Almost four years after BCC staff, students, sponsored children, and I conceived of the idea for a library, I sat under the mango tree in front of the newly constructed library building as we celebrated its opening!!
Before the day of the opening actually arrived, we received a shipment of 15 boxes of books from Temple B'nai Shalom in Fairfax, Virginia! Thanks to the astute matchmaking skills of Rabbi Amy Perlin, I had the honor of working with Leslie Viente and Donna Breskin on collecting, organizing, and shipping 15 boxes of books to Uganda. When I decided to travel to Uganda this summer, the women worked diligently to ensure that the shipment would arrive during my brief ten day stay in Uganda - not an easy task when you are dealing with shipments to East Africa. But, somehow, despite the odds, the boxes all arrived safely to the Serena hotel in Kampala. We then packed the boxes in my friend Jen Pulskamp's car and transported them to the bus park, where we had to struggle with various bus company employees to load them onto the Elgon Flyer to Mbale. Anyway, once the books finally arrived in Uganda, I had the privilege of spending a few days working with BCC staff, Edden, and his friend Adi to unpack and create a system for organizing the books. In addition to the books from the US, we picked up 50 local textbooks from town and included in the collection many other books that have been donated from Australia over the years. Even before the books were fully organized, Doctor “Docta” Levert and two teachers found their way into the library and began using the resources! It was very exciting to have the chance to witness them already being used and to get a sense of how they would be used in the future.
On July 24, 2009 over two-hundred students, teachers, staff, and board members gathered to commemorate this exciting moment. After the opening prayer, a few staff led the community in two national anthems - the Ugandan and the American!
Only a few hours before the ceremony, Edden and I sat in the library with five BCC staff to teach them the American anthem. Both a bit tone deaf, this was a somewhat unfruitful task as we worried that we were teaching them the wrong notes. But after a few rounds of a somewhat off-key rendition, Linus Hire, the BCC administrator, entered the room, took out his cell phone, and played the music for the Star Spangled Banner!! The staff then learned the proper music and sang it beautifully (with Ugandan English pronunciation) at the beginning of the ceremony. Also, when one of the staff asked about the history of the song, Edden pulled the World Book off the shelf and summarized the entry - we were in the library after all (ok, he knew most of the history without the book). But it was incredible, time after time, to see people making use of the library resources even before its official opening.
After the anthems, we heard speeches from master of ceremonies and child-care department (CCD) coordinator, Dan Wambi; board members, Michael Wangwe and Janet Mulatti; director, Anne Wandendeya; and me. We recounted the history of the dream for a library, the effort that has been put in by so many different people from all over the world(!), and the goal for the institution. A few people mentioned the famous Ugandan saying, “If you want to hide something from an African, place it in a book” repeatedly with the hopes of inspiring the community to prove this adage untrue by uncovering the many hidden worlds inside of the library. The children's choir sang songs and recited poems about their school and its values. Then, P7 student, Lunyolo Winnie stood before the whole community, thanked everyone who had contributed to the construction of the facility, and expressed her gratitude for the resources now available to all of the students. The whole community then prayed for the success of the library. As all of this was taking place, members of the Mbale School's Band, a brass band led by an exceptionally talented British ex-pat, Phil Monk, arrived. After the prayer, they began to play some music as I walked toward the library with the BCC staff. Mary, the Joshua Primary School secretary, handed me a scissor with twisted purple ribbon tied to the handles and the keys to the building. I cut the ribbon wrapped around the front of the building and then unlocked the doors to the facility as teachers, students, and other community members followed me into the library! Everyone spent a few minutes looking through the growing collection of books, including local textbooks, medical resources, novels, encyclopedias, and more!
We then returned to the front of the building, where we cut the cake as Mary burst open a bottle of Sprite and everyone clapped. The band continued to play as we celebrated the opening of the library. The children were very, very excited by the band and the opportunity to watch a live musical performance. Some of the youngest children were mesmerized by Phil as he conducted the band. As two of them meticulously imitated his every move, he encouraged them to move forward to stand in front of the band so that they felt and it looked like they were leading. In addition to creating this brass band, Phil Monk is in the process of bringing music to many children in different schools in eastern Uganda. BCC hopes to have the opportunity to partner with him so that BCC's children have the privilege of learning to read music and play instruments.
During the ceremony, all of the speakers repeatedly thanked everyone who helped make this dream a reality! So, I am passing the message on to you - Thank you!! I look forward to continue to update you on the progress of the project as we continue to expand now that the library is up and running.
May this year be one of generosity, learning, sharing, and community.