In his opening keynote address at SLA, former vice president Al Gore quoted an African proverb: "If you want to go quickly, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together." And Jane Kinney Meyers, winner of the Dow Jones Leadership Award, knows this firsthand. When she took her first steps in helping the street children in Zambia, people followed.
Meyers was the inspiration and founder of the Lubuto Library Project (www.lubuto.org). This project is helping children who have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDs pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa and are now living on the streets. Today, more than 43 million orphans live in the region, and 11 million of them have been orphaned by HIV/AIDs. The word "Lubuto" in the language spoken by the Bemba people of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo means "enlightenment, knowledge, and light." The recognition of her work generated a standing ovation from her SLA peers when she won the leadership award on Sunday, June 3.
For Meyers, the years of planning and organizing this project put her library expertise into high gear. "As a librarian, I looked at these street children and I asked the basic questions: Who is our audience and what do they need?" She started reading to the street children, providing a ray of hope to those children without a family who have fallen through the cracks of educational and service institutions. Several years ago, she established a makeshift library in a shipping container to provide a safe haven for the children to read and to learn. The children came and kept coming. And a community was born.
Construction on the first real library is now nearly completed and will open its doors to the children at the end of June. This will be the first of 100 libraries expected to be built in the region during the next few years. Storytelling, poetry, reading, and singing are just a part of the programs being offered, along with an arts center.
The regional field office, which is a registered non-governmental organization in Zambia, is in Lusaka, Zambia, where "100 percent of the funds that are donated to the Lubuto Library Project go directly to what you see," said Meyers. When she returns to Zambia, the street children will see her and run after her, shouting, "Jane Meyers, Jane Meyers." The kids even remember what book I read to them, she said. When some skeptics questioned how Meyers would get the street kids into the new libraries, Meyers answered simply: "How are we going to keep them out?"
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