Many Canadian immigrants send money back home. Leonard Boniface sent a library.
In January, the Mobile Youth Container Center officially opened in Bariadi, Tanzania, Boniface’s hometown.
Built out of a shipping container, the centre has books, computers, free Internet access, and even a small conference room.
Bariadi is a nice village, but like most areas of rural Tanzania there is a lot of poverty, said Boniface.
“The people there they don’t have access to Internet; they don’t have access to computers,” he said. “Most of the schools don’t have libraries, so there’s a need.”
Fulfilling those needs is something that Boniface has spent most of his life working towards.
It’s a passion that has taken him around the world.
It was while visiting Australia as a member of the Oxfam International Youth Parliament that he first got the idea of starting a Mobile Youth Container Center.
“I saw mobile facilities as a means to connect communities and provide information necessary for change,” said Boniface.
In Germany it’s also very common, although it’s a different kind of project, he said.
There they fill a shipping container with toys and take them to underprivileged communities.
“The kids play, then they put the toys back into container and they drive to the next community.”
Three years ago Boniface visited the Yukon on vacation and fell in love with the territory. Eight months later he was living in Whitehorse.
One of the first things he did was start a non-profit organization aimed at empowering the territory’s young people.
Through Teenage Life & Young Adults International, Boniface toured around Whitehorse speaking at schools and events and inviting other inspirational Yukoners to join him.
He also started fundraising to build the library.
Somewhere in between his work with multiple community groups and his day job as a geotech in the mineral exploration industry, Boniface found time to get married and start a family.
He used some of the money he got last year from the birth of his son Hisani, whose name means charity or good cause in Swahili, to help fund the library project.
Someday Boniface plans on taking his son to Tanzania to visit family and see the library that his birth helped finance, but right now he’s focused on sending other Yukoners there to volunteer at the centre.
There is one local employee that works at the library in Bariadi, but volunteers are needed to teach English and basic computer literacy, he said.
“We want to connect people locally and internationally, that’s the main thing,” he said. “This world is like a village.”
There’s also a lot that Africans can teach Yukoners, said Boniface.
“Learning about the other cultures is very helpful in life,” he said. “Getting experience by seeing the life in other cultures and how we take some stuff for granted … by helping, you can make a huge difference.”
On April 20, TELIYA International is holding an event at the Coast High Country Inn where Boniface hopes to drum up interest and recruit volunteers for the library project.
A Night of Africa will feature African food, crafts and performances. Boniface, who is also a musician, will be performing himself and launching a music album he recently recorded.
The proceeds from the event and album sales will be donated to fund the next project Boniface has in mind, a mobile medical clinic.
The idea is to buy a minibus and stock it with medical supplies and equipment to provide free medical care to rural Tanzanians.
The mobile clinic will cost quite a bit more than the $7,000 it took to set up the library, said Boniface. About $22,000.
The precarious state of women’s health care and the fact that child mortality is so high in Tanzania are problems that really strike home with the new father.
Many poor rural Tanzanians struggle to pay the expense of hiring a car to take them to a hospital, he said. It isn’t uncommon for women to try to reach the hospital on a bicycle with a flat tire. That means many women end up delivering their babies in the bush.
Just providing a ride to the hospital would make a huge difference, said Boniface.
“Why can’t kids be born the same everywhere?” he asked. “I’m sure we are going to save the lives of so many woman with this project.”
Tickets for A Night of Africa are available at the Coast High Country Inn, Asian Central and Arts Underground. Tickets are $20 each. More information can be found at www.theteliya.org.
Contact Josh Kerr at