By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison KaiserslauternMay 4, 2012
BRUCHMUHLBACH-MIESAU, Germany (May 4, 2012) -- Books from the Miesau Army Depot library will soon be helping Rwandans learn English, thanks in part to a retired U.S. Army officer and his wife.
Miesau's books will have a new home at the Saint Joseph Integrated Technical College in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, said Tom Martin, a retired signal corps officer, who coordinated the effort with his wife Margret. Students and the local community will be able to check out books, he said.
"It's an opportunity to help people learn the English language," Martin said. "This will be another resource."
On a rainy April morning, the Martins joined several German friends to clear shelves and pack hundreds of books into shipping boxes. Local German news reporters photographed and interviewed them as they worked.
In a nearby field kitchen, Spc. Enock Guto, 28, a cook with the 212th Combat Support Hospital, dished out breakfast to troops as Martin and his friends began packing library books. Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, Guto said people in Africa often can't afford to buy books despite their need to know the language.
"It's setting a good example, helping Africans," Guto said. "Most of them don't have books. I think it's a good idea and I think it will help."
For nearly 30 years, the German state of Rhineland Palatinate, where U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern and Ramstein Air Base are located, has had a partnership with Rwanda. Rwandan's native language is Kinyarwanda but since colonial times they learned French.
During the 1994 genocide, Rwanda's people suffered heavily. Since then, the country underwent significant development efforts -- to include adopting English as a new official language. In 2008, English replaced French in Rwandan schools.
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern recently closed Miesau's library, focusing resources on the community's two other libraries at Landstuhl and Kleber Kaserne. Community members also have extensive resources available through U.S. Army Europe's online library website.
Under Army regulations, books from closing libraries are first offered to other military libraries, said Stacey Graham, IMCOM Europe Region librarian. Then, charitable organizations are asked, he said, as an alternative to simply discarding items. Working through the U.S. State Department, the library books were offered to the German non-profit organization dedicated to the local partnership with Rwanda.
"These materials have passed through hundreds of hands, Soldiers, civilians, local nationals, children and adults," Graham said. "To see that there's an opportunity for these resources to be used again, that's very worthy. That's a good cause."
After retiring, Martin settled in Heppenheim, which is near Heidelberg. Two years ago, when a German friend explained Rwanda's need to English books, Martin made a few calls. In August 2010, they moved 16,000 library books from the former U.S. Air Force library in Sembach to Gitarama, a city in central Rwanda.
Martin and his wife, a trained librarian, then traveled to Gitarama, where they helped organize the library and install computer software to track book loans. The Sembach library is now the largest English language library in Rwanda, Martin said.
"We were very happy to see the students using the books," Martin said. "It's very rewarding."