I don’t think that there is an adequate word to describe just how busy the library has been since opening its doors to Garden’s children. The first day saw almost 600 visitors! In actuality, though, it may have been even more because by the end of the day the sign-in sheet was completely full. Aside from the first week’s extraordinary numbers, it was difficult to say how exactly the library was received. The library was a novelty, a place the children from the community and the street had probably never dreamed or conceived. Children would come in and take books off the shelves at random, leaving them scattered. Some would run in and then immediately run out, grab a friend, and come back in. With 600 children in the library, it was difficult to determine who was actually reading and taking his/her time looking at books. It was a new experience for me as well. I’m so used to being at Fountain of Hope where there is always a manageable number of children in the library and having been open for three years children know what the library is about.
The library as a novelty, however, began to wear off. While we’re still averaging around two hundred visits per day, it is encouraging to see regulars. There is Mumbi (my personal favorite), an eight year old boy who comes in every day and asks “Miss Jennifer” to read with him. Sharon is a young girl I frequently see sitting in the talking circle with a number book in her lap counting on her fingers. There’s a group of teenage boys who always go straight for the art books, looking at pictures of naked statues (boys really are the same everywhere). Several high school age kids stake out a place on a bench and sit there for hours doing homework. There is even one woman named Sarah, perhaps in her sixties, who is part of the adult-education class at the school. She diligently comes to the library and reads one or two books out loud. If there is no one to read to, she reads out loud to herself. The majority of the children using the library so far attend Ngwerere school or the nearby high school. But there is also an increasing number of children from the community who easily mix with the school children. There is a particular young girl who comes in to read with a sleeping baby on her back. The diversity among the library patrons is great to see and proves that it is not only a resource for the school, but for the community as well.
Having spent almost all of my time in Zambia at the Fountain of Hope library, building relationships with the amazing children there, it felt a bit strange coming into a new library. But seeing this library first open has offered me a glimpse into just how novel and important a Lubuto library is to the community. It provides so much more than just books and resources, it is a safe space for children to be themselves and offers them the chance to find new ways to express themselves, whether that’s through dance, or drama, or reading and writing. As my time in Zambia draws to a close, I am sad that I won’t really be able to get know the children in Garden, but I am optimistic that this new library will be as beloved by its children as the first.