Children reading

Getting started with Open Doors in Zimbabwe

29th March 2016 | Blog

Together with our partners in Zimbabwe, we are currently working to establish five new Children’s Corners in public libraries as part of our Open Doors programme. Recently our Head of Programmes travelled to Zimbabwe to visit the libraries and conduct our baseline assessments. Here’s Samantha’s account of her trip.

The purpose of the trip was to conduct baseline surveys of the selected libraries which will be included in the Zimbabwe phase of our Open Doors Children’s Corners programme. The programme aims to engage children in reading by providing child-friendly spaces in public libraries where they can read, play and learn. Doing baselines surveys is really a way of measuring activities in the library now so that when we’ve completed the project we’ll be able to tell what impact the new Children’s Corners are having.

I visited each site and conducted a questionnaire gathering details about the library – how it operates currently, how the children use it and the current skills of the librarians. It was also a great opportunity to share the concept of the Open Doors programme with the librarians, get them excited about the project and answer their questions. I also take photos of the library spaces so we can monitor the progress of the project against this starting point.

The libraries I visited were generally large, airy, purpose-built buildings, largely built in the 1960s and all in need of upgrading. While they all had designated spaces for children, a lack of funding has meant that the spaces are all in need of some TLC. The furniture is old and not always suitable for children and many of the libraries have an outdated collection of books for children. Unfortunately when I visited, there were not many children using the spaces – exactly what we hope to fix through the Open Doors programme.

Although many of the librarians I met are very passionate about engaging children in reading, very few of them have had training in working with children and encouraging them to read. The library spaces are crying out for the energy and enthusiasm that children can bring and there was a real desire in the librarians to transform their spaces and improve their own skills so they can help to inspire the next generation of readers in Zimbabwe.

Our Open Doors programme offers the library network in Zimbabwe an opportunity to focus on their young users. With training for the librarians, carefully selected, brand new children’s book donations as well as a chance to spruce up the spaces with a refurbishment grant – these libraries will be transformed after this intervention! We hope to see a real revival in children’s interest in reading and we hope that the new spaces, combined with brand new books and librarian training will act as a powerful and winning combination to strengthen the reading culture there.

The most memorable experience was seeing a girl writing in the library. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me she was copying the story from the library book because she could not afford membership which would have allowed her to borrow it. This was the best way to have her own copy of the books, which she could read at home and read to and with her siblings. I was moved by her determination to overcome this common financial obstacle – such was her love of reading. It’s children like this who will really benefit from the new Children’s Corners. In a beautifully decorated, child-friendly space with reading activities to participate in and lots of new and exciting children’s books, she will be able to inspire her siblings and grow their love of reading too.

 

The training has already taken place for the librarians from the five libraries and now the next stage is the refurbishment. Once the spaces are bright, vibrant and child-friendly, they can be filled with 2,500 brand new books from the UK (these have already been shipped) as well as locally published books. It feels like a really exciting time for libraries in Zimbabwe and we look forward to bringing you updates on these Children’s Corners throughout the year.

This project in Zimbabwe is generously supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

You can find out more about our Open Doors programme here and watch a short film about Children’s Corners in Malawi here

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