By Kellen Kebaara

OROMIA, Ethiopia – On any given evening during the school term you will find the Nedjo Public Library in Oromia, Ethiopia, bursting with users, many times filled to its capacity of 300 and often handling up to 70 other users with no place to sit.

The fact that the library is open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week does not seem to help with the congestion.

Most visitors are regulars such as the teachers from neighboring schools for whom the reference resources and Internet services are a treasured goldmine, or pupils like Said Kadir and Gadiyon Metwos, who find the library an excellent location for studying.

Said is in grade 12 reading natural science. Coming to the library daily has helped him develop good reading habits and improved his grades. It gives him the chance to exchange ideas with his counterparts and prevents time wasting.

“Here, there are no distractions from my family, which is a good thing if you are preparing for exams,” said Said. “And besides, my relationship with my mother is at its best; she knows where I am all the time.”

Gadiyon, who is in grade 10, says physics is his best subject. Coming to the library every day is something he knows he has to do if his dream of becoming a pilot after college is to come true.

“I am learning to focus and to manage my time, and I cannot afford the time to hang out with friends,” said Gadiyon. He also likes the reference books, which are not available at his home.

Said and Gadiyon are fond of the internet services, which they credit for improving their computer skills and changing the way they view the world.

Since 2015 the library has come to acquire a special significance to a new cadre of clients. These are the adult students like Tolessa Nega and Sisay Donis who are enrolled in distance learning and weekend classes with Wollega University. For this group, 613 of whom are in distance learning and 150 in weekend classes, the library is a gateway to a better life. And the 10 miles or more that some of them have to travel to get to the library is worth it.

Nega is a father of four and is in his 40s. He is taking a master’s program in teaching English as a foreign language. To him, the library is giving a service to people who thirst for education.

“If this library was not here, I would not have had that opportunity, and to me that opportunity is worth more than money,” said Nega, who teaches English at Nedjo Preparatory School. “My goal is to provide quality education to my students, and maybe also one day I will proceed to the next university level.”

Sisay Donis is a lecturer focal point at Nedjo Agricultural and Veterinary College. He is working on a postgraduate degree in international relations. Like everyone else at the library he is looking for a better future, and he believes that the library gives the knowledge to make that possible.

“For me, this library has already changed my life; it gave me the courage to imagine that the future could be different,” said Donis.

Donis is very grateful for the help from Books for Africa – a Minnesota based nonprofit – and other supporters, who he says have contributed to empowering people to help themselves. He has some suggestions too.

“Of course, we would wish for more computers and that the books were up to date,” said Donis.

He believes that it would be great to focus on science books and computer resources for teenagers, particularly resources that will help drive girls to science. “We should now think of how we can work to help empower girls and provide them with the books and information that will show them proper role models. This library can transform the life of girls in this town,” said Donis.

This little library has a lot of work to do to satisfy the needs of the 200,000 member community it serves. Its resources are inadequate. It is difficult, for example, to imagine how its 14 computers are shared during the peak periods; how the large weekend classes are accommodated or how it manages without a photocopy machine. A little bit of the crowding problem will be eased when Jarso, Ethiopia, which is 18 miles away, eventually builds its library, but that will make only a small dent in the demands on the Nedjo library.

The community is committed to seeing the library succeed and grow. Their dream is that one day it will be a modern reference facility supported by a digital learning center, which they would like to build on the open lot adjacent to the library. That is quite ambitious given that the level of investment that would be required would be difficult for them to raise. But according to Jote Taddese, the Nedjo library project coordinator and a Books for Africa Board director, “We would be failing these children if we stopped trying and just gave up. And I believe that it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools, skills and knowledge that will empower them to function as global citizens and to be the leaders and innovators they are capable of being. The dreams I have for my three boys are the dreams I have for the Nedjo children.”

Kellen Kebaara, a Books for Africa supporter, visited the Nedjo library recently.

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