Book Aid: Putting a smile on children's faces
UK publisher support of Book Aid International ensures that children and families in the developing world have a chance of a better start in life. Jacqui Scott recently travelled to Uganda to see the benefits first-hand.Book Aid International has been making a difference in Uganda since the 1990s, and today we operate through two main distributing partners: National Library of Uganda (NLU) and Kyambogo University (KYU).
In 2011, we donated 89,544 books to Ugandan libraries and resource centres, half of them for children. In late July, I and a colleague, James Kimani, our East Africa Representative, went there to research librarians' and users' sense of the impact of our work, and to assess whether or not there were any common problems that we should be addressing.
We visited many different kinds of libraries - primary schools, secondary schools, universities, the only mobile library in Uganda, and a number of community libraries which we had supported through a grant from Pearson, the learning company. I think the strongest feedback we got from the community libraries in particular was about the children's picture books. The staff, volunteers and users had simply never before seen these kinds of books. Quacking Duckling (with a quacking sound!) from Macmillan was often singled out, but many, including old favourites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Oxford Learner's Dictionary, were huge hits.
One of our early visits was to Kawempe Youth Centre (left), in the outskirts of Kampala. Earlier this year, we provided KYC with a small grant and a few hundred books to improve the children's library. I have to say I don't think I've seen a better children's library space in Africa. When we arrived there were at least 25 children in the library, reading, drawing, colouring, playing games, and building with Lego - they were all very excited to be able to tell us how much they love their new space.
Many of the children who use the resource centre are affected by HIV/AIDS.This means they may be out of school or periodically kept home because they are needed to care for sick family members or to undertake chores for the family. KYC is giving them a wonderful, loving environment where they are able to flourish, using books, crafts, drama and dance to involve them. One of the children simply said: "I love the youth centre: it puts a smile on my face."
Esther, who co-founded the library and runs it, mentioned that they provided mobile library services to local schools, but as they didn't have a vehicle they had to put books into a metal box and then on the back of a boda boda - the ubiquitous but notoriously dangerous motorbike taxis for hire. To ensure the safe arrival of books to their destination, one of the library staff or volunteers has to jump on the back of another boda boda to follow the one carrying the books!
We visited other resource centres, including the Gayaza Family Learning Centre (top), in a peri-urban area about an hour and a half from Kampala. When we arrived, we tried to go into the original library, a room of about 8x10 feet. We couldn't actually get in, because at least 40 women and children were crowded in there with the books. Immaculate, who founded and runs the Centre, and her husband Augustine, have built the Centre on their own land, as they recognise how little the local people have. Immaculate is a teacher and Augustine works for a local NGO. They are both hugely dedicated and thoughtful people, trying to find a way of sharing resources and knowledge around their local area.
The women who joined us to talk over the impact the Centre has had on their lives told us that none of them had any form of income coming into their households. They are desperate to learn about income-generating activities from the books we have sent. Most of the women had not been to school, and many were either illiterate or had very limited literacy skills when the Centre opened a few years ago. With Immaculate and Augustine's support, and with the materials available at the Centre, they had improved their own literacy; and vitally, felt better able to support their children as they became readers too.
Immaculate (right) said to me: "I love books because of lives being transformed. Every time I see a book, I see words, I see knowledge, I see wisdom, I see a reason to carry on." I was glad the books we sent were inspiring Immaculate - her work and commitment were certainly an inspiration to me.
Jacqui Scott is Head of Fundraising & Communications at Book Aid International Telephone: 44 (0)20 7326 5800; email email@example.com
Book Aid International increases access to books and supports literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa. We provide over half a million new books to over 2,000 libraries every year. Almost all of these books are donated to us by the UK publishing sector. We have sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954. For more information about our work go to www.bookaid.org.
Why Book Aid International works in Uganda
Uganda is among the poorest countries in the world. English is one of the official languages and is widely spoken. It is taught in schools, but there is a severe shortage of books in both English and the local languages, making books which Book Aid International donates an extremely valuable resource. The school curriculum follows that of the UK, so that the primary and secondary-level books that we send are relevant and help to reduce the high student to book ratio.
Uganda country statistics
Gross national income PPP per capita: US$1,124
Human development index ranking: 161st out of 187 countries
Percentage of the population living on less than US$1.25 PPP per day: 29% (UNDP/HDI statistics, 2011; PPP = purchasing power parity)
Adult literacy: 71% (male: 81%; female: 62%)
Net enrolment in primary education 91%; secondary education 22%
Total enrolment in tertiary education: 124,000 (UNESCO statistics – most recent)
See a short film about Book Aid's work here.