Theresa Lungu loved walking on the bumpy dirt road to the tiny municipal library in Luanshya, almost four miles from her home in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. She was only 7 but could borrow two books at a time. “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “Nancy Drew Mysteries,” “Treasure Island,” she gathered just about any book she could find on the shelves that piqued her interest.
“I’d get the books and go home and read the books on the same day, and then had to wait for two weeks. I pretty much read all the books in the neighborhood,” said Lungu, program manager at the Memorial Church. “I didn’t come from a well-to-do family, and this was my lifeline to learning about the world.”
Now, more than two decades later, Lungu is working to keep that lifeline of learning alive in her hometown through a gift of computers and internet access at the library that opened her mind to the world. This summer, she cut the ribbon on The Luanshya Information and Learning Center, a new digital information and learning center at the Helen Kaunda Memorial Library. Funded by a grant Lungu received from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, a charitable organization in Boston that supports individuals pursuing projects that serve people in need, the project is opening a door of opportunity for residents of this struggling mining community.
“The trust believed in my vision to give free computer access and Wi-Fi to the town, specifically the young people who are stuck.” said Lungu. “Eighty percent of people between 18 and 25 in the town are neither in employment nor going to school. A lot of these people graduate high school, but don’t know what to do next.”
Lungu hopes the center will provide members of the community an online portal to information, resources, and the world outside of Luanshya, she said.
“The center is a place where I envisioned young people would go to get information on anything. ‘I’m looking for a job, where can I go?’ ‘I’m looking for international scholarships, where can I go?’” Lungu said. “I also want this center to be a place where people can tap into local expertise. For example, we are having a workshop on basic computer skills, like how to open an email address.”
The Luanshya Information and Learning Center was officially opened in a civic ceremony attended by local leaders June 21. The grant allowed Lungu to purchase a dozen new computers, new workstations and chairs, and internet service for the center.
“What we are witnessing here marks the beginning of creating a new generation of boundary breakers, a new generation of young people who have one common mission to help change the future of our town for the better using limitless access to knowledge … from the confines of the Helen Kaunda Memorial Library,” said Luanshya Mayor Charles Mulenga told the local newspaper at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.