The children of Kouya Sidia in Guinea collected sand and buckets to make bricks for their new village library. Money raised through Guinea Reads in Cumberland paid some of the children a small stipend for their efforts. Contributed / John Marlowe

A teacher and students in Cumberland have helped build a library halfway across the world in a remote village in West Africa.

Mabel I. Wilson third grade teacher John Marlowe said about $12,000 has been raised for the library, which was built earlier this year. It cost about $8,500 for the building, he said, and he’s trying to figure out how much more will be needed to furnish it with chairs, tables and books.

Marlowe’s Guinea Reads, a fundraising nonprofit dedicated to the library, is an offshoot of an effort that started about 10 years ago when he was teaching in New Hampshire, he said. Marlowe had been to visit a friend in Kouya Sidia, Guinea, and told his 4-year-old son, Jamie, about the village. Jamie decided he should host a lemonade stand to raise money to help educate the children there.

Inspired by his son, Marlowe started the nonprofit Stands for Schools, and his young New Hampshire students started hosting their own lemonade stands. All funds raised went toward school fees and uniforms for children in Guinea.

The Kouya Sidia library in its final stages earlier this year. The next step is filling it with books and finishing the interior. Contributed / John Marlowe

Over the next few years and after a move to Cumberland,  Marlowe learned that, despite his best efforts, the literacy rate in the village wasn’t improving. Although more children were able to go to school, they didn’t have the books they needed to practice their reading.

“At that point I realized, wow, they don’t have libraries at all; there’s simply no access to books,” Marlowe said. “That’s when this work started to kick in in Cumberland.”


That’s where Guinea Reads comes into play.

Sayon Camara, a friend of Marlowe who lives in Kouya Sidia, visited School Administrative District 51 in 2019, thanks to a grant from Foundation 51, a SAD 51 nonprofit that works to enhance curriculum and remove barriers to education in Cumberland-North Yarmouth Schools.

Camara conducted a weeklong workshop about the music, dance and stories of his village. The workshop was a huge success, Marlow said, and helped form a strong relationship between Camara and the school district.

In October 2019, SAD 51 students held a benefit concert that raised about $4,000 for the library that was matched by a California philanthropist.

Villagers in Kouya Sidia did their part, too.

“The village was really pitching together to get this library built,” he said, with women collecting water and children collecting sand and buckets to make the bricks.


“Sayon went around the village and found the families most in need and was able to pay children from those families to help out with building, so then they were able to feed their family,” he said. “That’s a bonus we never even planned on, but it was really supporting the village from within the village.”

In addition to Guinea Reads fundraisers, which took a break in fundraising during the pandemic, SAD 51 students and staff have contributed to the library project in other ways.

Advanced French students at Greely High School translated picture books that take place in New England, such as “Blueberries for Sal” and “Make Way for Ducklings,” since Guinea is a French-speaking country.

Students also participated in a read-a-thon, and Marlowe said they have continued to be generous in other ways, such as donating their allowances and holiday and birthday money and holding lemonade stand fundraisers.

Nine-year-old Nolan Pandolfo, of Cumberland, had saved $120 over six months to buy himself a FitBit. Instead, he decided to donate all of his savings to help buy books for students in Guinea.

“It made me feel very happy. The kids have only seen like, one book before; now they’re getting a whole library full of books and they can sit for hours and read,” Pandolfo said.


Pandolfo’s philanthropy isn’t quite done yet. Now he’s practicing his photography skills and selling his work. Any money raised will be going towards Guinea Reads to help fill up the library.

Marlowe said an important piece is making sure the library is truly for the people of the village and they are able to record their own culture and traditions, which is why the library will also contain recording equipment.

“The next thing really is creating, with the village, a library that both honors and respects their culture and provides opportunities to gain literacy and learn about others. It’s perhaps the most important decision in the whole process,” Marlowe said.

Since the effort was kickstarted by young Jamie, the villagers decided to name the library Jamie Marlowe Karan Bon – Jamie Marlowe Learning Center.

“They were all amazed that this little boy could help out a whole village,” Marlowe said. “I didn’t care what the name was, but when they decided to name it that it’s obviously very heartwarming and meant a lot to us.”

More information about Guinea Reads and how to donate can be found at or on the Facebook page Guinea Reads.

The Jamie Marlowe Karan Bon under construction in Guinea. Contributed / John Marlowe

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