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BOOKS FOR SWAZILAND! :: An exciting request.
A PITCH THAT I SPENT MUCH TOO LONG WRITING.
(Cross-posted to: my LiveJournal and related communities, my Facebook profile and related pages, HPK-Mayhem, Bowers House, Moomers Readings, lots of my friends. Please forward!)



Hi everyone!

My name is Lydia and I am currently volunteering in Swaziland with the U.S. Peace Corps. For several years previous to my departure, I worked in the wonderful bookstore O'Gara & Wilson -- Chicago's oldest bookstore, in fact! (It has a beautiful new website that you can access by clicking here). I am also a nigh-rabid writer, and generally spend much more time reading than out in the healthy fresh air like a normal human.

Recently, my friend and fellow volunteer Jason collaborated with an organization called Books For Africa to create Books For Swaziland, a project designed to establish new libraries or enhance existing school library facilities in rural Swazi communities. He then recruited a bunch of us other volunteers to help distribute the books around our communities. If this sounds awesome to you, please donate money to help ship the books by clicking here.

But perhaps you have doubts! Read on, my friend. I will settle all your doubts and solve all your problems.


Your Doubts!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking:

1) "Wow, it is awfully culturally imperialistic for America to be shoving our books down Swaziland's throat. I am disappointed in Lydia, as I thought she was a more culturally sensitive human than this!"

2) "Book donations are very rarely of good quality or useful subject matter. Doesn't Lydia know that it will not be awesome for Swazis to receive thousands of obscure literary criticism tomes and 1995 computer manuals?"

3) "I feel zero confidence that these books will be properly accessible to the Swazi populace and/or taken care of. For example, how is Lydia ensuring that the books for at her site are not sold, or perhaps destroyed through neglect?"

I completely understand! But rest assured that I would not participate in a project that did not address said doubts. Allow me to explain!


Solving All Your Problems!

1) "Wow, it is awfully culturally imperialistic for America to be shoving our books down Swaziland's throat. I am disappointed in Lydia, as I thought she was a more culturally sensitive human than this!"

While my cultural sensitivity may not be an enormous thing, I like to think that I am relatively perceptive, and I have been living in Swaziland for almost six months now. Swaziland was colonized by the British and attained independence in the middle of last century. SiSwati is the tongue spoken by almost all citizens, but English is rife: it is the official government language, and is for example used at all government meetings. Newspapers are in English, all the books in my local library are in English, and when asking for siSwati books at various Swazi libraries, I've been informed that there aren't any. Most Swazis speak at least some English, and schoolchildren learn all their lessons in English -- in fact, kids are punished for speaking siSwati in school.

You may have mixed feelings about how prevalent English already is in Swaziland -- I certainly do -- but the fact remains that it is everywhere, and the books available are already almost entirely in English. So by donating to this project you will be allowing Swaziland to access more and better-quality reading material of the type that it already uses, rather than forcing American reading standards upon uninterested and unappreciative Swazis.

Also, this project has been designed such that the collaborating Peace Corps Volunteers and our community partners are fundraising a considerable chunk of the budget (45%). So you may be sure that the communities receiving the books are interested, because they're putting in money!

Are you comforted? Donate!

2) "Book donations are very rarely of good quality or useful subject matter. Doesn't Lydia know that it will not be awesome for Swazis to receive thousands of obscure literary criticism tomes and 1995 computer manuals? What about the mildew and water stains?"

As a former employee of O'Gara & Wilson (did I mention that the store has a gorgeous new website?), rest assured that I am incredibly familiar with the frequently-terrible quality of book donations. Because I am so familiar, I grilled Jason when he recruited me. "Jason! Are you encouraging me to raise 1500 emalingeni just so my library will receive a thousand odd volumes from the 1962 Encyclopedia Britannica?"

Jason has informed me that he carefully checked into this matter before putting together the project. Some of the books are new and donated by the presses who printed them. Others are gathered from donation drives and carefully sorted. But if you don't believe these secondhand assurances about Books For Africa, you can check out their website directly, where an assortment of testimonials may be gathered from countries that already received books.

Also, I am pretty sure that it will be easy for these books donations to be better-quality than the books already available. Some of these books are going to places where there are none; some (such as those for my community) are being sent to existing libraries. And let me give you some random samples of books I found while wandering through my library:
# AIDS: Your Questions Answered. Copyright 1987.
# A book that had been thoroughly investigated by termites.
# Six odd volumes from the 1980s science fiction Gor series by John Norman, none of which were the first in the series.

Are you comforted? Donate!

3) "I feel zero confidence that these books will be properly accessible to the Swazi populace and/or taken care of. For example, how is Lydia ensuring that the books for at her site are not sold, or perhaps destroyed through neglect?"

Each Peace Corps Volunteer involved in Books For Swaziland has personally vetted the area where the books will be stored. In some cases, these are clean, dry rooms in schools; in others (such as my own) the facility is in fact already a library, with some books (and even a librarian) already.

Also, the volunteers involved in the project will be given a two-day workshop on setting up a good space for books and taking care of them properly, after which we will return to our communities and teach those skills to anyone who will listen. Although book preservation was never my O'Gara and Wilson specialty (check out their exciting new website), I feel confident that I can ensure at least some value at this workshop, even if it does manage to be terrible, which I'm pretty sure it won't.

Are you comforted? Donate!


That Is All!

Thank you for reading! Even if you are not concerned about the bookless Swazis, I hope you will think about donating in consideration of the mild entertainment that you have gained from this message, being as you made it all the way down to this paragraph.

You can do it right here!



Take care, all of you. I hope all is well in America.
Lydia



P.S. Guess what? The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps!

Comments

basseykay
Dec. 14th, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
Awesome!
dragonladyflame
Dec. 17th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
Thanks! See, I can keep the faith even here. If you know any librarians let them know.
basseykay
Dec. 17th, 2009 12:14 pm (UTC)
I'll see what I can do!

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