09/20/2013 06:10 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

The Canadian effort for a Liberian library

Call it a new chapter for Liberia - the construction of a $2-million library and community centre in Paynesville, on the coast of African nation of Liberia.

The library is being built in part by Leo Johnson, a Liberian who escape a brutal civil war in the 90s to come to Canada.

He spent eight years in refugee camps before landing in Hamilton.

Johnson remembers reading by streetlight in his youth.

Later, he said he was inspired to start building the Liberian Learning Centre by reading the biography of Samuel Morris, a Liberian prince who moved to the U.S. and went to Taylor University. It was the book he read during his time in the refugee camps.

He compares that with the awe of stepping into McMaster University's library for the first time as a student.

"I was scared. You just pick up (a book) and nobody asks you a question. I couldn't get over it," he says.

That experience fuelled him to fulfill a promise he made all those years ago at the refugee camp: build Liberians a library, and bring books back to a country ripped bare by war.

"That's what's so exciting about this project," said Johnson.

Former McMaster vice president and alum Roger Trull is helping Johnson raise the $2-million to build the Liberian Learning Centre.

"It's hard as Canadians to even imagine a country without a library," said Trull.

The Centre will be built just outside the capital, Monrovia. City officials there have donated the land.

Jeremiah Sulunteh, the ambassador to Liberia, explains the impact that the library will have.

"In the district where we want to build the library there are 121,000 students without a reading room," he said.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Liberia, is visiting Canada this week. She spoke of 10 consecutive years of peace and the progress made in education.

"Even though we've done a lot to build new schools, train new teachers, to increase enrolment, the quality of education has not reached the standard we want because of lack of laboratories and libraries," she told CBC News.

SirLeaf is facing heavy criticism for lingering corruption in Liberia. But the team behind the Liberian Learning Centre is adamant those troubles of the past won't stall their plans.

"We're asking Canadians to share what they have in so much abundance with places in the world where its non-existent," said Johnson.

They hope to complete construction by the end of 2015.

For more on the project, see