Books Bind

Feb. 9-15, 2006
Books Bind
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Blessed Sacrament School Celebrates Ghana Library Project

The gymnasium at Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse was filled with close to 200 exuberant students from grades two through six on Jan. 31. They had just finished singing and dancing to African music provided by the African drumming troupe Adanfo, accompanied by Blessed Sacrament piano teacher and former student, Caitlin Cetola. At the conclusion of the troupe’s musical presentation, some of the students received instruction in drumming. Many others sought autographs from Adanfo troupe members. Blessed Sacrament sixth grader Cole LaVenture was very impressed with what he saw. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Cole. “I learned some African words today.”

Because Blessed Sacrament students are raising funds for the Okyeame Dankwa Memorial Community Library in Ghana, an assembly was held for the students so they could both track the progress of the new library and learn about African culture. At the assembly, library co-founders Kofi Addai and Melanie Stellrecht gave the students a Power Point presentation on the improvements that had been made at the library and illustrated what it was like to be a student in Ghana.

Standing in the school gymnasium with the Ghana flag displayed in the background, Addai explained what it was like to be a student in Ghana. He said the students wear yellow and brown uniforms to school. He also said it is very difficult to enter high school in Ghana. The students need to pass tests and education is costly.

Students at Blessed Sacrament have been working to raise money for the community library in Ghana since January. The children brought books to school throughout the month to be sold in a book sale the morning of the assembly. With the cooperation of parents and teachers, the book sale was a success. After the book sale that morning, principal Andrea Polcaro presented the $200 proceeds to Addai.

“I wanted the children to understand that they can reach out to others through reading — that their gently used books could make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Polcaro. “When Melanie was student teaching here two years ago, she and I and Kofi talked about what project we could do here with the students. For one reason or another, we couldn’t get it all together. But now, with it being Catholic Schools Week, and focusing on character, compassion and values, it was time for us to really demonstrate those characteristics.” Polcaro believes the assembly that day was one of the best assemblies ever in the school. “It was fun,” said Polcaro. “I knew that our piano teacher, Caitlin, was taking drumming lessons, and Kofi also drums. We tied it all in together, giving the students some exposure to the library and the music and dancing. We wanted the children to see and hear about the culture so they would get excited and understand that there’s a big world outside of Eastwood.”

The desire for developing the library became apparent to Addai, Stellrecht, and their friend Joe Wachunas in 2002 when they were attending Le Moyne College. A native of Worawora, Ghana, Addai had just returned from visiting his family. While in Ghana, he presented a $100 donation to a Presbyterian church for the construction of a classroom. The funds had been given to him by his friends in the All Seriousness Aside Band for that purpose. The church was so excited about receiving the money; they held a ceremony in which they announced they were going to name the classroom after the band.

Addai returned to Syracuse and told his friends about how excited the Ghana natives had been about the donation. “I remember the day Melanie, Joe and I sat in front of our college dorm building at Le Moyne and started to brainstorm about this project,” said Addai. “What I saw from each of us was a spirit of compassion, dedication and willingness to promote awareness of social justice to others that are in need. I’ve always been passionate about social justice.”

“At that point, we decided to collect books and send them to Worawora, and we also decided to make a big community library instead of improving each and every school library in the village,” said Stellrecht. “We started to collect used textbooks at Le Moyne College. We put a box out in front of the bookstore. We had to go and empty it two times a day. As more and more people became aware of the collection, they started dropping books off at Campus Ministry like crazy.”

Addai and Stellrecht will never forget the day in June 2004, when the library opened for the first time. They said they were readying the library for the opening when they heard people screaming outside. “We opened the door and saw children marching by like soldiers,” said Stellrecht. “At least 500 people showed up and they were very excited.” Both Addai and Stellrecht believe the importance of education. Addai said the children in the Worawora community spend two hours each day in the library. The children are read to and then the stories are discussed. “Reading is the key to knowledge,” said Addai. “Education is very important and it should be taken seriously.” Stellrecht said that this year, 100 percent of the students in the community’s two junior high schools have passed the test to enter high school. “This is the first year they can remember it happening,” she said. “When these people have access to the resources that they need, they work hard. There are now over 5,000 books in the library and most of them are picture books.” Gently used or new children’s and non-fiction adult books are greatly needed presently. The library is also in need of technology equipment and monetary donations.

For additional information about the Okyeame Dankwa Memorial Community Library, call Kofi Addai or Melanie Stellrecht at (315) 218-5724 or e-mail Ghanavision@yahoo.com or Woraworalibrary@yahoo.com

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