Win­nipeg­ger is amaz­ing, the book not so much

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Gail Perry

WIN­NIPEG­GER Kathy Knowles, her many lit­er­acy en­deav­ours in Ghana and be­yond, and her reg­is­tered Cana­dian char­ity — the Osu Chil­dren’s Li­brary Fund (OCLF) — are all wor­thy to root for, but not so much this new ac­count on Knowles’ projects by Ottawa-based au­thor, jour­nal­ist and in­ter­na­tional aid worker Deb­o­rah Cowley. The in­ten­tion, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor’s note, is “to record a story that be­gan more than 20 years ago un­der a tree in a gar­den in Ac­cra (Ghana’s cap­i­tal).”

It’s a goal with­out struc­ture. The view is broad, the re­sult shal­low. This is Cowley’s sec­ond pub­lished ac­count of Knowles’ cel­e­brated ini­tia­tives. She wrote the March 2001 Reader’s Digest Canada cover story on Knowles and has ded­i­cated her­self to Knowles’ mis­sions since. She says she has ac­com­pa­nied her on 15 work-re­lated trips to Ghana. This, then, could have been a re­veal­ing “in­sider’s” per­spec­tive, de­tail­ing how Knowles ac­com­plished what she has. Isn’t the “how,” at least, promised in the sub­ti­tle? In­stead, this is a 20-chap­ter chron­i­cle of essen­tially what Knowles has done. In Ghana or from her River Heights res­i­dence, Knowles — as­sisted by a small base of donors (mainly Cana­di­ans) and com­mit­ted vol­un­teers (many Win­nipeg­gers) — builds com­mu­nity li­braries, trains li­brar­i­ans and ed­u­ca­tors, in­tro­duces youth and adult lit­er­acy classes, es­tab­lishes and awards stu­dent schol­ar­ships, and pro­duces African-fo­cused books. The OCLF has pro­vided books to, and/or li­brary train­ing in, six other African na­tions, the Philip­pines, Haiti and Peru. Cowley overly em­bel­lishes many de­tails. In Knowles’ home-of­fice, “book­shelves bulge with pa­pers, a col­lec­tion of fil­ing cab­i­nets is burst­ing at the seams and me­men­tos from dozens of vis­its are scat­tered hither and yon.” In Ghana, “(the chil­dren’s) faces light up the minute she steps into the class­room.” When the Ghana­ian gov­ern­ment re­voked pri­mary school fees, “the coun­try ex­ploded with joy. At long last, chil­dren could at­tend pri­mary school for free.” Cowley lib­er­ally para­phrases or in­cor­po­rates di­rect quo­ta­tions from Knowles, her bene­fac­tors and ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Th­ese are among the most in­sight­ful pas­sages. OCLF board mem­ber Florence Ad­je­pong suc­cinctly notes what Knowles has achieved: “She has de­vel­oped in Ghana... a model for com­mu­nity li­braries... any­where in the de­vel­op­ing world. It is a model which is com­mu­nity friendly, is eas­ily main­tained and which is trans­fer­able to any coun­try or com­mu­nity, no mat­ter how poor they are, no mat­ter how lit­tle space they have.” Cowley para­phrases Richard Beat­tie, for­mer se­nior of­fi­cer with the Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Agency: “(Knowles) has al­ways en­sured that what she has cre­ated is sus­tain­able, by keep­ing it rooted in the lo­cal cul­ture and hinged to lo­cal gov­ern­ment bud­gets.” This is the vol­ume’s most com­pre­hen­sive treat­ment of how Knowles has done what she has. Cowley’s chap­ters of ex­po­si­tion add lit­tle by way of mean­ing­ful de­tail. The au­thor was uniquely placed to ex­plain and share how Knowles has re­al­ized an ef­fec­tive, in­no­va­tive phi­lan­thropy, but has missed the mark and has opted for a sto­ry­book over anal­y­sis.

Gail Perry is a Winnipeg writer.

The Li­brary Tree How a Cana­dian Woman Brought the Joy of Read­ing to a Gen­er­a­tion of African Chil­dren By Deb­o­rah Cowley Great Plains Pub­li­ca­tions, 232 pages, $25

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.