Stevie Russell, our Book Provision Manager recently travelled to Ethiopia to visit our partners there. While there, she visited a range of libraries and events. In the first of three blogs documenting her trip, Stevie tells us of some special library celebrations she attended.
Despite evidence of Ethiopia’s recent economic growth, seen in high-rise building developments for commerce, tourism, and luxury housing, there are still high levels of poverty. In the centre of the capital city, Addis Ababa, shiny office blocks and hotels overlook shanty towns of tin shacks. The new roads are choked with busy traffic, the cars mingling with donkeys, herds of cattle and goats and occasional chickens. Ethiopia may be one of Africa’s fastest developing economies, but it’s clear that not everyone is benefiting yet.
The organisations with whom Book Aid International partners in Ethiopia are doing much to challenge this. They are establishing and supporting a wide range of libraries, providing access to information, education and the love of reading. Whilst English is not widely spoken in Ethiopia, it is a curriculum subject at primary level, the medium of instruction from secondary school level onwards and the language of business and commerce. We therefore work with our library partners to make books in English widely available to all, from the youngest of readers to students and medical staff.
Promoting the value of reading in rural Sheno
In the small rural town of Sheno, 80km from Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism runs a community library in a corrugated tin hut in a field. This is one of the 120 rural community libraries we support via our partner CODE Ethiopia who have helped to establish a special children’s corner in the library. Colourful posters cover the walls, there are reading mats on the floor and books from Book Aid International fill the shelves.
My visit coincided with a reading promotion event which Book Aid International supported in celebration of International Literacy Day. Ethiopia operates on the Coptic calendar so had recently celebrated New Year. Schools were still on holiday and the whole community was able to take part in this lively event.
The library was packed as community elders opened the proceedings with a traditional blessing. Children from three local schools took part in quizzes and won 600 new books to be shared between their school libraries, donated by Book Aid International. The children’s love for books and reading was clear to see – one boy proudly read to me from his favourite book, The Pirates of the Caribbean.
Education and career success thanks to the library
Regular library users gave moving testimonies of how the library has helped them in their studies and careers.
Local government employee Girma Mekonnen, 28, was inspired by this event to encourage his community to read more:
“A person dies if you stop reading. Reading is life!”
Kuri Manyahlal, Head of the local Children’s & Women’s Office, praised the library service for helping her eldest son to pass his school exams:
“Now I will bring my younger children to use the children’s corner. My older children have already benefitted, now I want the others to start using the library from a younger age.”
Reinvigorating libraries and communities
I also attended the re-opening of two public libraries, one in Dire Dawa and one in Harar. Both had been refurbished and restocked by our partner, local NGO Ethiopia Knowledge and Technology Transfer Society (EKTTS). EKTTS’s refurbishments included the creation of a children’s corner in each library, filled with colourful new books from Book Aid International.
The opening ceremonies were glorious occasions filled with colour, music and traditional dancing. The public library in Harar, an ancient walled city, is a magnificent building founded by Haile Selassie in 1957. Until now, it had had no new books for 14 years. The deputy head of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s local office said “Now people will come to the library. There was nothing for them here before.” The children couldn’t wait to get in and start reading the books on their comfy new carpet.
Likewise, in Dire Dawa, children packed their new children’s corner, enthusiastically pulling books off the shelves to read. Nine-year-old Daquim liked the Muppets Christmas Story best, because of the noises he could make by pressing the buttons. He said he would be coming to the library as often as possible to read the books.
It was a joy to attend these celebrations and see how much these communities value their libraries and the difference they are making in their lives.
Come back again soon for the next instalment from Stevie’s trip.