Libraries Leading Change
Ahmed runs the National Library in Somaliland. He’s seen how increasing access to libraries and books has improved literacy rates and empowered communities across the country. This is his story.
My name is Ahmed Dahir Elmi. I grew up in Hargeisa, Somaliland and went to primary and secondary school here. In the years since independence in 1960, my country has suffered much persecution, with 95% of the country’s infrastructure destroyed in war. Today, Somaliland has a high youth population (70%), it’s abundant in minerals and the people are talented in doing business. With the right tools and opportunities, I believe Somaliland has a very bright future.
When I was in school in Hargeisa, there were no libraries and very few books. Growing up, we would only hear stories when the grandmothers or aunties came from the countryside, because their people were an oral society. When you are young, stories leave you with many memories. Once I grew up and had the opportunity to read books, I had to keep reading.
Books are of great importance to society. In my experience, every person really improves their knowledge the more they read. And that is the biggest reason to encourage the country to open more libraries and read more books.
I feel this is my purpose as the founder of the National Library of Somaliland, which today is Somaliland’s principal library, leading 20 others in the country.
During the five years that we have been working with Book Aid International, they have brought us a lot of quality books on different subjects. Without them it would be difficult for us to have such a large number of quality books.
In Somaliland’s regions that don’t have libraries, or where schools, classrooms and homes lack books, we try to create better access to books so everyone can read. We have started making camel libraries which deliver books to isolated communities. Sometimes we travel to the villages and make libraries under the trees. We hope this can continue because the library is addressing the very important issue of access to books, and it is loved by the children in the villages.
Every month our National Library is visited by five thousand students. Sometimes there is no place to sit because it is full! We have delivered books to every region in every district, to every library, and some schools and universities. The number of people in Somaliland who are reading and writing is increasing. These books have raised the country’s literacy, so it is really a big change.
Book Aid International’s work has promoted the growth of reading, and it has made a big difference to my life and the lives of the young people who are studying in the libraries it has created. Books give a person knowledge and information. You can get knowledge from a book about a country you have not seen or a land you have not reached, or the perspective of someone who has been studying or teaching for 40-50 years, so it gives power to the reader.
The more people’s knowledge increases, the more their progress and life will change, whether it is economic, or social, whether it is everything. The more libraries there are, the more the country’s development, stability and security will increase.
I am really encouraging the people who support Book Aid International – and indeed the books and money they give – to continue their support, because it makes a big difference for the people of Somaliland and to this great National Library.
Elizabeth is fighting to give every Rwandan child the chance to read.
The small community library in Lydia’s village is a lifeline for her, but like too many women around the world, her family does not always support her. This is her story.
Nkem Osuigwe has spent a lifetime advocating for African libraries. Here, she tells us why.