On August 21, the library at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, Africa received a delivery they will not soon forget: 40 boxes containing 621 books.
The package – a donation from the Furman University Libraries – increased the size of library’s holdings by 13 percent. The 10,000-mile journey by plane and truck took nearly three weeks to complete and cost $4,900.
But the shipment’s figurative journey is even more compelling.
In January, Asian Studies Professor and Faculty Chair Kate Kaup struck up a conversation with Janis Bandelin, director of libraries. Kaup’s sister, Virginia Palmer, was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Malawi, an impoverished country in east Africa that is roughly the size of Florida.
And Kaup’s niece (Palmer’s daughter), Nadia Asmal, was working as a project director and overseeing the library in Dzaleka, a large camp that opened in 2014 and now serves more than 30,000 refugees.
Members of library leadership council connected with Asmal through Skype in February. The Dzaleka Community Library, a one-room building, needed books to help students learn English and science. They also wanted children’s books.
Furman library staff regularly cull books from circulation to make room for newer books. The books selected to be removed are often outdated or little used but may be of value to non-profits. Nancy Sloan, library faculty, developed a spreadsheet of items to be removed from the library and forwarded it to Asmal.
After the request was finalized, department assistant Kathy Hamlin researched shipping methods, and student workers packed the items for shipping. Bandelin found donors willing to underwrite the shipping costs.
During a Skype call in early August with members of the library faculty and staff, members of Collaborative for Community-engaged Learning, Kaup and her husband, John, Asmal said the camp operates a vibrant learning center that allows refugees to take online college courses and find jobs. With space limited, though, many are turned away.
Those who are denied, she said, often turn to the library for self-help. The conditions at the library are Spartan when compared to modern conveniences. The building is tiny and it lacks reliable internet.
“I want more space and would love computers,” she said. “I would like for this place to be a research hub. With more resources, we can impact more people.”
Bandelin said the Furman Libraries are exploring other ways to collaborate with the Dzaleka Camp.