All over the world, committed Africans are helping to solve issues that strengthen and forward the cause for human sustenance. From medical aid, commerce, community services and drilling down to mining within the resources sector, these educated and
skilled Africans are going above and beyond to excel in all they do. For most, their upbringing and the environs they were raised in fuels their passion to change the livelihoods of those left behind.
The harsh truth is that despite the many who succeed whether through adversity or not, Africa’s education crisis seldom makes media headlines or summit agendas. Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion, with over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and 11 and approximately one-third between the ages of
12 and 14 do not attend school. Further, according to UNESCO Institutes for Statistics data, almost 60% of those between the ages of 15 and 17 do not receive any schooling. Of those that do attend school, the majority still have limited resources to equip them well for the future.
An education is not just a fundamental human right, it’s pivotal to increasing employment and income opportunities making it fundamental in breaking the cycle of poverty. It’s key to unlocking the golden door of freedom for all in Africa and is the bedrock of social and economic development and an investment in human capital. More than benefiting the individual, it’s a catalyst for change for families, communities and nations. To effect lasting change, all efforts need to focus on education.
The Birth of Aussie Books for Zim
Aussie Books for Zim (ABZ) launched in May 2015 after CEO and founder, Dr Alfred Chidembo, found that a huge volume of books in excellent condition were being discarded annually from libraries, schools and other sectors in Australia. Reflecting on his journey from a barefooted six-year-old boy born and raised in the rural community of Mudzi in Mu-
toko, to completing his PhD in Electrochemistry and Energy Storage, he realised an opportunity to ‘turn trash into treasure’ and was galvanised into action.
“The sight immediately brought to memory the children in disadvantaged rural communities in Zimbabwe where I originate from. My passion and appreciation for books came about when I was seven years old and my father moved me to the city from a small remote village in the North-Eastern part of Zimbabwe. There, he registered me at the local town library as a personal investment in my future. I was very fortunate for this move, to escape a vicious cycle of poverty that has entangled and crippled many of my friends who never had the opportunity to leave”
The organisation is an Australian-registered charity that aims to empower children in disadvantaged communities through books in both Zimbabwe and Australia. Often these children are thirsty for knowledge but lack the right resources. Through its libraries, children from the two continents are connected by a platform for knowledge exchange and sharing in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for both. By simply collecting books from Australian children, families and libraries to establish libraries in rural Zimbabwe, an important connection for collaboration with far reaching impact was established. For one, literacy and education improves. Providing books is just the beginning – Aussie Books for Zim goes further and works to provide a safe and secure environment for cataloguing and storage by providing furniture, shelving and training to fully equip these libraries for use by the whole community.
A unique feature of ABZ is that it centres on community participation to promote ownership, buy-in and sustainability. The scheme encourages the establishment of library committees, comprising of students, teachers and community members. Training is
conducted by Zimbabwe-based volunteer librarians to ensure the proper implementation of library systems and to give the committee the capacity to run the library independently. One of the things that has emerged from this type of exchange has seen the beneficiaries engage in small-scale economic activities that have provided opportunities to them
despite the poverty and a lack of education.
Life, Hope and Opportunity
ABZ is about life, hope and opportunity. To fulfil these three virtues requires support from and collaboration with partners with shared values and a sense of corporate social responsibility. The key stakeholders for Aussie Books for Zim are the communities they undertake work for.
In five short years, Alfred and his team have established nine libraries within schools, impacted over 20,000 children, shipped more than 90,000 books saving them from landfill and provided invaluable resources for even more libraries to be set up in rural Zimbabwe. It’s been a simple and easy concept in the sense that, what is considered ‘trash’ in the de-
veloped world is treasure in another – treasure that can empower somebody to achieve a level of success that can impact generations. There is no doubt that access to books opens a world of opportunities to any child regardless of their location and environment.
The biggest win for ABZ has been the recent construction of a free-standing library at Chatsworth Primary School, located near the Gaths/Mashava and Dorowa mining complexes and officially opened by the Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe. This year, 2020, sees ABZ set to construct two more libraries with the assistance of a grant provided
by the Australian Embassy through the Direct Aid Programme.
“Initially, we thought this was about books only, until we started seeing the impact within the communities. It is actually about life, hope and opportunity”
The Vision for the Future
Alfred has a big vision — to empower one million children over ten years and create a reading revolution within African communities. This task, while daunting, is achievable through the support of strong corporate social responsibility initiatives. ABZ has already made significant strides towards this goal with a further 150,000+ books ready for shipping to various communities eager for learning and literacy. He believes that with the right resources within their reach these children can scale to greater heights and become professionals in their own right. ABZ are empowering and providing them with opportunities to realise their dreams. It all starts with a book and a safe place to discover their world: a library.
Alfred Chidembo is a PhD graduate from the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is a Wollongong Australia Day Citizen of the Year nominee and the recipient of the Wollongong Lord Mayor’s Excellence Award.
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