'How can I help:' How one question turned into an international connection in Dayton area

India Duke, Dayton Daily News, Ohio
·3 min read

Feb. 28—A former teacher and student are working together to build one of the first public libraries in Liberia, Africa all while supplying resources to children in both Dayton and Liberia.

Englewod resident Veleta Jenkins and her former student Darius Ricks have set out to build a public library in Liberia through their newly started non-profit, Library for Africa.

After Ricks, a Liberian native, came to America he saw that children have access to almost any library.

"It's a shame that I lived all my life in a country where I have not seen a fitting library apart from the U.S. Embassy library," he said. "I feel that something needs to be done, somebody has to take the lead."

The idea for the library started when Ricks, previously a student at Dayton Job Corps Center, saw his teacher throwing out old books and asked to take them. He told her he wanted to send them to a school in Monrovia, Liberia that could use the books.

"This is something very necessary for Liberia because in terms of education we are all the way behind," Ricks said.

Jenkins, previously a teacher at Dayton Job Corps Center, taught a class of African students from various countries. She assigned an essay to detail their lives and was able to learn their struggles they faced back home. Jenkins said her experience with them made her more aware of the trials African students face serving as her first look into their troubles before Ricks brought the library idea to her.

"He and his mom go to Goodwill and flea markets to purchase books and send them to Liberia. I was so compelled by his story I asked, how can I help,'" Jenkins said.

Together Jenkins and Ricks founded their non-profit Library for Africa in late 2019.

They bought two acres of land and are working to raise $350,000 to build out a multipurpose library complex that will house educational services, a community and adult learning center.

"We want the library to be 21st century modern digital technological library. We'll have some books but I want to focus more on technology where we could have computers, laptops, iPads where we can load hundreds of books on and we don't have to worry about how to keep those shelves filled with books that are out of circulation," Jenkins said.

In addition to raising money for the future library, Ricks and Jenkins have created educational care packages of backpacks filled with books calculators, school supplies and iPads for Dayton students and students at Ardju Preparatory and Daycare Center in Monrovia, Liberia.

"We sent about 1,800 books over to a school in Liberia. They want the same thing that anybody else's kids want, and I tell them I'm determined to try to help you get it," she said. They want access to quality education and that

Ricks and Jenkins originally wanted to start construction later this year but haven't been able to come close to their goal due to the pandemic stunting their ability to do fundraiser and in person gatherings.

Ricks said the library will be a valuable tool to help teach and develop the minds of young Liberian children and won't give up until it's finished.

Jenkins said the best way to help is through financial support. To donate to Library for Africa visit their website or their Go Fund Me page.