I learned that a girl child needs school for her own survival and bright future. I learned a woman should not be silent [...] She should stand up for her rights."
In Zambia, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has infected an estimated 13% of the population, resulting in large number of orphans and vulnerable children and placing significant stress on the institutions designed to provide education and social services to children and youth. With limited availability of formal education and few safe spaces for marginalized children, the Lubuto Mthunzi American Youth Library in peri-urban Lusaka West serves as a much-needed safe, accessible, and welcoming haven in which young people from all walks of life access life-changing programs, resources, and services. Constructed on the grounds of the Mthunzi Center, the LMAYL consists of an indigenously designed library compound which houses a professionally-selected collection of high-quality international children’s books, as well as technology and public internet, and offers a holistic range of programs that support creative expression, foster children’s rights, improve health outcomes, and enable literacy building. The library aims to improve the lives of 20,000 children and youth, with over 8,000 people reached in nearly 40,000 library visits during its first year of operation.
One of the youth benefitting from the LMAYL is 15-year-old Adah, who lacked confidence in herself before she started visiting the library and participating in the mentoring program offered under Lubuto’s DREAMS Innovation Challenge grant. “I took advice from a friend [who] told me to face my fears. She said, ‘If you are scared of people they will be taking advantage of you.’” At the library Adah joined the DREAMS mentoring program, focused on fostering determination for education and preventing HIV in adolescent girls aged 15-24, and also learned how to use computers for the first time. These opportunities reshaped Adah’s sense of what girls and women can do, and of what is possible for her own future. “I was raised to believe that the man is the only person who can run a home, [and] when I lived with my grandmother, I learned it’s not necessary for a girl to go to school.” But at the LMAYL, Adah learned new lessons: “I learned that a girl child needs school for her own survival and bright future. I learned a woman should not be silent [...] She should stand up for her rights.”
With support from library staff that Adah now considers “part of the family,” Adah has developed the confidence to use her voice to stand up for others. She now aspires to become a journalist when she grows up, and uses the LMAYL to research her chosen career field. With support from the LMAYL, thousands of girls like Adah can access resources, programs, and services that teach them to believe in themselves, advocate for their futures, and take their places as leaders in society.