Santa Clara University

Santa Clara's Tapestry of Excellence:

A Light of Hope

Economics Professor Michael Kevane
Economics Professor Michael Kevane works with students to study the impact of libraries in Africa.
It is evening in Bereba, an African village in sub-Saharan Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world. As the darkness takes hold, the entire village is illuminated only by oil lamps,with one exception,the library. There, solar panels keep four fluorescent lights burning late into the evening, enabling villagers to use the library for far more hours than daylight would provide.

In a nearby room, three SCU students sit with Michael Kevane, SCU associate professor of economics. A villager, Nihani, has joined them. Nihani can neither hear nor speak, but the students watch intensely as he tries to communicate through hand gestures.

Grants from Santa Clara University, including from the Center for Science and Technology, which provided the solar panels; the Bannan Center for Jesuit Education, which in part enabled students to assess the impact of the libraries; and most recently, a Hackworth Grant in Applied Ethics from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, have gone far to fund Kevane‰s work establishing libraries in remote villages in Western Africa, including three in Burkina Faso and one in Ghana.

The Hackworth Grant is enabling Kevane to Grant to study ethical concerns that perhaps the culture promoted by libraries,the printed word,is at odds with the culture of oral traditions. SCU students serve as research assistants. Together with Kevane, they examine how Western involvement in traditional cultures can be done with the social responsibility and ethical concerns necessary to achieve a just end. And, through meetings with people of other cultures, religions, and economic conditions, such as Nihani, these students‰ lives and hearts are changed.

Hackworth Grants, awarded twice a year, are made possible by a gift from Michael and Joan Hackworth, longtime supporters of SCU. In Spring 2003, four faculty members and two students received grants.

Kevane‰s grant grew out of a project he began with his wife, Leslie Gray, SCU assistant professor in political science and environmental studies. Kevane and Gray had experience in Africa dating back to 1984, when they worked in Sudan after attending Georgetown University. In 2001, they founded Friends of African Village Libraries with the goal of bringing books to these villages.

Kevane witnesses the impact of the program on students. Those who sat in the small, lamp-lit hut "listening" to Nihani "were able to see the importance of economic development," Kevane says. "And that someone like Nihani may be able to overcome an obstacle placed in front of him by chance."

- By Susan Vogel

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