Tag Archives: Mathare

MYSA readers

Books bringing inspiration in Mathare slum

Sarah Maria, 12, lives in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. She discovered the joy of reading when she visited her local Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) library with some friends. Here she tells us how her love for books began:


Sarah Maria
Sarah Maria

I used to hear my fellow students talk about a library but never had any idea about the library until one day I made an effort and followed them. I found myself staring at many books arranged in the library. I was very shy and scared of asking any question but as time went by – three years now –  I feel more calm and confident than I was.


Friends study together
Many school children visit MYSA’s libraries after school and at the weekends to use books to support their studies


The assistance I get from the books I read in the library or borrow have really played a key role in shaping my life making me better and better.

One day I came across a book through the daily reading session in the library titled The Olympic Promise by Lynda Edwards. It is a story book that I have read many times more than any other.


The Olympic Promise


The book is about a young boy called Nelson from a poor family. He loved running, it was his talent. He later became famous after achieving a lot.


As well as using books to help with homework and revision, many children go to MYSA’s libraries to read for pleasure


This book helped me as I kept on trying to be like Nelson. I wanted to know more about myself and what I was good at. I realised that I was good at singing. It’s a talent that I cherish. I am still in primary school and I’m now able to write my own songs. I believe that one day I will excel in music.


Githurai MYSA library

From volunteer to inspiring librarian

Like many volunteers and staff in community-run libraries, Wilson at the Mathare Youth Sports Association’s library in the Githurai slum in Nairobi, Kenya, is passionate about his work but has little training in library management or working with children.

We chatted to Wilson to find out more about his work and how the training he took part in as part of our Book Havens project is helping him support children in his community.




How did you get involved with the library and with the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA)?

When I was eight years, we came to Githurai [slum]. I started volunteering when I was nine years, playing football with MYSA and doing clean up like garbage collection within the community. When the [library] was started, I was one of them planting the grass and flowers there. Then in 2009 I was selected to join the library. I started as a volunteer, now I am employed in the library.

When this library came, it was like breaking news! We had a lot of kids coming.


MYSA kids reading
For many local children, MYSA’s libraries provide a welcoming space they can read, learn and play


Why do you think the library was so popular with local children?

Getting a good education is very difficult for them because of the drugs in the community. The parents in the slum don’t usually take care of their kids’ studies because they just go and use the drugs. In the afternoon they forget they have kids because they are high.

Nowadays the community is different than before. Before, our parents took care of each other’s kids but nowadays they don’t even take care of their own kids.

Many of the kids coming [to the library] were from the [football] field because I am one of the coaches. So I was just helping them to read some story books, maybe some picture books. We were just doing basic things in the library. We didn’t have any knowledge about the library, any education on how to use the library.


Wilson reading
The librarian training has given Wilson and his colleagues more confidence in working with children


So how has the training you participated in as part of the Book Havens project helped you to support the children better?

The training was very good because the teacher understood where we come from and the children that we deal with. So most of the topics that they came with were how to deal with community kids and the community area.

Also, we have some kids who have special needs. Before, I didn’t understand them but after the classes I came to understand how to deal with them.

So now we are comfortable and we have confidence we can do something within the library.


Kids reading
Eager readers love the brand new books now available in their new Book Haven


What else has changed since the Book Havens came?

For the first time when we had this library, it was not attractive to the kids – we had old books. They are used to the old books so they were not usually coming here. But when Book Aid came, they came with new books. So now when they come here, they see the new books.

I would like to thank the funders of Book Aid International –  their project  is really taking us far.


Lagam library Kenya

Our top 10 highlights from 2017

Thanks to your support we achieved so much in 2017!

With your help, our books reached readers in TWENTY countries, over 88,000 primary school children are enjoying new books in school thanks to our Inspiring Readers programme, more than 5,000 books reached displaced people in Greece and much more besides.

We couldn’t have done it without you.

Take a look at the ten short clips below for more of our 2017 highlights.


Highlight 10

60-year-old Florence in Kenya joined an adult education class and using the books you helped to send, learned to read for the very first time.

Highlight 9

Schools and libraries in the Occupied Palestinian Territories received twice as many books.

Highlight 8

Our amazing donors smashed our Open Doors Children’s Corners appeal’s £600,000 target, giving thousands of children in seven countries vibrant reading spaces to discover books.

Highlight 7

30,000 brand new books reached readers in Rwanda.

Highlight 6

3,806 books were shipped to the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan.

Highlight 5

5,541 books reached displaced people in Greece.

Highlight 4

Books you helped to send are now filling a library in rural Uganda where they are helping children develop a love of reading and farmers to cope with the effects of climate change.

Highlight 3

88,903 primary school children in Cameroon, Kenya and Malawi now have brand new books in their classrooms thanks to our Inspiring Readers programme.

Highlight 2

Children in Nairobi’s slums are now enjoying Book Havens in three local libraries.

Highlight 1

Thanks to your support, we sent books to 20 countries, which will reach over 20 million readers!

Thank you for your support in 2017. Here’s to getting even more books to the people who need them the most in 2018!

For more information about the work you supported in 2017, take a look at the links below.


Book Haven in MYSA

‘We love the new books!’

Library after refurb
School children enjoy a reading activity in their new Book Haven at MYSA’s Githurai Library



We love the new books!

– John, 10

John is just one of hundreds of children in Nairobi’s Mathare slum enjoying a revitalised children’s section in his local library.

Mathare covers just 3 square miles but is home to around 600,000 people. Children like John live with their families in small shacks, often without electricity and no room to play or study.

Our Book Havens pilot project with Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) libraries aims to create welcoming spaces for the most marginalised children to enjoy books and reading.

John and other young readers told us about their new Book Havens:




John, 10, comes to the library to read storybooks because he doesn’t have any at home and there are none in his school. John’s favourite books are the Beast Quest series. He loves the stories and pictures in them.

Thank you for giving us good books. We love the books!




Thirteen-year-old Cynthia’s favourite subject is science but there are very few course books available at her school. At home, she has two story books which were handed down to her. Cynthia loves the new books in her library and the colourful paint and drawings on the walls:

The library used to have old books with missing pages. I am happy that all the new books are interesting and colourful. I like the new paint on the walls. Everything in the library is now very nice. I feel happy when I come to the library because I am able to read many interesting books in a beautiful place that feels like heaven.




Jason, 12, lives about five minutes away from the library. The area he lives in is very noisy both during the day and at night. Jason’s favourite subject is maths and he would like to be a pilot when he grows up. Jason likes the changes to his library:

The library is very clean, there is no litter or dirt anywhere. I like the pictures on the wall, especially the one with a cartoon playing basketball. I feel happy when I see it and I like reading in the corner where the picture has been drawn.




Ann, 8, enjoys coming to the library to read storybooks and play. Her favourite book is Five Little Monkeys. Without books, she says she would not have anything to do.

Thank you so much. We are happy with the new books.


About Book Havens

In slum communities, access to books and finding a place to read can be particularly difficult. Our new Book Havens pilot aims to provide Kenyan children who face the day to day challenges of trying to learn in slum areas with peaceful, welcoming spaces where they can explore beautiful, inviting books and be supported by trained staff and volunteers.

Two of MYSA’s libraries in Mathare took part in the Book Havens pilot and with your support we hope to extend the project to the rest of their libraries.

The librarians in these two libraries have attended training in working with children and the libraries themselves have received a donation of brand new children’s books to add to their collections, grants to decorate the children’s section and purchase child-sized furniture and a grant to purchase locally published books.

Find out more about our Book Havens project and our work with MYSA using the links below.

Children reading in Mathare, Kenya

A first-hand look at how books change lives

Emma Taylor, our new Head of Communications, recently visited a few of the libraries we support in Kenya and Uganda to get a first-hand view of the impact that the books we send are having on people’s lives.

In this, her first blog she reflects on how the people she met show how a book really can change a life.

When I told my good friend Katie that I was taking a role at Book Aid International she was curious about what the charity does. I explained to her that the charity existed to ensure that everyone had access to books because books change lives. She looked at me blankly. “But how?” she asked.

My jaw hit the floor. To a life-long book lover like me, the many ways that a book could change a life were self-evident. Katie, on the other hand, was not a reader. She had not read a book since leaving university.

To her, it was not at all clear how a book could have value in a poor community where basics like clean water and safe housing had not been met. In schools, she allowed, books could help education. But a library for adults in a community that didn’t even have electricity? She needed convincing.

It was with Katie in mind that I boarded the plane to Kenya. My mission was clear: Identify stories that would answer the question of how books are changing lives in vulnerable communities.

600,000 people in 3 square miles

I started my trip visiting libraries in one of the largest slums in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi called ‘Mathare’. Mathare is a small plot of land of about 3 miles square that is home to an estimated 600,000 people. No one knows exactly how many people live there because most Mathare residents are informal settlers who are not registered with the government. People live in small shacks made from whatever they can find – some tin, wood and tarpaulin typically.

A typical street in Mathare
A typical street in Mathare

Despite Kenya’s rapid economic growth and Mathare’s position in the country’s capital city, few the area’s residents have benefited from the country’s success and most lack formal jobs. I spoke at length to a woman who made around £0.70 a day selling canned goods. She tried to feed herself and her daughter with the money.

In these difficult, cramped circumstances our partner, Kenyan non-profit Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), has managed to find space for three libraries. These libraries are so popular that when I visited, I could not actually get into them because every available centimetre was full of children reading. The librarians had to clear a path so that I could interview one of the readers, 16 year old Moses.

Two girls enjoying a book together at their local library
Two girls enjoying a book together at their local library

“Knowledge is power”

Moses is using books to improve his life
Moses is using books to improve his life

Once I was finally able to reach him, I asked Moses how the books in the library have changed his life. He explained that the books we send are crucial to his education:

In the past I saw English as a hard subject. But the moment I started coming to the library it became my favourite subject. English can make a very big difference in my life. It can be a career – and it improves my creativity and innovation.

But of course, Katie already knew that books help education. Her question was about the role of books in libraries that serve deprived communities like Mathare. Would it not be better to just send money so that houses, water pumps and roads could be built? I put the question to Moses:

We can have so many houses, but when we don’t have books we don’t have the knowledge of how to take care of the houses. So it’s important for us to have the books because knowledge is power – and that’s the best thing to have!

Moses’ message was repeated to me at all the libraries I visited. Of course library users acknowledged that their communities need other types of support as well, but all agreed that access to information is critical to building a bright future.

In rural communities, the agriculture books we send are allowing people to increase crop yields and fight off malnutrition. In cities, library outreach is giving children who are out of school the opportunity to read.

We’ll publish stories about a few of the people I interviewed over the next few months (so stay tuned!) and I am already looking forward to my next trip back to Africa so that I can meet more of the inspiring people who are reading our books and changing their own lives.


Emma’s experiences echo the messages we hear from our partners across sub-Saharan Africa: The books that they receive are helping people to build better futures for themselves and their communities. These books would not reach the people who need them most without the support of our donors, the publishers who provide the books and the volunteers who pack the books ready for shipment. We cannot thank all of our supporters enough.

If you’d like to hear from more of the people Emma met, please subscribe to our newsletter using the form at the bottom of this page or follow @book_aid on twitter.