Earlier this year author, publisher and MAI-Africa Trustee Lawrence Darmani saw a dream from his youth come to fruition–the establishment of a reading and learning center in his home region of rural northern Ghana. Here’s the story of a library decades in the making.
As a child, Lawrence saw his visits to a small library as a grand adventure. “I read about people with the courage to overcome their struggles, bold and daring characters who tackled problems that were bigger than them.”
“My dream began in a small library in Tamale,” Lawrence says. “I dreamed of a library that could benefit young people, students, the church and the general public.”
Books were also foundational to Lawrence’s growing in faith in Christ. After university, Lawrence founded Step Publishers and wrote books, including the award-winning Grief Child.
He yearned for greater accessibility to books by rural youth—and he was not alone. Community leaders shared his vision. “They all bought into the idea and urged me on.” The goal was a library for all 43 communities in rural northern Ghana.
On the brink of fulfillment, after molding about 6,000 bricks, a tribal conflict broke out in the area in 2016. All the library bricks were lost.
“Discouraging as this was,” Lawrence admits, “The more I prayed…the more I felt the Lord leading me to start all over again.”
So he did—and Lawrence saw the Lord provide land, staff and donations of money and books.
Finally, the Sakogu Community Library officially opened on March 31. Lawrence exclaimed that day, “I am looking forward to the community here getting involved and encouraging their youth to read. Look at all these young people here!”
Schools now take their students on reading excursions to “the biggest library in the region.”
“This was a dream come true,” Lawrence says. “All this to the glory of God, for without the Lord’s grace and leading, this dream would never have been fulfilled.”
From a love of reading to a ministry of books
Lawrence was only nine when his father bought him his first books. “It included a red-rimmed Bible which I loved at first sight. Although I couldn’t read the Bible or many of the other books in the pack, the sight of them and the fact that I owned them excited me a great deal.”
A few years later, during a holiday with his sister in the northern regional capital of Ghana, Tamale, Lawrence discovered a small public library a few minutes’ walk away. It was full of English books, and while Lawrence enjoyed the stories, a longing grew in him to see more books written by local authors.
He especially enjoyed the African Writers Series of over 200 novels. “I noticed a pattern in the books I read. Stories are about people who have problems that need to be dealt with. When I think about this today, I am amazed that even at that young age, I could observe this. Therefore, I don’t feel surprised that young people can write stories.”
“As I read those books, I resolved that I would write stories if given the opportunity. I even said that someday if I wrote any story books, I would donate some to this very library.”
Lawrence did write books, donating copies to the library at Tamale and giving a copy of his first novel to the British Council library. Over the years, his love for libraries grew. “Even though I read books at home, I also liked to be inside a library reading with other people, like watching a movie with many others in a cinema.”
Every time Lawrence found himself in an educational institution, he would visit the library, admitting, “even if only to look at the rows of shelves carrying books.” During his undergraduate studies, Daystar University’s library was a “must-be place” to study. “It is obvious I long to see large collections of books. The same feeling comes over me when I enter a bookshop!”
Later, visits to libraries became a pastime for Lawrence and his two daughters – and when Step Publishers participated in its first bookfair, it was not to sell books but to set up an onsite children’s library. Lawrence says, “It was such a joy observing students come to our library and read.”
Books to reach communities with the gospel
“I’ve always advocated for rural evangelism because rural areas are deprived of amenities when it comes to infrastructure and development,” Lawrence says.
To this end, Step Publishers trained church leaders to set up church libraries. Many went on to do so, lending books to church members and encouraging them to read. It was a significant milestone for rural community access to libraries in Ghana, and a step towards the eventual establishment of Sakogu Community Library.
When donations of books started arriving for Sakogu, more came than were immediately needed. “That was God-sent,” Lawrence says. A local council of churches were given Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, biographies and other Bible-based books. “It was a joyful day as church leaders testified that they had always wanted such books but could not obtain them.”
“The book famine in rural areas is very real, both because of unavailability or high purchase prices,” Lawrence says. His expectation is that Sakogu as a community and its environs will take the lead throughout the northeast region of Ghana and beyond, nourishing people with books.
“We established this library with the belief that, having been impacted by books and reading, others would benefit from it. For books broaden the minds of readers. Books open the eyes of those who read to know what lies beyond their immediate surroundings.”
To make the best use of the library, Lawrence is keen for young people to form Sakogu Readers Clubs (SRCs) that meet regularly, visit the library and borrow books. He himself is part of a “club without borders.” At church, at work, and whenever he meets others, Lawrence encourages extensive reading, recommending and lending books to friends and colleagues.
The library however is not simply about having books to share or reading clubs per se. Lawrence says, “Our vision is that the books would provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to readers. We are trusting the Lord to make this library be a source of leading many to Himself and helping them to be trained.”
How to establish a Christian library: 6 tips from Lawrence Darmani
Believe in the value of libraries
Believe firmly in your heart that a library that houses general books including Christian literature is relevant and important for personal as well as national development.
Share the vision with others
Share your dream with people in your community. Talk to leaders and those who can assist with the space needed and give them ownership of the project.
Sharpen your dream and continue to revisit it
Write it down and develop a mission and vision. Our mission was to provide a large library of general and Christian literature; and the vision was that those who use the library would consider it as a reading and learning center, that they will develop a sustained reading habit, read to acquire knowledge and information, and be impacted by the content of books.
Count the cost and trust in the Lord
Consider the extent of the project and determine that you can complete it. This requires faith and determination. I had a firm belief that the Lord would help us to complete this project as we worked on it steadily.
Partner with others
Seek help along the line, or make the project a shared idea. There is a Ghanaian proverb that says, “When you climb a good tree, you can receive a push!” The tree we were climbing was certainly good, and we did receive the necessary push—from donors and beneficiaries.
Publicly acknowledge God
Above all, publicly acknowledge God in this venture. Be sure to pass on such acknowledgement on to where it really belongs—to God. Without him, nothing worthwhile can be achieved.
Lawrence Darmani is founding editor of Step magazine and CEO of Step Publishers, which supplies books to the Ministry of Education, senior high schools, Ghana Book Trust and other institutions. Lawrence’s first novel, Grief Child, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1992 as best first book from Africa. His most recent book for writers, Pick Up Your Pen: A Guide to Effective Writing, is drawn from over 35 years of writer-training experience. You can watch his recent MAI training webinar How to Be an Effective and Impactful Writer on our YouTube channel. Lawrence serves on the MAI-Africa Board of Trustees.