The Kitengesa Community Library Project is the brainchild of Mawanda Emmanuel, director of Kitengesa Comprehensive Secondary School, and of Kate Parry, a professor in the Department of English at Hunter
College, City University of New York. Kate has a home near Kitengesa and met Mawanda when doing research
on literacy there.
The project began in April 1999 as a tin box containing 161 books. Most were short paperbacks written in simple English though there were 27 Luganda books as well. Over the following months and years the collection was gradually expanded, reaching 456 items by August 2001. Borrowers were encouraged to take the books home to read aloud or lend to people there.
At the end of 2000 the United Nations One per Cent for Development Fund http://unstaffonepercentfundny.org/Home/Welcome.html donated $2932 for the construction of a library building.
The building was completed by the middle of 2002 and was officially opened on 22nd June, initiating a new phase
of the project. The collection was expanded further, to 783 books, and Daniel Ahimbisibwe joined the team as a second librarian. He subsequently took responsibility for most of the day to day running of the library. People from outside the school were invited to join as members, on payment of a small registration fee, and while students and staff of Kitengesa Comprehensive Secondary School remained the majority, non-school members became steadily more numerous.
In 2004 the library received a further grant from the One Per Cent Fund of $3650 for installing solar panels on the roof of the building,
and an additional solar panel was added in 2005 thanks to the fundraising efforts of Pat Duffy at the United Nations. With electric light powered by the solar panels, the library could be open at night, and the records (which are on a computer database) could be maintained by Dan on the spot. Because of the increased amount of work, a Library Scholarship scheme was introduced in 2004. Students who are selected as scholars have their school fees and/or other educational expenses paid by donors and in return work for up to ten hours a week in the library.
In 2004 the University of British Columbia became involved in the library through the work of Shelley Jones, who spent 2004-5 in Kitengesa doing research on girls’ experience of education. Shelley, in her capacity as a Director of a student exchange program at UBC, arranged for a house to be built near the library for student volunteers and for Dan Ahimbisibwe and his wife to look after them. UBC has been sending volunteers regularly since then [Link: http://www.students.ubc.ca/global/index.cfm]. Shelley also introduced to the library Leigh Fox, who decided to develop a tree planting project in the area (see Development projects). At the same time, Valeda Dent and Lauren Yannotta joined Kate Parry in the Hunter College Kitengesa Community Library Research Project, while Bonny Norton (who is a professor at UBC) initiated research on the use of textbooks in the school. These projects have resulted in a number of academic presentations and publications (see the Research section of this website).
The library entered another new phase in 2008 when, through the UBC connection, it was offered a grant to develop a computer center. To accommodate the center, the Library Board decided to construct a new building on a plot of land next to Kitengesa Comprehensive Secondary School. Kate Parry and her husband, with help from Leigh Fox’s Forestry for African Development Association (now linked to Fair Trade Carbon Uganda Limited), purchased the land for the purpose. The new building was planned with three rooms: a library room of the same size as the old one, a slightly smaller room for computers, and a community hall capable of seating 100-200 people. With help from Kate’s sister, Joanna Dales, from Pat Duffy and her colleagues at the UN, and from many other generous donors, the new library and computer rooms were completed and solar electricity installed in July 2009.
The community hall was finished by the end of 2011, and Hawk Children’s Fund of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore http://www.hawkchildrensfund.org/, gave the library a grant for more computers, with extra solar panels to power them, and for a wireless modem and router with airtime so as to provide internet access. A mural was painted on the front by Peter Kankaka (who had used the library when he was a boy),
and the whole complex was formally opened by the Vice-President of Uganda in January 2012.
The library has come a long way since that initial box of books. It is now an established local institution with important ties with other projects, it is a center for research projects on literacy and other aspects of community development, and it is a model for other libraries in Uganda, to which it is affiliated through the Uganda Community Libraries Association [Link:www.ugcla.org].