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Passing the Torch in Zambia: Let's Talk About Sustainability

April 10, 2014

Sustainability. It’s a word that is now being used to talk about everything from food to clothes and businesses and about everything in between. Sustainability has become a well-established buzzword, perhaps because there just are not very many good synonyms for the idea or perhaps because it helps sell coffee, but mostly because sustainability matters. At Room to Read, when we talk about sustainability in education, we’re talking about respecting the dignity and agency of all people, and empowering and equipping communities to take hold of their futures. Sustainability also matters in a world where there are far more things to do than time to do them. We need to know that what we’re doing is leading us to a better tomorrow, and that the investments we make can last. This was the precisely question in the air at a recent ceremony handing over 43 school libraries supported by Room to Read in Zambia to the local districts, Chilanga and Kafue.

Chilanga representative ceremonially opening the library.

Samantha Msoni, who has been investing in these libraries and training teachers and librarians for the past three years there, attended the ceremonial passing of the torch to the Zambian Library Service. Even though Samantha knew that this transfer of responsibility was necessary for sustainability, and that it would enable them to start new projects in order to reach more communities in need, she couldn’t help but worry. Like a caring parent watching her child graduate, she says, “I sat listening attentively to the speeches with mixed feelings and worried about a number of things.” “Of course my first reaction was that I would miss working in these schools, the Head teachers and the Teacher Librarians in whom I had invested a lot.” She also worried about the improvements she still wanted to make in some of the schools and wanted to know that the new caretaker would help support the libraries and communities. Her fears were put to rest as she listened to the Zambian Library Service representative outline their mandate. “Listening to his speech felt like he was reading our own strategy.” She recalls sharing a knowing glance with our Zambian country director as they both felt a wave of relief knowing these 43 school libraries would be in good hands. “Now we can safely direct our efforts to other districts knowing it is well with Chilanga and Kafue!” 

At Room to Read we are very proud of the fact that we have been able to reach over 8,000,000 children, and have built more than 16,000 libraries. While we love building and establishing libraries and watching our progress numbers go up, we are much more anxious that these libraries continue to function at their highest capacity because a library that thrives helps children to thrive.

Therefore, after enough time had passed, we revisited a large sample of libraries years after they had completed our three year project support cycle to see if they were still functioning. We were eager to know whether or not our work was achieving sustainability.  So how had they fared? Answer: unbelievably well. An amazing 97% of these libraries were still functioning with many having even made further quality improvements. And thanks to improved library monitoring and evaluation and community engagement strategies, we expect this trend to go even further so that millions more children may have access to a quality library and a quality education for years to come. 

Check out the infographic about the study below:

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