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Deb McNally

North Hudsonite building libraries in Ghana

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North Hudson resident Deb McNally is a teacher who has taken her effort well beyond the classroom and is now building libraries in Ghana. She is the inspiration for, founder of, and now executive director of Hand in Hand for Literacy.

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The organization, with an office in St. Paul, has already built one library in Ghana and is currently fundraising for a second facility in the country.

"It all started about five years ago when I signed up as a volunteer (through an organization called Global Volunteers)," McNally said. "I intended to go to Ghana for three weeks. Well, the trip changed my life."

When she arrived in the town of Senchi-Ferry, Ghana, McNally found herself in front of more than 60 kids in a concrete room.

"I was used to rooms with posters, maps on the wall and books on the shelf," McNally said. "What I found was a room with cracked concrete walls, kids with a paper and pencil and not a book to be found."

She soon discovered that there was not a book in the entire village. What she did find, however, were kids who were eager to learn.

"What struck me most is that these kids were eager to learn English," she said. "They walked one or two miles to school and were the most eager learners I had ever worked with. They wanted to learn every word. What I found out was that they saw learning as an opportunity for them to rise out of poverty."

She asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.

"Some said they wanted to be doctors and find a cure for aids; some wanted to be pilots to bring medical supplies to the villages; some wanted to be scientists and teachers," McNally said. "They all had huge dreams and goals, but had no idea how to get there. They had no resources."

When McNally was ready to leave the country after her first visit, a young boy named Emmanuel and his father walked a long distance to say "good-bye."

"Emmanuel gave me a hug and said 'if there is any way you could send me a book on medicine I would be forever grateful.'" McNally said.

She realized it would be easy to send Emmanuel one book, but then thought about the dreams of all the other kids in the community. She then decided to raise the money necessary for a library. It took three years to build, but the Senchi-Ferry Community Library opened in January 2011 and now houses over 8,000 books and serves over 1,000 kids.

With the project completed, however, McNally decided she was not ready to be done. She began a project to build a second library in an area known as Challenging Heights located in the Cape Coast region of Ghana, Africa. Challenging Heights provides education for children who have been rescued from slavery or are at risk for child trafficking. The school has no books or library.

The population of the school (approximately 700 students between the ages of 4 and 17) is made up of 25 percent of children rescued from slavery, over 35 percent of children withdrawn from child labor and almost 40 percent of children from the community who are considered at risk.

She is now attempting to raise funds for a library through her Hand In Hand For Literacy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Aside from outright donations, however, she also wants to encourage local students follow her passion for literacy.

"I have been working closely with the Hudson schools in getting students to commit to reading outside of the school," McNally said. "It's important to keep literacy alive here as well. In working with the teachers, we've been able to get kids to read a certain number of minutes. I'm looking for individuals and businesses to help sponsor those kids. They raise money for each minute they read and help build our library in Ghana."

She expects to be able to build her second library in Challenging Heights for about $87,000; the first in Senchi-Ferry cost about $67,000.

One of her favorite stories came during the opening of the library in Senchi-Ferry nearly two years ago.

I was working in the library with the new librarian and I heard noise in the hall," McNally said. "It got closer and closer and I asked the librarian about the noise.

"He went and looked and came back saying 'it's just Isaac, Joseph's son.'"

It turns out that Isaac was a handicapped 17-year-old boy. He got himself to the library door in his make-shift wheelchair, and then crawled down the hallway to see what was going on.

"I pulled a book off the shelf and sat with him and read the book as he looked at the pictures," McNally said. "He grinned and literally shook with delight.

"It then struck me that Isaac probably didn't understand a word I read, but the pictures in the book gave him a window into a world that he'll never see. It motivates me."

For information about the Hand in Hand for Literacy program, or to make a donation, go to www.handinhandforliteracy.org. Nearly 100 percent of donations go to the current project.

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