Emma Taylor explains how Book Aid International is getting books to adults and children in remote places where previously they were rare
As members of the publishing industry, we live in a world full of books. Most of us have books at home and went through school surrounded by books, but in many places books are rare.
For isolated rural communities like Chesongoch in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, accessing books can be especially challenging. Chesongoch is a tiny village in an area made up of rugged hills with poor, unpaved roads. Many residents leave the community only a few times over the course of their lifetimes, and most still practise a pastoral lifestyle, leaving them vulnerable to frequent droughts. Poverty is rife, and few adults were able to complete school. Many are illiterate or semi-illiterate.
Our team here at Book Aid International included Chesongoch in our Inspiring Readers programme in 2016. Inspiring Readers is a London Book Fair International Excellence Award-winning programme that creates small school libraries where children would otherwise have only a few textbooks to share. In addition to supplying brand new books, we provide training for teachers in using those books and link schools with local libraries to provide continuing support. Inspiring Readers has given many of Chesengoch's children their first opportunity to read beautiful new books in their classrooms, and teachers report that pupils' reading and writing are improving.
Inspiring readers of all ages
Inspiring Readers is designed for primary school pupils, but in Chesongoch it is also changing the lives of local adults. When parents saw their children reading, they also saw an opportunity. They decided to put the books we provided for their children to work in their own adult reading classes. Supported by a government programme to fund a teacher, they are now using the Inspiring Readers books to learn to read, and the effects are transformative.
Florence, in her 60s, has learned to read for the first time in her life. She can now ensure that she gets a fair price when shopping and use a mobile phone to stay in touch with friends and family.
Forty-four-year-old Joseph studies in the reading class with his father, who is over 70. He explained how important the books were for his learning: "If the books were not here, we would not be learning. Our teacher has no other materials to teach us. I would like to complete a distance learning course through this adult education. Then I will be able to teach other people."
Books where they're needed most
Book Aid International is committed to ensuring the books we provide reach African communities like Chesongoch, but we also know that there are many other places where readers face enormous barriers to accessing books.
Millions have been forced to flee their homes in Syria and across the region, arriving in Southern Europe with little more than the clothes on their backs. Last year, we supplied a small shipment of books to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios, and these books are having a huge impact on displaced children. One of the camp's volunteers, Jamie, described the change he saw: "In the first few days, it would only take half an hour for the children [visiting the library] to lose concentration, even fighting. Many had never been to school, or if they had, it was several years ago and they'd been through some terrible things. But after just three weeks, they stayed on for hours without getting distracted. Reading became a space for them, away from the stress of the camps, where they could be excited in productive and enriching ways, not traumatic ones."
The books donated to our charity by the book trade are at their most precious in places like Chesongoch and Chios, where the challenges to accessing books and reading are greatest. We could not support these vulnerable communities without the generosity of our partners in the book trade who donate more than one million new books every year. These books change the lives of those who read them, and we look forward to sending books to more readers around the world in the years to come.
At Book Aid International, we believe that books change lives and that everyone should have access to books, whatever their circumstances. Every year, our charity provides more than one million new books, donated by the publishing industry, to thousands of libraries around the world, and runs library development projects that help libraries support readers. Learn more by visiting www.bookaid.org.
Inspiring Readers reached Chesongoch and other Kenyan communities thanks to funding from players of People's Postcode Lottery.
Photos: (top) pupils excited about reading at Murkutwo primary school; (above) Florence (in yellow) and her fellow readers.
Emma Taylor is head of communications at Book Aid International.
This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Show Daily.