I recently returned from a month in Kenya to supervise setting up The Akili Trust’s second library in Kakuyuni, a poorly-resourced community about fifteen miles inland from the coast. All of us at Akili felt that it was important that we update you, our friends and donors, on how we have spent your money and on what we have been doing.
The project started many months ago: with the help of many friends, we collected and packed more than 8,000 carefully selected books – many of them brand-new and donated by publishers and literary agents as well as individuals. Finally, one morning in July, our 10 cubic metres of books and library shelving were trundled away on a huge blue lorry. Thanks to the good advice and efficiency of Fairways Consolidators in Kenya, the load slipped through Mombasa Port easily, six weeks later, with nothing extra to pay.
When I arrived in Kenya, my first errand was to buy local books, as the community in Kakuyuni naturally wants African writers’ work as well as global best-sellers. I visited the biggest bookshop in Nairobi and two publishers, who patiently took me through their catalogues, advised on the Kiswahili titles and then gave hefty discounts.
Kakuyuni Primary School had agreed to donate one of its classrooms, at the edge of the school compound, to be fitted out as a library that the whole community can use. Although the basic structure was in place, the building needed doors, windows and a ceiling, plastering and painting, shelving and furniture. As the room was quite small, we’d decided to build a small extension of two extra rooms. We also planned to fence off the library from the school playground, with one gate for the school and another for the community.
Kakuyuni’s headmaster, Richard Mutsunga, has always been an active supporter of the project; as the school had some spare building materials, he offered them to Sammy Baya, our building supervisor, so that the work could get started before I arrived with the money. On my first visit to Kakuyuni, it was already a hive of activity – but the extension was twice the size we’d agreed. Politely, they explained that some plastering had already been done by the school, so they assumed the Akili Trust’s money would stretch. I’d been neatly ambushed, but when the library was complete, it turned out to be a good decision, as the two new rooms are airy and large. (And ultimately we ended up £1,000 under budget!)
Once I’d seen the building work was on track, ordered more materials, and checked in with everyone at Dabaso, our first library, I set off for Mombasa by matatu (a local minibus). As well as collecting our cargo, I needed to go shopping for the library. But while it was easy to find small plastic chairs for the new children’s libraries at both Dabaso and Kakuyuni, a librarian’s desk and catalogue drawers proved elusive. Eventually I was taken to an Aladdin’s cave of a junk shop. A sturdy hardwood desk with seven drawers was discovered near the back, along with a metal card cabinet and a child’s bench that cost less than a tenner. Next day, I collected our cargo of books and shelves – completely intact – piled the new furniture on top, and then jumped into the lorry’s cab for the ride back north to Malindi.
As well as the books to equip Kakuyuni and to top up Dabaso’s stock, we had sent some extra books for other organisations around Malindi. On a day of torrential rain, I hired a pick-up and delivered ten boxes of novels and non-fiction to the local Kenya National Library Service branch, three boxes of picture books for a new nursery school for AIDS orphans and some academic reference works for the Malindi Development Office. “Oh, I do not know how to thank you for the books,” read an SMS from the KNLS librarian. “They are really good.”
The next major job was to recruit new librarians for Kakuyuni. Mutsunga, the headmaster, had circulated a job description before my arrival, and we short-listed nine candidates, all secondary school graduates from the community. Interviews were held in a corrugated iron lean-to beside the school football field, and the candidates approached nervously, one-by-one, all answering with great composure and commitment. The chosen candidates, Janet Kaingu and Mohamed Athman, reported for duty at Dabaso Library a few days later. There, they were given a crash course in how the library operates and over the next days, I also showed them double-entry bookkeeping and how to use email.
At the end of their week’s induction, Janet and Mohamed spent a day in and around Kakuyuni conducting a base-line survey of the community’s reading habits. They spoke to 305 people, of whom 80% said they were literate. Of these, 99% said they like to read, but only 34% of adults and 2% adults have ever used a library – until now!
After four weeks’ work, Kakuyuni Library was ready to open, although cataloguing the 5,000 books will take many months. It boasts a children’s library, a study/meeting room (awaiting computers in the future) and a bougainvillea edged garden. On October 12th, the community came together and celebrated, with dancing, rap, acrobats and supportive speeches from local officials and politicians. And wonderful songs, of course, composed for the occasion: “Reading will be our hobby,” I heard. “Kakuyuni is shining… We have a new culture of books… Rise and dance… The library is just here, so no need to go far to search for books.”
As we said goodbye to the new librarians, people were already borrowing books.
Thanks to the many people who helped make this happen and with your continued support and those of our many supporters we will keep making a difference in a very real way to this fantastic community.
NICCI CROWTHER, Chair, The Akili Trust, 31.10.07