Pandemic: maintaining the books lifeline

Kathy Woolley
Opinion - International Thursday, 29th October 2020

Kathy Woolley reports on how Book Aid International and partners have worked to keep young people supplied with books during the Covid-19 crisis

In an undeniably challenging year, at home and across the globe, we at Book Aid International have taken solace in books. Gripped by new releases and luxuriating in the rediscovery of familiar favourites, we have found in books joy and comfort through our most difficult days. However, many people around the world have not been as fortunate, and when libraries and schools closed it meant that hundreds of thousands of people were left unable to get lost in a good book or to continue their studies. 

These school and library closures meant that at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated 1.5 billion learners across the world were out of school. For many children and young people who have little or no access to books or computers at home, this meant that learning and reading for pleasure were put on hold - indefinitely. 

We've been in constant contact with the organisations we work with throughout the crisis, and we have been amazed and inspired by the way teachers and librarians have adapted and responded to the pandemic, ensuring that as many young people as possible continued to enjoy the opportunity to read. When head teacher Josphat's school closed, he took 100 books from the library to run a mobile library service during lockdown: 

"Without teachers' support, children cannot learn. The parents cannot help them at home because they are illiterate. I took the books from the library to distribute to children at home because right now, the only thing I can do to help these kids is to give them books to read. Our children don't have books at home - but when [Book Aid International] gave our school books, they started reading. The children are very happy with the books I lend them at home. But we will need to work hard when the school reopens." - Josphat, head teacher, Laikipia, Kenya

Many of our partner organisations, such as NGO Dandora Dumpsite Rehabilitation Group (DADREG) in the Dandora slum in Kenya, have worked hard to give children a safe place to read and study while schools and libraries have been closed. 

"The closure of schools and colleges has come with challenges for young girls and boys, especially those living in slums. Their homes are often not conducive for studying and they are looking for spaces to do their studies and be taught. This is the reason why we have opened up our centre - to allow young girls to access reading materials and do their studies. DADREG is providing a refuge to the girls and young boys." - George Onyango, DADREG director

At Book Aid International we are committed to ensuring that when children return to school, they are greeted with the books that will reignite their love of reading and learning. Despite a two-month closure of our warehouse between March and May, our team have worked hard to pick, pack and ship as many books as possible, while adopting new Covid-safe processes and procedures. Happily, many of the books we have sent so far this year have arrived in time for the re-opening of schools and libraries around the world, ensuring that children will have access to new books at school, and on the shelves of their local library.

Of the 700,000 books we have been able to send so far, more than 460,000 are for children, ranging from pop-up and lift-the-flap books, to picture books, chapter books and teen fiction, to primary and secondary textbooks. So far in 2020, we have supported 98 organisations across 17 countries, donating over 700,00 books, and expect to reach 850,000 before the end of the year. For those partners who have been unable to receive donations this year due to reduced capacity, local lockdowns or closure of services, we have pledged support in 2021, as and when they are ready to receive books again. However, we could not do this without the generous help of the publishing industry, which donates the life-changing books we send.

It's impossible to predict what next year will bring, but we do know that books will continue to be vital as children and young people return to education, as communities begin to recover, and as people return to some form of normality.

If your company has surplus books it could donate, please contact Harry Boughton, head of operations: (tel 020 7733 3577).

Photos (top) DADGREG's centre in Dandora Dump Site, Kenya, is providing local children with a place to read and learn during lockdown; a student reads a borrowed book in Simotwo, rural Kenya

Kathy Woolley is head of communications at Book Aid International.