Our Head of Programmes, Samantha Thomas Chuula, recently travelled to Zambia. While there, she went to see how some of our newly-established Children’s Corners were getting on. Here, Sam tells us about her trip.
When I travelled to Zambia recently, it had been a year since I last stepped foot there and I was greeted with a customary warm Zambian welcome and in addition new roads, shopping malls and multi-story buildings with apartments, hotels and conference facilities “coming soon”. It was great to see development in these areas as it can offer fuel to the economy. I was keen to discover if Zambia’s focus on literacy was developing with the same speed and gusto!
Book Aid International’s Open Doors Children’s Corners programme aims to create spaces especially for children in public libraries in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It has seen much success so far – through them, our partners are reviving the culture of reading for their youngest patrons. The Children’s Corners in Zambia are relatively new and I was keen to get out to the provinces with colleagues from our partner Zambia Library Service to see them in action. Our first trip was to visit Choma Library, a four hour drive south from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. When I visited the library in 2014 it housed mostly old and out-of-date books. It had few adult users and even fewer children. So when I visited this time, I was thrilled to see the transformation!
In the Children’s Corner section of the library, warm yellow paint on three walls formed the backdrop to a forest scene with a sausage tree in one corner and long grass along the skirting. Shelves were filled with colourful and inviting children’s books. Child-sized furniture, carpet and floor cushions were arranged to form areas to sit back and read. Children sat at tables busy drawing and reading with friends. They told me about their favourite books and how their library had changed for the better. The librarians spoke of how their confidence in working with children had grown since they took part in specialist training. They feel able to help and guide children now that they understand the importance of reading from a young age and have some good reading promotion activities up their sleeves.
I am pleased to say it was a similar story at Chipata Library, a six hour journey to the east and Kasama Library, 10 hours north of Lusaka. The librarians I met once again spoke of the paradigm shift that they had experienced:
“We were not trained to manage children or understand their reading needs – but now we know that it’s their right to read books and we learnt how to build rapport with them.”
The librarians are able to deliver an improved service to the community now that they understand and can support children. Such librarians will form readers who will go on to value lifelong learning.
All the libraries I visited were experiencing an increased number of children visiting their new Children’s Corners. For me, the most exciting change was finding a real buzz around reading. The Ministry of General Education and its Provincial Education Officers (PEOs) are seeking to improve support at libraries to engage children in reading. The PEOs I met in Chipata and Choma talked enthusiastically about their local Children’s Corners. They were proud of the work of the Zambia Library Service and its partnership with Book Aid International. The Children’s Corners are attracting more children to the libraries and the wider community is also responding by bringing their children to the library more frequently. This level of Government support and community recognition is a great step forward.
The Zambia Library Service has led a change in attitudes in Zambia towards the importance of reading, especially for children. And that’s not all. The Zambia Library Service together with the Directorate of Standards and Curriculum are introducing classroom libraries in every grade one to four classroom in the country. I saw cupboards hung on walls, some already filled with books and others awaiting them. Teacher training to manage the classroom libraries has already been carried out in eight of the 10 provinces in Zambia. It’s a great initiative and we look forward to supporting it by providing brand new, relevant books for children to enjoy in their classrooms. I hope that this work, combined with our Children’s Corners in Zambia, will continue to grow a love of books and lifelong learning in the children of Zambia.