In America the idea of not having a library in a public school seems strange.

What about an entire region of a country that does not have a school with a library?

This summer, over the course of a two-week service trip to the village of Loibor Siret on the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania, Jackson Hole students helped build one of the few public school libraries in the country.

The trip, put together by the nonprofit groups Arcadia Service Learning and Interconnections21, brought 15 valley high school students to the steppe to work with the African People and Wildlife Fund. The students stayed at the organization’s Noloholo Environmental Center.

Under the blazing sun they built a 900-square-foot library. They also completed other service and conservation projects, such as fences to protect livestock from predators.

“The village shaman began the opening ceremony with words of welcome and solidarity,” said a trip blog post by Mark Pommer, Jackson Hole High School psychologist and co-leader of the trip. “Our color may be different, but we are all the same in the eyes of the Creator.”

So began an effort to revitalize education in Loibor Siret, surrounded by the warthogs, wild ostriches, giraffes and other wildlife of the steppe.

“What was accomplished in 10 days was pretty phenomenal,” Pommer, 33, said.

Bricks made from red mud were built into a library. Walls were plastered, a roof was put on, and the 1,300 books brought for the library were organized. Only 200 of the books are in Swahili, the country’s native language. Money is required for more Swahili books.

The library still needs paint and glass windows. But the environmentally friendly building, “sets a bar for what is possible,” Pommer said.

“The level of gratitude that the community displayed was unexpected,” Pommer said.

A formal ceremony staged at the primary school for the soft opening of the library lasted all afternoon. National press and a national television news station covered the event, which was attended by representatives from Tanzania’s National Assembly and regional leaders.

“We have built the first library of its kind in the entire region, and more than likely most of the regions of Tanzania,” Pommer said.

The library not only serves a community but also is “an inspiration for the Tanzanian government as a vision of what is possible for their remote, pastoral communities and their schools,” he said.

The trip to Africa is the third of its kind. In 2010 and 2012 Jackson students traveled to Ghana, where they also constructed a library.

In Tanzania students served a community integral to the work of the African People and Wildlife Fund.

“It was amazing to see how efficiently run they were,” Pommer said. “Possibly the most impressively run NGO I have ever seen.”

While the students worked for different organizations in each country, Pommer said, “at the end of the day, no matter what country we are in, access to education and literacy is critical to each organization’s goal.”

Though the African workers were more efficient than the visiting volunteers, “the point of the project was for us to serve the community,” Pommer said.

More specifically, the point was for the students to serve the community.

“We couldn’t have asked for a stronger group of students,” Pommer said. “They were very culturally sensitive and curious.”

Students did individual projects, which they will present today at Teton County Library.

While teaching at the school was an everyday project for two students, Charlotte Hoeft and Emma MacEachren, all participants had an opportunity to help out in the classroom.

Interacting with Tanzanian students may have been when participants were at their best, co-leader Yara Abad, 31, said.

“We saw our students completely connected to the moment and to their work,” Abad said.

Connections to people were made as well.

“We have not only become family within our group, but we have become family within the village.” Sammy Douville, a junior at Jackson Hole High School, wrote in the group journal.

Lessons of coexistence, happiness and values abounded in the dusty red landscape of the steppe, planted in the rich soil of differences and watered by human connection.

“They have chosen a way of life where the most valuable possession they have is their cattle,” Abad said. “Simplicity and happiness are based on little things. It’s about what you consider a valuable possession.”

High school senior Dia Huggins wrote early in the trip about how life philosophies are different in Africa.

‘We do not care about what we have, what we care about is happiness,” explained Revo, a Tanzanian man working at the Noloholo Center,”

Huggins wrote in the group journal, “It’s a simple concept, yet like the many other aspects of Africa it seemed foreign.

“There is something about the relationships here that seem to involve a deeper level of understanding,” Huggins wrote.

“Our insight into this place has just begun.”

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