June 23, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Reading is fundamental relief effort in Ghana

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Reading is fundamental relief effort in Ghana

Read and comment on this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on PCV Kim Rennie shown in the picture above and the work she is doing in Ghana where her job has been to help the community develop an arboretum targeted at tourism at:

Reading is fundamental relief effort in Ghana *

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Reading is fundamental relief effort in Ghana

Jun 23, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Author(s): Laurel Walker

County Lines

Reading is fundamental relief effort in Ghana

By LAUREL WALKER of the Journal Sentinel staff

Sunday, June 23, 2002

As Jane Mitchell tells it, she and her dear friend, Gail Rennie, were "two naive but well-meaning women" intent upon sending a few books to an impoverished Third World country.

A few?

How about 5,000 or so books fit for school-aged children -- enough donated to give a small English-speaking village in the rain forest of Ghana its very first library, the only one within 30 miles.

So many books, in fact, that as their project snowballed, it began to scare them. They knew how costly the books would be to ship.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The story really starts with Kim Rennie, 33-year-old daughter of Gail and Lawson Rennie of Brookfield. The 1987 graduate of Waukesha South High School went on to earn a business degree and settle into a successful career in Atlanta before finding new fulfillment in humanitarian causes.

She joined the Peace Corps and, in September 2000, landed in Bunso, Ghana, a West African village of 3,000 where her job has been to help the community develop an arboretum targeted at tourism.

Help on the way

On Kim Rennie's only visit home, just last Christmas, Jane Mitchell of Brookfield joined her for lunch.

"She was just absolutely so inspiring," said Mitchell, who found herself wondering "how could an affluent American housewife help such a tireless Peace Corps worker?"

"She just loves her little village, and Bunso has so many needs."

Kim Rennie had an idea. Books. There simply are none in the Bunso schools.

Gail Rennie knows this first hand. At the urging of her daughter, Gail spent five weeks in Bunso working side-by-side with her daughter early this spring.

As curious villagers who'd never painted in their lives crowded closer, mother and daughter painted a 7-by-14-foot map of the world on the side of the village's Junior Secondary School for seventh- through ninth-graders. Gail Rennie turned it into a geography lesson, one of several she presented to students.

"While we were painting I would bring classes to the map and I taught them about continents, oceans, indigenous people, size, how long it took me to get there," she said.

"I gave them a concept of the world because up to that point, their world had been the village of Bunso. Most had not been outside the village."

The school itself is made of cement block walls, thatched roof, hand-made desks and a single chalkboard. Not every student can afford a notebook or pencils, and there are no books.

Books for Bunso

Books. That's what Bunso needed.

Jane Mitchell wasted no time. She began organizing small fund- raising and book-donating events among her friends. She called each "Lunch for a Library" and asked Kim Rennie to speak at the first one, before she returned to Ghana. Mitchell then showed her videotaped remarks and asked Gail Rennie to take over questions and answers.

One day Mitchell found herself with 1,500 books in her living room, prompting husband Bob to say, "Jane, this time you've taken on more than you can chew."

But she -- and Rennie -- kept chewing. The two women moved the books to Rennie's church, St. John's Lutheran on Davidson Road, where the collection kept growing. Volunteers have been pitching in to get the books organized for shipping.

"I'd just call my friends and say, 'I need help,'" said Rennie. Mitchell relied on her e-mail string for getting the call for help out.

Two fortuitous events are bringing the project closer to reality.

An anonymous benefactor connected to the shipping business offered to donate the shipping -- a cost that could reach $8,000 to $10,000, the women figure. And back in Ghana, the Bunso village chief offered to provide a building for the library. Kim Rennie is overseeing the renovation, including installation of doors, windows and shelves paid for with money raised by Mitchell.

The women plan to have the books shipped by month's end. The library needs to be finished by October, when Kim Rennie's stint in Ghana is over.

Gail Rennie, like any mother, was always positive and encouraging about her daughter's dream of a library for Bunso. That's the way a mother's heart is. In her head, though, she admitted thinking that it was an impossible dream.

Yet Kim Rennie has shown through other volunteer projects -- in addition to her Peace Corps job -- that no task is too daunting. She's started a girls club to help improve the self confidence of girls often made to feel inferior. She volunteers at an orphanage where she offers recreation programs. She has organized HIV and AIDS education seminars and support groups for children and adults. She's seeking a grant to build a second community latrine, where only one exists now and where homes have dirt floors, no electricity and no water.

Above all, she inspired two "naive but well-meaning" Brookfield women to send "a few" books to Bunso.

In a letter home earlier this month, Kim Rennie borrowed a passage from a book she was reading to pay tribute to the effort of her mother, her friend, Jane, and others who have pitched in since.

One person doesn't have to move a mountain, she wrote. You just have to pick up a shovel and start digging. The dirt you move might help just one person. Or better yet, it might inspire others to pick up a spade and start shoveling, too.

Call Laurel Walker at (262) 650-3183 or e-mail her at lwalker@onwis.com

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