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Opa: Thank you to the people of Dickinson

Peter Opa

Dear Wonderful

People of Dickinson,

I'm leaving your lovely town today with a heart so full of gratitude, I cannot contain it. I want to tell the world how good you are and how your generosity will go a long way in bringing hope to the poor people that I'm trying to help in my African village. I want the world to know what a great city you are!

My journey to Dickinson started in Chicago in June when I went to the American Library Association Conference.

No, I'm not a librarian! However, my compassion for the children who are dropping out of school in my village led me to the conference. Some of these young minds are so brilliant, they could be the future doctors and lawyers and engineers to change Africa. The Ivy League colleges would be throwing scholarships at them if they were in the United States. But sadly, they are dropping out of school because they are hungry and they cannot afford to buy books.

I wanted to share this story and seek help to build a library for my village. And who best to talk to about books than librarians?

Luckily, I met Rita Ennen, a university librarian. She is from Dickinson.

"I'm a mother and I was deeply moved by your story. As a mother, it broke my heart to know that children are going to bed hungry and dropping out of school in your village. I'm proud of your work and I'll try my best to help you." Being a Christian, she added: "Trust God! I'll be praying for you and God will provide everything you need to build the resource center for your village."

What a godly woman! Her words lifted up my spirit. They also brought tears to my eyes. And I knew she meant them when, a few weeks later, I received an invitation to Dickinson.

I had never felt more honored by a people. A friendlier, warmer people I've never met than the people of Dickinson.

A professor of literature, Karen Foster, took me to dinner. She was very inspiring, yet so funny. I couldn't believe she was a professor and not a comedian! Another professor, Debra Dragseth, gave me the opportunity to speak to her business students on global issues and business ethics. Dr. Jim McWilliams is supporting the library project with lots of book donations.

But it wasn't just the university community who were interested in my charity. The pastor of Dickinson United Methodist Church, Dan Freed, and his beautiful wife, Sheila, treated me to a special lunch in their home. It was a feast. In addition, they donated books to the library project.

More heartwarming: Robert Eilts is exploring adopting an impoverished child from my village, so they can have a better future in America. What a big heart!

Besides the social gatherings in private homes, a public event was organized at the Dickinson Public Library for me to speak about my project in Africa.

Not only that, the local media is equally supportive. The Dickinson Press covered my speaking events, while the local radio -- I-94 KXDI FM -- did a live radio interview with me to promote my work in Africa.

Oh, wait! It got even better. Thanks to Yvonne Kroll, the woman with a heart of gold, Dickinson Rotary Club invited me to speak at their meeting and -- to my amazement -- generous checks were written for the Ajara Project ( I was humbled! My heart was full of gratitude.

Many are the things that make the city of Dickinson a lovely place. The people are very hospitable to strangers in general. Quite frankly, it doesn't seem like anybody can be a stranger in this town. But for my heavy African accent, which often prompts the ubiquitous question, "Where are you from?" everybody treated me like an old friend.

For somebody like me who is sick and tired of the long, nerve-wracking traffics of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago (places I've lived since I migrated into the U.S.), Dickinson is a welcome relief. Unlike the megacities full of noise and crime, Dickinson is peaceful. I slept like a baby at night. This town is a writer's haven.

What not to like about this wonderful city? I love you, dear Dickinson. I'm deeply touched by your kindness and generosity. Thank you very much for your hospitality and support for my work in Africa.

Because of you, poor and hungry children are going to have the opportunity to complete their education. And because of you, orphans in my village are going to have a brighter future. May God bless you all!

With a grateful heart!

Opa is the director of the Ajara Project. Email him at