Growing up, reading was my favorite hobby. I was obsessed with books. Indeed, books were best friends I would spent countless hours with and draw inspiration and strength from. With a book you are never alone.
Though reading had taken me to the continent many times as a child, I felt the adult I had become had to physically travel there and connect with my roots to understand my purpose in life. I literally had an epiphany when I set foot in Ghana in 2009. Instantly, I knew my mission was to share the magic of books with children by building libraries in rural areas across the continent. The Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project (BBALP) was born.
Fast forward to 2011 when James Bayanai, a young aspiring lawyer from Zimbabwe reached out on Facebook. James had been following my work in Africa and wanted to meet. We agreed to do so in Capetown, South Africa where I was flying to attend the World Economic Forum. How far will YOU go to make your dreams come true ?
James took a bus from Zimbabwe and spent days on the road only to make our appointment ! I was speechless and equally inspired. He shared his ambition to become a lawyer and how brilliant children in his community were. Unfortunately, parents could not afford their education. I was determined to help. Together, we created and launched a scholarship program from the ground up starting with helping 10 of the most gifted children in Chirumanzu, Zimbabwe. There, we also opened the first BBALP library 4 years later ! James eventually became a lawyer and BBALP local Project Manager. From Chirumanzu Member of Parliament Anastancia Ndholuvu to the Ministry of Tourism and Education and the Mayor of Harare (Zimbabwe capital) – our literacy endeavor received warm support beyond expectations.
What could possibly top this ? The overwhelming joy I felt when I received the children’s first school reports and thank you notes — or my deepest gratitude towards James Bayanai and his local team for being a catalyst of unpreceded change. To date, over 200 children are now beneficiaries of BBALP Zimbabwean project.
At the beginning of 2014, we started a collaboration with Chirumanzu school to build another BBALP library but this time inside their premises. The vision was to grant access to students and the community as a whole. We budgeted, built the library and book shelves from scratch. Within a few months of hard work, books were on display and up for grabs.
Zimbabwe welcomed me with open arms. As I shared with its people the wonderful power that lays in reading, I stocked up on smiles for days. The land fed me delicious traditional dishes such as sadza and I shook precious hands that carry the know-how of Zimbabwean ancestral basket weaving.
Just as I felt compelled to share with this beautiful nation, visiting Zimbabwe made me realize how much more it has to offer to the world. Tourism and Fashion are just two examples of burgeoning fields in which I look forward to being actively involved in locally in the near future.
What I learned from this experience is that your talents, your gifts will be revealed to you. The key is to listen to your inner voice. They say the distance between your dreams and reality is called action. Eventually, you will realize that your purpose in life is not so much something you have to force yourself to do but something you cannot help doing. Reading books shaped my future. By hopping on a bus to meet me across borders, James began the life-changing journey of a whole generation. If you doubt you can find your path in your passions or a foreign country, it could very well just be in a book next to you.