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Last updated: Sat. Jul. 26, 2014 - 05:27 am EDT

IPFW librarian seeks funds to build a library in a remote area of Kenya

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Florence Mugambi has a dream. She wants to see a library built in her small hometown of Ontulili, in rural Kenya.

Mugambi, a librarian at IPFW, grew up in the village. Life there was and still is extremely hard. There is little electricity. Don’t even think about the Internet; they aren't on the grid. The community sustains itself through agriculture. Most people have one- or two-acre plots on which they grow their food. The village is located in the rain shadow from Mount Kenya, which means its a semi-arid climate. How well their crops do is depends on what little rain they get.

In Kenya, school children who do well on their exams can advance to high school. As a child, Mugambi said all she could think about were ways to get out of the village to a better life. She found her way out through education. She studied hard in elementary school and did well on her exams. In fact, she did so well she was able to go to a provincial high school away from the village. Her parents didn’t have very much money, and it was a struggle for them to pay her school fees and buy her uniforms. So the village came together and helped them pay for it.

After high school, Mugambi went onto the University of Nairobi and, while there, met her future husband, Jospeter Mbuba, all through borrowing a book from him. They ended up coming to the United States so her husband could work on his doctorate at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Mugambi enrolled there and got her MA in Library Science. Her husband now teaches criminal justice at IPFW, and she works in the Helmke Library. They became American citizens and have two teenage daughters.

But Mugambi has never forgotten where she came from, the family she left behind or the people who helped her get here. She said she was amazed by how many books there are in America and how easy it is to find paper, pens and pencils. These are still rare resources in her village. She began collecting books, backpacks, paper and pencils to take home. But it never seemed like enough. What few books there are in the village are generally textbooks. There are some storybooks, but there is very little literature available for young adults, much less for adults. What few books there are have torn covers and pages because rats chew on them. There is nowhere to keep them safe from the rodents.

The village has very few students who go on to high school. They cannot pass their exams, but Mugambi believes if they had better resources and more access to books, this could be changed. Currently the children who fail the tests go on to become the adults who stay in the village and have more children who fail the tests. It is a self-perpetuating cycle.

To help break that cycle Mugambi wants to build a library. The cost for the building is $40,000. So far she and her 501(C) (3) organization, Ontulili Literacy & Resource Center Inc., have raised $14,000. Through the Rotary Club they have received a $47,000 grant for the contents of the building, primarily books. In order to take advantage of this grant they need to come up with the remaining $26,000 this year to build the library. Otherwise they will loose the Rotary money.

“We look at it as 50 people contributing $500 a piece,” Donna Holland, IPFW professor of sociology, said. Of course no donation is too small.

The leaders in the village, Mugambi said, are very interested in supporting the project, because they see the need for the residents to be able to read, whether adults or children. The culture there for centuries has been to pass along their history orally; the need to read was only seen as a way to pass a test in grade school. When missionaries first came in and taught people to read, the students were only taught as much as they would need to complete a task said Mugambi. Breaking the cultural barriers, to get past the oral tradition, is difficult but in order to keep up with the rest of the world it must happen.

The new resource center building will be made from concrete blocks to keep the rats and rain out. The people will need to learn the concept of borrowing and returning a book, which will be a new idea for them, Mugambi said. The library will provide books but also space for meetings. It will encourage children to study and provide them with the resources they need while giving the adults the ability to read for fun, something that is currently unheard of.

On Aug. 23, Ontulili Literacy & Resource Center Inc. will be holding a golf scramble at Lakeside Golf Course. The cost is $50 per person and $200 per team. To sign up for the golf outing, Holland and Mugambi can be reached through their IPFW email at: or To learn more about the organization go to their website:

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