“Read, Learn, Know & Grow” is the motto of the Abedwum Community Library. It was founded by the Amoako-Tuffour family and was officially opened on December 10th, 2011. The words of the motto are words that many aspire to live by. However, few get an opportunity to receive formal education. Like numerous resource-rich regions in Africa, the locals in Abedwum, Ghana, are hardly beneficiaries of their mining efforts. Although gold mining in this area has historically been the focal economic activity, followed by farming, the hope is that children from this community will be exposed to other possibilities with access to information.
The aim of the library is simple: allowing children the opportunity to find unknown potential and to “imagine a world, a life far away from the village, and a future more exciting than anything he or she sees around the community.” According to Dr. Amoako-Tuffour, an economic professor and advisor who spends his time working both in Ghana and Canada, “A child with imagination can do wonderful things.” We spoke with him further on his childhood in Ghana, the inspiration behind the library and the challenges faced thus far.
Tempo: Can you briefly describe the village of Abedwum?
Amoako-Tuffour: Abedwum is located in central Ghana in the gold mining region. In terms of administrative divisions of the country, Abedwum is in the Adansi North district which is in the Ashanti region of Ghana. It is an hour by road from the regional capital Kumasi on the way to the gold-mining capital of Ghana, Obuasi.
Tempo: Is this where you grew up?
Amoako-Tuffour: I didn’t really grow up in one place in Ghana. My parents lived and farmed in a different village. I lived with my uncle growing up. And as a police officer, he was frequently transferred from place to place throughout the country. Abedwum remained the ancestral village. No matter where we went, your mind always went back there as home.
Tempo: What was your inspiration for starting the library?
Amoako-Tuffour: Most people who grow up in the district gravitate towards the mines, most of them as labourers, with the hope of learning a trade in the mines. So education generally is low priority.
But mining is a difficult and dangerous occupation. Most people who join the mines retire early, many of them in poor health. Recently, very young men and women have also joined the mining enterprise but this time through the artisanal small scale mining. Many boys and girls are dropping out of school to join because they are not inspired in the classroom, thanks to the poor quality schooling. They see little or no hope ahead of them with the little education they could get. It is a desperate situation, especially for the young girls and boys. Something had to be done to rescue the next generation of children. I thought of a library, a learning place that all schoolchildren and their teachers in the surrounding areas can share, an inexhaustible gift that each child by his or her own measure can take according to their God-given talents.
Tempo: Where did you collect books from?
Amoako-Tuffour: We didn’t do a mass book drive because we wanted to be selective with the books we shipped to Ghana. Quality mattered to us. Over time, we selectively collected books from friends, from the local schools, and also bought some from used bookstores and store sales.
Tempo: Who were some of your supporters in this effort?
Amoako-Tuffour: The Antigonish Education Centre was very helpful, so was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Antigonish, where we have lived for the past 20 years, through their Community Help Program, students at St. Francis Xavier University where I teach, and of course the rest of the family.
Tempo: What sort of challenges did you face?
Amoako-Tuffour: It is one thing to put in all the efforts to do a library, from collecting books, shipping, providing for the library structure, and running the library. It can exhaust your energies. Our challenge now is to get dedicated volunteers to run the library, and run it well. But, as you know, we cannot rely on voluntarism all the time. Sooner or later, we need to find money to pay the electricity bill, furnish the library, and hire part-time professional hands to ensure that the library is run well and that it grows and expands to serve the communities, especially if there is a growing demand for it.
Tempo: How have libraries played an important role in your life?
Amoako-Tuffour: I didn’t get to know or visit a library until I was in grade 5. I was never read to at home, and never before then had a chance to read a book from cover to cover. Visiting a library for the first time in grade 5 opened a whole new world for me. But as we moved from place to place, I did not always have access to libraries because public libraries were only available in the regional capitals. But growing up, I have come to enjoy libraries.
Tempo: Tell us about a woman who played a significant role in your life:
Amoako-Tuffour: My mother who passed away nearly 8 years ago was a fantastic person. She taught me well quietly and diligently. She never went to school and sometimes I wonder what she could have been had she gotten some education. Maybe she would have been a philosopher. The library is dedicated to her and my father.
Tempo: Do you have any favorite books or authors?
Amoako-Tuffour: I remember the African writers series from Chinua Achebe to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, to Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. Jose Saramango’s Blindness, Gabriel Garcia Marques’ One Hundred Days of Solitude, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes are some of my recent favorites.