Libraries for Liberia
Fundraiser key step in fulfilling Cooper's dream
Zuulu Cooper's vision of creating libraries in his native Liberia began in a storage garage in the Cooper Road area two years ago.
The 19-year Westerville resident, who works as a LAN technician with the Westerville City School District, put out a call to local schools for donations of used books he planned to box and ship to schools in Liberia.
"I never saw a library until I came to the U.S.," Cooper said.
He didn't want that to be the case for other children in Liberia, which was ravaged by two civil wars, one from 1989 to 1996 and another from 1999 to 2003.
From its humble roots, Cooper's mission has grown into the Libraries for Liberia Foundation.
The nonprofit organization has sent 600 boxes of books to three Liberian schools, along with 12 computers and 16 microscopes.
While he is still collecting books, Cooper now has set his eyes on a larger prize: He hopes to build a library in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, with a grander scheme for a branch library in each of Liberia's 15 counties.
Cooper was encouraged in that goal by Triad Architects, which designed Westerville City Schools' new administrative office and Early Learning Center.
While looking at plans for the new buildings, Cooper was approached by one of the architecture firm's partners.
Cooper said he began talking about his dream of building a library in Liberia.
Cooper said he initially balked at the idea, unsure of where he would come up with the money, but he was encouraged by Triad.
Libraries for Liberia will host its first fundraiser for the library at 5 p.m. Oct. 23 at Otterbein University's Cowan Hall, 1 S. Grove St.
The fundraiser will feature Liberian native and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee.
Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with two other Liberian women.
Together, they were credited with leading the women's peace movement in Liberian and helping to bring about the end of the last civil war.
Gbowee was invited to Westerville by Westerville North High School English teacher Amy Birtcher via Cooper.
Last year, Birtcher's classes read Gbowee's memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers.
Wanting to give her class a first-hand account of Liberia's civil wars, she contacted Cooper and asked him to speak.
"At the time, I didn't know anything about the Libraries for Liberia foundation, I didn't know Zuulu," Birtcher said.
Cooper declined Birtcher's invitation, but he said he would invite Gbowee herself on Birtcher's behalf.
"I said I was going to Liberia, and I would talk to her because we go to the same church," Cooper said.
Birtcher said Gbowee was gracious in accepting the invitation, and offered to use her visit to help with the Libraries for Liberia Foundation fund drive.
"She was all excited," Birtcher said. "She said she would love to meet the students who were reading her book."
During the fundraiser, there will be an unveiling of the plans for the Monrovia Library, and Gbowee will talk about her book and share her documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
An autographed copy of her book will be auctioned, and there will be a raffle for a gas gift card during the event.
Tickets, which are $30 for adults and $10 for students 18 and younger, are available online through www.ticketleap.com.
Birtcher said she's excited to have Gbowee's story shared with Westerville, particularly Westerville's youth.
"It's an amazing story. It's an inspiration, and that's one of the reasons I have my students read it," Birtcher said.
"She's just a normal person who has had the courage to stand up to bad people with big guns and say, 'We're not going to take this any more.'
"She feels that she's just an instrument of change."
Cooper said he's excited for what Gbowee's visit means for his foundation.
"Everything has a beginning, so this is the beginning," Cooper said.
The growth of Libraries for Liberia, and its vision, is in large part because of the people who have volunteered to help Cooper along the way, he said.
"Many people are coming on board," Cooper said.
For more information about the Libraries for Liberia Foundation, visit www.LibrariesforLiberiaFoundation.org, or visit the organization's Facebook page.