Summer Service Fund Reports
Report from Nigeria by Kelechi Acholonu '05
Obohia Secondary Technical School Library Project
Two years ago in the summer of 2001, after I graduated from high school, I had the opportunity to visit Nigeria, my country of origin. The visit was quite an eye-opening experience. I saw the poverty of the community and the poor conditions of the school. The village had no public library and the high school had no library. How did students know how to read? How did they do research and homework assignments with no books? What kind of education could they be receiving? These were the questions that ran through my mind during the visit. From that time, I was moved to do something about this problem. I vowed that after I graduated from college, as soon as I had the resources, I would help my village. I would help these students. Low and behold, I did not have to wait until after graduating from Princeton to fulfill this vow. I was able to do it this very summer.
Last December, when I learned about the Martin A. Dale ‘53 Summer Award, I thought, “Wow, what an opportunity, $3000 to do whatever your heart most desired for the summer.” Thoughts of travel and excitement swam through my head, so many possibilities. But then it came to me. I could use this money for something good, for something that I had planned to do. I was not sure if I would win the award, but I thought that I should at least try. I e-mailed my uncle, Dr. Chidimma Anyanwu, and told him of my rough idea to establish a library at Obohia Secondary Technical School in Obohia, Imo State, Nigeria. He then contacted the principal on my behalf asking if he would be interested in such a project. The principal’s response was an exuberant yes. I then began to plan the project. Initially, I had thought of collecting two hundred books starting with my family’s own collection and extending to donations from family, friends and my local township library. With the help of my parents and my uncle, I was able to plan a budget that could really make this library happen. I went for the Dale interview and waited for the outcome. Fortunately, my project was chosen. Immediately from March, after I had found out that my project had won the award, the real work began. Once I heard the news, I contacted my uncle who in turn confirmed the principal that the project would indeed take place. I had a book drive contacting everyone I knew through letters, e-mails, and phone calls. The response was unbelievable! My target of two hundred books had been met in no time and more were coming. I could not refuse such generous offers. Therefore I had no choice but to search for more grants so as to be able to ship the number of books I collected. The class of 1978 and the Class of 1995 agreed to give me further funding through their community service funds to help with shipping costs. I even received some small monetary donations from family and friends. The total amount raised was $5000. To top it off, the computer science department/Friend Center offered to donate a few computers to the library. In total, I collected one thousand two hundred and sixty-six books along with a few computers. It took me from the ending of March until the beginning of May to collect all of these books.
Along with this project was another smaller side project. The Princeton in Africa program put me in contact with a woman named Christine who had a huge supply of donated medical supplies from her work with Operation Smile. My uncle, who is a medical doctor, said he knew of plenty of hospitals in Nigeria that could use the supplies. So, my family went and picked up everything she had stored in her garage. With the medical supplies and books, we were able to fill one large container. They were all shipped to Nigeria by May 5, 2003. Before we shipped the books, my siblings, their friends, and I wrote down by hand the title and author of each book. We then compiled the lists into one typed file in order to make a catalogue for the library. Originally I had intended to use the standard library cataloguing system: author’s last name for fiction and Dewey decimal system for non-fiction-, which was very familiar to me having worked as a student assistant in Gloucester Township Library of Blackwood NJ for two years. However, after discussing it with my uncle I decided to catalogue all the books alphabetically by author or editor’s last name to make cataloguing and maintaining the library as simple as possible. We printed labels from the computer with the authors’ names and titles and placed them on index cards to form a card catalogue. We also placed labels on the books themselves so as to make it easier to put books on the shelf in order. Finally, we alphabetized the cards so that the catalogue would be ready once we arrived in Nigeria. This phase of the project (typing, cataloging and alphabetizing the cards) started the end of May and was finished by mid July. Now, I was all set for the next and final phase, the actual installation of the library.
My mother, sister, and I with excitement left for Nigeria on Friday, July 25, 2003. My plan was to begin placing books on the shelves on Monday July 28th with the help of student volunteers. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The container we had shipped the books in had not arrived yet. The Nigerian labor union had a strike earlier in the summer, so there was a lot of congestion at the ports. The container could not be unloaded until the next week. Meanwhile, I hired a carpenter to build the shelves since it would have cost the same amount had I done it with volunteers. A total of seven large shelves were built. There were two empty classrooms designated for the library. The shelves were built in one room while the other room was filled with desks and chairs so it could be a reading room. Also, I met with the principal, Chief V.C. Oleru and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) chairman, Mr. Eddy Okoroji to plan the inauguration ceremony for the library. The next week, my mother, my uncle Emeka Anyanwu, and I went to Port Harcourt to pick up the container of books.
Fortunately for us, they had arrived. That Monday, the student volunteers, my sister and I began to place the books on the shelves. I showed the present librarian and the student volunteers how to catalogue and arrange the books. We placed them in alphabetical order according to author’s last name just as was done with the card catalogue. We also divided the library into a fiction, non-fiction, and reference section. It took us the entire four weeks to put the library together. I gave a few computer lessons demonstrations with my laptop just to give the students a general idea of how a computer worked. None of them had ever seen a computer before and were amazed that the library was now equipped with computers.
We finished the library just in time for the inauguration ceremony. The ceremony had an excellent turn out from very important personnel to the entire community of Obohia, Imo State Nigeria. It began with prayer and mass celebration at St. Peter’s church of Amiyi Obohia. Afterwards we had a procession to the school hall. Present at the ceremony were the principal of Obohia Secondary Technical School, Chief V.C. Oleru, the PTA chairman, Mr. Eddy Okoroji, the chairman of Ahiazu local government, Chief Jerry Ogoko, and the executive secretary of the state school management Board - Owerri, Mr. U.D. Edomobi . I made a short speech and presented the official card catalogue to the principal. Afterwards all the above-mentioned important personnel presented their speeches and remarks of appreciation. The executive secretary promised to send a full time trained computer teacher to the school to teach the students how to type and use the computers and another full-time trained librarian to help maintain the library. He also promised the school a stand by electric generator so that the school would always have electrical power to run the computers since the electricity supplied by the government is very unstable. The students sang songs of their appreciation and four traditional dance groups performed in addition to the school band. It was quite an event.
The medical supplies were donated to the hospital in which my uncle works and a few other neighboring hospitals. The supplies were greatly appreciated because there was such a great need for them. He also used some of the medical supplies to provide free medical services to two hundred adults and children inclusive. This one-day service was rendered with his team of six doctors, four nurses, a religious priest, and my sister and myself as recorders. It was quite an experience to see how people who have never had health insurance and could not afford to treat themselves in the hospital struggled to gain access to the free medical services we provided. I really felt for them and wished there was some way they could be provided with the necessary medical care when they needed it. If we had not rendered those services, they would not have had any way to treat their illnesses and diseases. I was happy though that for at least one day, we
were able to help all the people we could with their medical problems.
I left from Port Harcourt on August 27th and arrived here in the States August 28th. The project was very extensive and time consuming, but I was so happy to see how much my small but thoughtful project meant to the students, the principal and the entire community at large. I was making history, raising the standard of education, and truly helping my fellow human being in both education and health care. I could not have imagined such an impact. I feel so blessed and so grateful that I was able to fulfill this goal. There are so many opportunities I have had in life, and now I’ve been able to give back to my home community something that will last for generations. Though the library is completed, the project definitely does not end here. I hope to send some books each year to help the library expand, so that this will be the best educational resource possible for the students and the community. In fact I have about one thousand books sitting in my garage that came in after we shipped the books in May. So, hopefully I can have those in the library by next summer. If you are interested in continuing to provide funding for book shipments, please let me know; any monetary help will be greatly appreciated.
Lastly but certainly not least, I just want to extend my utmost gratitude to Mr. Martin A. Dale ‘53 for the Martin A. Dale ‘53 Summer Award, the Class of 1978, the Class of 1995, Camden County library System, the Princeton University Computer Science Department/Friend Center and all of the many individuals who made book/monetary donations towards this project. It was an awesome experience. Thank you for helping me to make my dream of helping my home community an incredible reality!