.
Now the hardest work begins! This week the director of the youth center and book club are meeting to make an action plan for the next year. I’m curious to see what fun activities and programs they will organize to bring kids and youth to the youth center library. I will continue to mentor and coach them in my last couple of months of service by encouraging them to carry out their ideas, working through organizing activities and events — like advertising and logistics — and exchanging ideas for library activities and events. I hope that Liz will do so too during her service.