All children should have the opportunity to read – literacy, education and access to information are instrumental in the fight against poverty. Yet in many communities in sub-Saharan Africa, books are scarce. Samuel, 24, grew up in the slums of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya. His life was transformed by his local community library and he is now studying for a degree in Economics at the University of Nairobi. But without access to books, his life, like so many people he knows, could have taken him down a very different path.
Growing up in Mathare slum was quite tough. With my parents, my two brothers, my sister and I all living in a single room, there was no space to study. There was no light at night. There was always noise from the neighbours and it often felt insecure.
I never had any books at home and in primary school we had to share four books between a class of 50 children. As a result my early education was limited and I didn’t read very much.
When I was ten years old, my friends told me about a community library near where we live. It’s run by Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), a local community organisation working to empower children and young people living in the slums of Mathare. The moment I discovered the Mathare North Library, my thoughts about the challenges at home never came into my life again. I discovered a new home in the library. After that whenever I wasn’t in school I was in the library, reading.
Every day I would go there after school to do my homework and one of the staff, George, became my mentor. He would guide me through my assignments and help me choose story books to read. Through his guidance and counselling he made sure I wasn’t carried away in the wind by the negative peer pressure you are surrounded by growing up in a slum.
I got into secondary school and I was fortunate to secure government sponsorship to study economics at the University of Nairobi. I had to wait two years after finishing school before I could take up my place, but I didn’t mind. It gave me time to give back to the library, time to mentor children like Bilha who dreams of becoming a doctor. Now whenever I have spare time after classes or during the holidays I’m always more than humbled to give my time to the younger children at the library. I think it’s important for them to know someone who is from the slum just like them, who made it all the way to university.
For the Mathare North community, the library is a symbol of hope. It is the best gift that Mathare has. It offers a space where the whole community can access information for free anytime they want.
To learn more about Samuel and how his local community library transformed his life, watch this short film.