Monday October 25th
By Lynn Beauregard
Ms. Beauregard spent ten years in Senegal as a child and left the country in the early 80’s. She is Vice-Chair of the CODE Board of Directors.
My 3rd day in Senegal. Good thing we arrived over a weekend so as to give us time to get acclimatized to being in Senegal –a French speaking country, situated at the Western-most point of Africa. Dakar, its capital, has more than quadrupled in population since the 1980s, when a drought hit the country and drove thousands to migrate to urban centers to survive.
First thing that happens with this influx of population, is a rapid and completely random expansion from the capital city of Dakar, to an erratic and haphazard mayhem and chaos of instant suburbia, a network of subdivisions of more than 1.5 million living in jumbled concrete slabs, markets thrown together, streets made of mud and cattle roaming.
Schooling appears to be almost an afterthought and children are herded into schools which become so crowded, they can reach a count of up to 90 per classroom…libraries thus can only be an even further abstraction from this incredibly insane equation. In fact the one that CODE partner, BLD (Bibliothèque, Lecture Développement) occupies, services an area where schools are rampant but libraries are rare. Every 2 to 3 km, there is a school and each has from 900 to 1,100 students. Youth under 18 represent over 65% of the population of these suburbs. These overcrowded classrooms are then divided into two days on/two days off rotations and there is a strong drive from BLD to encourage schools and parents to bring kids to their library, if they are within reach.
It feels overwhelming and it appears solvable to some degree, but not without some participation from the local Ministry of Education, which is currently apparently more preoccupied, and rightly so to some degree, with getting teachers trained and kids into schools, than creating a sustainable network of accessible libraries where they are most needed. So the mammoth task of supporting teachers and students in their studies, research and recreational reading falls on BLD shoulders.
So, from the BLD standpoint, there is a basic conundrum, which is that getting the programs up and running requires a certain presence of libraries/space opportunities to implement libraries in existing and planned schools, but despite an MOU with the Ministry of Education in place since 2005, it is an ongoing challenge to get them to commit to the capital for the infrastructure development of these libraries. “The cart is clearly required for the horse” in this case.
In addition, there is an even greater need beyond the borders originally delimited by the agreement that CODE and BLD have had in place since 1995, for BLD programs. Much has changed since, including that the rest of Senegal needs to be considered as a worthy recipient of BLD program help and expertise in library development and support. This limitation has not stopped BLD from initiating its own programs in the past, such as the ‘Biblio-bus’ which was a library on wheels and offered book services on routes to very remote regions of Senegal, to the North close to the Mauritania border, to the Center of the country as well as a South East service to Gambia/Casamance and the Mali border.
Unfortunately this wonderful idea lasted for only 6 years before breaking down in 2002; the funding has not been available for BLD to re-initiate this concept.
Lastly, before the cart and before the horse, there seems to be an issue of space for BLD itself to have a chance at running more efficiently. It currently leases premises in the area of SICAP Mbao, one of the suburbs where they provide their programs. The building is overtaken with humidity and the streets are mud (in fact there is water surrounding the premises as the country emerges from the rainy season). The space is limited (the library is 200 square feet at most) and the staff of 10 can barely fit in this small space where shelves of books have had to be pulled away from the walls to protect them from the creeping and permeating humidity.
Hope is in sight in the form of a large complex, designed by students from the University of Laval architectural program in 2005 -a comprehensive cultural and educational community complex, to be built in the outskirts of MBao. Library plans were created, the site had already been acquired in 2003 and additional space was donated, but the funding has since eluded BLD from building the complex. The first phase is set to move forward in the next year, and ground has actually broken as funding was acquired through BLD’s successful bid to the Ministry of Education for the publication and purchase of 7000 copies of three books for distribution in schools…Incidentally, we have the great opportunity to be guests at the book launch this coming Friday along with the Senegal Minister of Culture.