We recently opened the first of seven Children’s Corners in Zimbabwe – giving children the opportunity to read, play and learn. See the transformation here!
Last week our Head of Communications, Jessica Faulkner, travelled to Zimbabwe to attend the launch of our first Open Doors Children’s Corner there. Here, she reports on her trip and the librarians that made this exciting new chapter a reality.
This was my first trip to Zimbabwe and I was really excited to witness the launch of our very first Open Doors Children’s Corner here. We have supported libraries in Zimbabwe with books for over 40 years but this is the first project we’ve run in the country. Together with our partners in Zimbabwe, we are opening five Children’s Corners in public libraries in Bulawayo and two in Harare – bright and colourful spaces where children can read play and learn freely. The first of these to open was Nketa library in a high-density suburb of Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo. Nketa was also to be the location for the official launch of the programme in Zimbabwe.
The day before the launch I travelled to Nketa library to see how preparations were going and I was delighted to find the space busy with librarians and friends of the library who were applying the final touches to the new Children’s Corner. The space is bright and airy and has now been decorated with paintings from children’s stories, traditional African art and inspiring quotes to encourage reading. The shelves are packed with 2,500 brand new books from the UK as well as locally published books in local language Ndebele for which the project provided funding. There are cushions and mats on the floor so that children feel comfortable when reading and they know the space is their own. The librarians have all attended training in engaging young readers and running a great children’s library. The training was facilitated by expert trainer Vivienne Moyo who attended our ‘train the trainers’ session in Kenya last year.
There are five libraries in Bulawayo which will soon be opening the doors of their new Children’s Corners. What was really encouraging was that all the librarians from these libraries were at Nketa, helping to get the space ready for the launch. And this week, all those librarians will be moving from library to library to get the remaining four Children’s Corners open as well – a real team effort!
On the day of the launch we gathered in a marquee outside the library. His Worship the Mayor of Bulawayo was in attendance, as was the Acting Town Clerk. We all made speeches and even read extracts from a children’s book to remind everyone of why we were there – because books really can change lives. There was poetry, dancing and drama and then we cut the ribbon of the Children’s Corner and declare it officially open. It was almost immediately filled with children who couldn’t wait to get their hands on the new books!
Over the next few days I managed to see the remaining four libraries in Bulawayo which will shortly be opening their Children’s Corners – Nkulumane, Tshabalala, Njube and Pumula. It was really exciting to see these Children’s Corners in different stages of development and to know that soon, they’ll be full of eager children who have access to a wide selection of appealing, age-appropriate books.
Just before I left Zimbabwe, I was pleased to pick up a signed agreement from the City of Harare, which means we can now begin work on a further two Children’s Corners in the capital Harare. These libraries are also in high-density suburbs, meaning they can reach a large number of children and provide a space which is truly theirs.
This is a really exciting chapter for children in Zimbabwe. The young readers I saw using the Children’s Corners in Nketa and Njube were so excited by the new books – it’s clear there’s a real hunger to read and these new spaces will make all the difference in enabling a generation to discover the joy of reading.
We look forward to bringing updates of how the Children’s Corners in Zimbabwe are progressing. Our Open Doors Children’s Corners programme in Zimbabwe is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
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.