The Bookfeeding Project offers more than books to disadvantaged communities around the world

“The Bookfeeding Project is a volunteer-run organization trying to help communities around the world have a library that would serve as an educational center or community center, where people can meet and learn new skills and have access to information and books and knowledge as such. We don’t choose where we will build a library but wait for a call from the given community. They apply by contacting us via our website or email address and thus we establish long-term cooperation with communities around the world and build libraries according to their needs.

You co-founded this project. How long ago?

“The first library was built in 2010 and in 2011 we registered the charity in Scotland and last year, because of Brexit, we also registered it in Germany.”

You have 20 libraries in 12 different states and you are overwhelmed with requests for more – I understand locals have responded enthusiastically?

Workshop Chiparamba Zambia |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

“Indeed, we try not to have one style of library for everyone, but to really work with the community to build a library adapted to their needs. So, if the community is focused on educating young children, we try to prepare the type of books and workshops that will help them achieve this goal. We have communities where we work with sports associations – footballers, baseball players, we have workshops that teach people skills to help them start their own business – be it beekeeping or sun drying fruit . We really try to meet the needs of individual communities and so each library has different workshops and a different focus.

When working closely with locals, do you have a problem with language barriers or cultural differences?

“Of course there are cultural differences and regarding the language barrier, we are an international group of volunteers and in the countries where we are active, mainly in Africa, they speak more languages ​​than we do here in Czech Republic or Europe. Due to their colonial past, people in these countries speak English or French and some of them speak Spanish and Portuguese. We mainly focus on English and French speaking countries and there is never problem finding someone – we call them community leaders – who speaks the language well These are usually the people who apply for the library, gather information from the local community and tell us what the community needs . »

Zambia Kanyama Library is open |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

In which states are you currently active? Where do you have libraries and are the projects in them very different?

“We have libraries in Sierra Leone, in Ghana, we are launching one in Burkina Faso, two libraries in Senegal and then it is mainly East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and in Africa in the south are Zimbabwe and Zambia. In some countries we have two or three libraries and try to establish a local partnership between them, so that they exchange books and ideas and even with countries where there is only one library, we have a kind of group where all libraries can share ideas across borders. As for the workshops, we have workshops for small children, reading lessons, etc., and in Zambia we have a workshop for students where we teach them to produce their own newspaper, they learn graphic design and to write well, we have workshops for young girls and women in general, for example we have workshops on producing reusable sanitary napkins that women can start making as a business, there are workshops on extending the shelf life of food, for example using a sun-dried mango and tomato dryer.”

You lead a very multicultural team. How did they come together?

Workshop Chiparamba Zambia |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

“It took a few years. I studied in Scotland and South Africa and there are a lot of enthusiastic people who want to do things like that. Whenever I talked a lot about the Bookfeeding project, people jumped on the bandwagon and stayed with us, so people from different parts of the world joined the initiative, some stayed longer, some less long time. We send volunteers to our libraries and some people respond right after finding out about us and say they want to volunteer for a few months or a few weeks. We have volunteers from all over the world and that’s what binds us together: a passion for volunteering and helping communities around the world.

So are you taking volunteers? If someone is interested, all they have to do is contact you?

“Indeed, we still have a lot of potential for growth and there are many more communities interested in opening libraries and cooperating with us, we have more demands than we can satisfy at present, so s If anyone is interested, we are always ready to take on new volunteers who can help with fundraising, administrative work or go to these libraries and implement some of these workshops.

Workshop Chiparamba Zambia |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

Why did you choose Africa? You said you studied there and fell in love with Africa, what captivated you?

“You know, we always talk about Africa as one space, but we divide Europe into fifty different countries and for me, Africa is exactly that – more than 50 different countries with different cultures different, there is a great diversity in terms of language, food, culture and for me it is an unexplored region. The people are very hardworking and very welcoming and hospitable. I studied for a year in Asia, I researched in South America, but somehow Africa – with its people and culture – captured my heart.I wanted to study development management but I didn’t want the study from a Western perspective here in Europe, which is why I chose to study it in South Africa.

How has your stay in Africa changed you? What have you brought into your own life from African traditions and culture?

Children love to read, Uganda |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

“I think the biggest change is that I realized how privileged I was. Not just that if there’s a problem when I travel, I can go to the Czech embassy or the embassy of any other EU member state and get help and go home but the privilege of my past in Africa I saw how hard these people work to improve and what I do now is a way to pay something back, if I can put it that way. I’m happier with what I have now and I try not to complain about everything – I think I’ve become more humble.

Is there a moment that sticks in your memory – a moment that made you feel worth it?

“Our first library was created in Madagascar, it was even before we were registered. I was traveling there and a lady asked me to bring some books and then I asked my friends in Scotland if they would help me collect some books and within weeks I had 300 kilograms of books in my room – I couldn’t move! And when we opened a library in Madagascar, the locals were so enthusiastic and the kids kept coming. And then three years later, one of the girls who used to go to the library when I was there, she was about fifteen at the time, wrote me an email and said – I’m in Belgium to study to become a teacher, I got a scholarship because I learned French. The volunteers we sent there helped her make the right connections and apply for a scholarship. So for me, it was so good to learn that from this remote village in a community where most people can’t even read, this girl had managed to go and study in Belgium – also thanks to the library and the volunteers there -low. She plans to return to not only work with the library, but also teach children in the local community. For me, it was one of the most gratifying times to see that we can make an impact. »

Does that mean people can also donate books?

Exams are coming, study hard, Zambia |  Photo: Archive of Alena Machálková

“Yes we have a number of collection points all over Europe but at the moment due to increased shipping prices and all it is best if they send the books direct to the one of the libraries. We can tell them what kind of books are needed. But now, also because of the Covid crisis, we prefer people to donate money and we can buy the books from the given place, in the local language, from local authors and thus also supporting the local economy. But if someone has books in English or French, we have collection points – one in Prague, one in Frankfurt, one in Aberdeen and Edinburgh – on our website there is a list of all collection points we have in Europe.

It’s a very impressive network. What are your plans for the future?

“I would like to continue to build libraries but also work more with the communities and the libraries that we already have. We have tons of ideas and plans but the capacity is not there yet as we are all volunteers at the moment so I can only do this in my spare time. Ideally, I would like to work for Bookfeeding full time and perhaps work with communities on even more projects and workshops to create a lasting relationship with those communities and see the impact.

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Berta D. Wells