Three years after it was built, the Ugandan library is a social hub, teeming with kids excited to read and colour, students needing to study and older women wanting to learn English, as they make paper beaded necklaces.
It's a far cry from what was there when Richmond resident Andrea Dyck arrived in 2010 as part of a CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) internship.
"We thought we'd be helping with a community library," said the Hugh McRoberts graduate, now 31.
"But when we got there, we realized we were two hours away from the nearest major town, and there was no library to speak of."
"We were staying in the only house, the rest was mud huts."
Slowly, Dyck and her fellow intern Jocelyn Preece got rid of the rat-chewed books - put there during the first stab at a library - fixed the roof and painted the building.
Upon their return to Canada after five months in Bunalwenhi village, they became board members of Under the Reading Tree, a Vancouver-based organization that helps Sub-Saharan African countries build libraries and promote literacy, as board members.
They immediately had their library added to the organization's list of library projects in Uganda.
Three years later, Dyck has organized a fundraiser tonight (Friday) with African drumming and dancing, crafts and a silent auction.
All proceeds go to Under the Reading Tree's five libraries in Uganda.
"When we first got there, we had expected a library, whereas the owner of the property, John (Waibi-Walubi), had expected us to be bringing all the resources," she said.
Waibi-Walubi had left the village for university and was a former professor who wanted to give the community access to resources it never had before.
He first attempted to build a library with his own books from college, but without the proper funds, couldn't get it off the ground.
Books had been rare commodities in the village and most of the classrooms didn't have the required reading that students needed to pass their exams.
"Often the sustainability of foreign aid is questioned, but to provide knowledge and books, there's no agenda," said Dyck.
"We want to provide access to knowledge so that people can become empowered through it."
The two interns worked with Waibi-Walubi to set up a board of directors, train a librarian and other employees.
Acknowledging the power involved in selecting the books for the library, Dyck said they left it up to the board.
"They know what the community needs. We asked teachers what was needed as well.
"But we wanted to extract ourselves from the process early, so it could be self-sufficient. It developed organically and in a way that made the most sense for the community."
After a few hiccups - including a donation of books that the U.S. government had rendered obsolete - the library was ready to open its doors.
Floods of young children ran in, just excited to be there and have a gathering place where they could flip through picture books and colour, recalls Dyck.
"It was pretty funny, these were really young kids, like two or three years old," she said. "So they couldn't really read yet, but just wanted to look at the books. It was pretty cool to see everyone so excited."
Now, the library gives people the opportunity to learn English through classes run by Waibi-Walubi's wife Deborah Waibi and plans to hold workshops where people can learn to read.
Through a coordinator in the village, Under the Reading Tree receives regular progress reports and sends funds once a month.
Dyck had returned to Uganda for 10 months in 2012 and plans on going back.
"I feel very connected to it. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. Everyone had been so friendly and welcoming."
The fundraiser will be held at the Anza Club in Vancouver at 8 p.m. It features drumming by African Soul Train, followed by a DJ. Tickets cost $25.
For more information, visit www.underthereadingtree.org, or www.africansoultrain.com.
To see a video of the group drumming, visit
To watch the kids celebrate arts and craft week at the library, visit
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