For my bar­mitz­vah, I boosted lit­er­acy in Burk­ina Faso


WHEN ETHAN Gree­ley be­gan to study for his bamitz­vah at a sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton DC sy­n­a­gogue, he al­ready knew he wanted to aim his req­ui­site com­mu­nity ser­vice pro­ject at help­ing chil­dren in Africa.

He was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing in Sebba, a tiny vil­lage in north­ern Burk­ina Faso where his mother grew up and which he had vis­ited nu­mer­ous times.

To­day, in that vil­lage, more than 5,000 miles away from his Mary­land home, stands a new li­brary for chil­dren and adults to gather, read and bor­row books.

The li­brary opened on April 9, 2016, about a year af­ter Ethan’s bamitz­vah at Tem­ple Emanuel.

Thanks to do­na­tions from the Gree­leys’ friends and fam­ily; the Friends of Burk­ina Faso; the Tem­ple Emanuel Global Mitz­vah Com­mit­tee and Merck (the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany for which Ethan’s fa­ther, David, used to work), Ethan raised $20,000 to re­fur­bish an old build­ing and turn it into a li­brary.

Books were bought, a la­trine built and lo­cal staff hired. Much of the on-the-ground work was done thanks to the Friends of African Vil­lage Li­braries (FAVL), a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“I’m so proud of him”, Mrs Gree­ley told the

More than just a li­brary, it has al­most be­come a com­mu­nity cen­tre. Last sum­mer,acam­p­con­venedthere.“Thereisn’t al­ways a lot to do in the vil­lage and this helps,” said Mrs Gree­ley who, be­cause of travel re­stric­tions im­posed in re­cent years, is the only one in her fam­ily to have seen the li­brary in per­son.

Mrs Gree­ley of­ten took Ethan and his brother to the lo­cal li­brary in Mary­land when they were younger. The chil­dren had asked whether Mrs Gree­ley had grown up with a li­brary, and were sur­prised to hear the an­swer was “no”.

In or­der to set up his own li­brary, and find out more about how li­braries ac­tu­ally work, Ethan vol­un­teered for about six months at his lo­cal branch. “I or­gan­ised books; I helped pre­pare

them for a fair. It was pretty fun and in­ter­est­ing,” he says. The books that now line the shelves of the Sebba li­brary (many of which were pur­chased by FAVL) are in French, English and Fu­lani. T h e v a s t ma­jori t y o f those who use the li­brary are Mus­lim, like Mrs Gree­ley her­self.

How­ever, the idea was built on Jewish prin­ci­ples, said Mr Gree­ley. “We man­aged to com­bine two of the most im­por­tant Jewish val­ues — learn­ing and tikkun olam”, he said.

“Stud­ies show that when women are ed­u­cated, the con­di­tions of a coun­try im­proves. The ac­tual GDP goes up,” said Mr Gree­ley, whose wife was the only girl in her class in Sebba to go on to sec­ondary school.

The $20,000 raised will sup­port the li­brary for five years, at which point they are hop­ing the town can take it over. Ethan is still hop­ing to bring in com­put­ers, adding he would “love to get so­lar pan­els to power the com­put­ers”. His mum agrees. “I can only imag­ine how much things would change if they had ac­cess to the in­ter­net.”

Chil­dren in Sebba us­ing the li­brary set up by Ethan ( left)

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