Can you imagine learning to read without books? In fact, try to think back to any form of study you have done, and then imagine doing it without any books or learning materials. That is the challenge faced by most people where we work. Books and other reading materials are often destroyed by conflict or are too expensive for schools and communities to acquire or replace. Even when books are available, very few of them are in local languages or contain culturally relevant materials.
It is not just books that communities need though. Communities need a safe place where people can access them. Since books are such a valuable resource, circulating them through schools or communities is often thought unwise. In more remote communities, travelling to a library can be impossibly expensive.
We have supported the establishment of lending libraries in communities and schools affected by conflict and poverty.
When we support the establishment of libraries, we are not just making sure that books are in place, but that they are managed and accessible. Sometimes this means making libraries mobile. We have used lorries, motorcycles and donkeys to help books travel around communities and reach people who would have trouble travelling to a library or learning centre. We also train teachers and librarians in how to appropriately organise, manage, and rotate the collections of books.
The library project was first established in Somalia, where we supported the development of school and mobile community libraries. Mobile libraries are used to move books to displacement camps, and also to provide access to reading material for people living with disabilities. School libraries supply much needed learning materials to schools that have lost most of their books due to conflict.
In Eastern Uganda, we have now established 100 school libraries in six districts, reaching 80,000 students. Our support has included training teachers to incorporate reading and library access into their lessons, as well as identifying library leaders to oversee the care of books and enable students and teachers to borrow from the libraries. We have a core of expert volunteers from the UK who support us in this work.
In South Sudan, we have established the first community library in the state of Yambio. It provides over 5,000 books to community members, school pupils, teachers and staff of the local ministries. On a daily basis the library is visited by at least 75 people and lending records show that over 4,000 people have taken books home for further study and reading practice. This library has continued to operate despite the conflict that is affecting the country.
Our mobile and lending libraries help spread books among the community. These libraries have become both learning centres and social centres for many neighbourhoods.