Final chapter for library but not end of the story for St Andrews nurse

St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney speaking at the official opening of the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Library.
St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney speaking at the official opening of the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Library.

When Wilma Sweeney was thinking of ways to honour her late mother, her first idea was to set up a small education fund in her rural home village in Zimbabwe.

The plan was that the fund would pay the schooling costs for a couple of local children.

The latest batch of books arrives for the Gogo Grace Mutemasango  Library.

The latest batch of books arrives for the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Library.

However, when Wilma made a trip early last year to Chikoore, where she spent her early years and where her mother is buried, she discovered that there was no library for the local primary or secondary schools. In fact, there was no library at all in the area.

The discovery got the St Andrews Hospital psychiatric nurse thinking there could be a way to help the wider community as well as marking the life of her mother, Gogo Grace Mutemasango.

With little idea of the scale of the project she was about to embark on, Wilma decided to build a library for the local school.

“I kept thinking about it and instead of just giving the money I decided to create a library,” said Wilma.

Mayor Leo Gwanzura outside the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Library.

Mayor Leo Gwanzura outside the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Library.

And last month she was back in Chikoore to see the result of that decision – the official commissioning and handing over of the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Library to an education trust.

As well as local dignitaries, the ceremony was attended by a representative of the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education.

“It was really so emotional and such a proud moment,” said Wilma “I kept thinking ‘How did this come to me to do this and just look at it now’.

“I still can’t believe it and I’m still pinching myself.”

St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney looks over the shelves of the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Library, which she set up in memory of her mother.

St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney looks over the shelves of the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Library, which she set up in memory of her mother.

She went on to explain: “I’m just a simple nurse who had a dream come true through the help of my friends and my community.

“I am so grateful to the people of Fife, and especially St Andrews, for helping me fulfil my wish to honour my late mum.”

Wilma’s mother was a remarkable woman who was passionate about education.

Widowed at the age of 38, she brought her six children single handedly and was determine her four daughters would have the same opportunities as her sons.

St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney looks over books in the library with officials at the opening ceremony.

St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney looks over books in the library with officials at the opening ceremony.

“When there is not a lot of money, everything would usually go on educating the boys only but my mum believed all children were equal and deserved to go to school.

“I’ve never met anyone who was so passionate about education and the opportunities it can offer - she was my hero.”

“I think she would have been so proud of the library and to see so many lives being changed in her name because that is what she advocated.”

The library will now be available for the whole community to use.

The foundations were laid in April last year and while the building work continued, Wendy put out the word back home in St Andrews that books were needed to fill the shelves.

The response was wonderful - books came in from family and friends, including the congregation at Holy Trinity Church, particularly the Women’s Guild, and even a primary school offered the books it no longer needed. Wilma also roped in husband Kenneth and sons Craig and Tici to help.

Schoolchildren in the village of Chikoore in Zimbabwe with the latest delivery of books for the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Library, set up by St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney.

Schoolchildren in the village of Chikoore in Zimbabwe with the latest delivery of books for the Gogo Grace Mutemasango Library, set up by St Andrews nurse Wilma Sweeney.

Not that the project went without a hitch. When the building was finished there were no shelves for books and Wilma bought wood for them to be made in time for the opening last year.

Although the library is now open for the community and in the hands of the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust, Wilma’s involvement is not at an end.

In another move that her mother would also been very proud of, Wilma has been invited to sit on the board of the trust and help continue to shape access to libraries.

And the work supplying books for the Memorial library will also continue.

“That will continue for as long as I am able,” Wilma said.

When she first started the project, Wilma was overwhelmed at the support she received from Hope Trinity Church in St Andrews and the wider community. She even received a large donation of books from a school in Dalgety Bay. However, receiving the books is only half of the problem – getting them to the library out in Zimbabwe is another matter.

Large plastic containers were used to carry the books which were then shipped out to Harare and then on to the rural area.

“I looked at buying books in Zimbabwe but they are so expensive there and it is more cost effective to ship them out,” she explained.

Recalling the reaction when the first batch arrived, Wilma said: “It was amazing to be sorting through books in the village that we had put together in St Andrews.

“None of these kids has ever had a book of their own or been able to borrow a book to take home with them and they are just so delighted.”

Wilma has a Facebook page - Gogo Grace Mutemasango Memorial Fund and Library Project - which details how the project came together and gives regular updates.

As Wilma plans to continue supporting the library, if anyone would like to donate, either books or to help with the costs, they can contact her at wilschaircovers@gmail.com or call 07736265063.