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Ethiopia Reads – Ethiopia

Yohannes Gebregorgis, an Ethiopia native, was taught to read by Peace Corps volunteers in his village school. He held his first book at the age of 19. He came to the U.S. as a political refugee, earned a Master’s degree in Library Science from U. of Texas. Yohannes worked as a children’s librarian in the San Francisco Public Library. He was in charge of purchasing books in various languages for the library when he realized that he was unable to find any books printed in any Ethiopian languages. This founded his interest in bringing books to the children in his country to read and resulted in him founding Ethiopia Reads in 1998. Ethiopia Reads is a Denver-based nonprofit organization. His goal is to spread literacy across Ethiopia, where 67% of the people can’t read.

Yohannes contacted American writer Jane Kurtz, who had grown up in Ethiopia. She has written many books about Ethiopia, its land and its people. Jane felt the same as Yohannes about the importance of books for Ethiopian children. She published Silly Mammo, the first English/Amharic book for children. Silly Mammo was written by Yohannes and based on a children’s folk tale from Ethiopia. The proceeds of this book supported Yohanne’s dream of opening a free public library in Ethiopia. In 2003, Yohannes moved back to Addis Ababa, a city of 3 million, to formally set up Ethiopia Reads.

Shola Children’s Library

April 7th, 2003 was the date that Yohannes and Jane officially opened the Shola Children’s Library. It is set up in a poor neighborhood with no places to safely play or read. During the first year open it served thousands of children. Four years later, in 2007, they recorded 60,000 visits. In 2008, the library moved to a larger facility with more room for books and children. Shola offers programs in sanitation, art, theater, dance, and tutoring and study programs. As of 2008, he has created 17 libraries throughout Ethiopia. One of these libraries is pulled by a donkey to remote villages. Ethiopia Reads believes that education is the key to improve the lives of the children in Ethiopia. They believe that books are the key to encouraging a true love of learning.

How do We get our Books?

The Camel Mobile – Kenya

The Camel Mobile Library is also known as “Ships of the Desert” It was set up by the government owned Kenya National Library Service to improve literacy in the north-east of Kenya in 1996.

Camels are the best way to travel in this area (Garissa, 400km from Nairobi).

When the Camel Mobile reaches a destination, the books are spread out on grass mats beneath acacia trees. People from the area often come in bare feet, sometimes with goats or donkeys, and gather around the books with great excitement to choose their books.

The Camel Mobile Library has no fixed location as this would be of no use to travelers. Instead the travelers can follow the camels wherever they go. They travel Monday to Thursday, starting early in the morning. One camel can carry two boxes with 200 books in each box. A second camel carries a tent and a third camel carries the librarian’s things. The Camel Mobile Library has 9 camels, which work in 3 separate groups. They have headquarters in Garissa and Wajir. The group travels regularly to 12 different sites which are within an 11km radius.

The Camel Mobile Library has a large impact on Kenyan people, especially the children. Children wait for the camels as they arrive on site, and they are expecting them as they arrive at a fixed time. The standard of education has improved in schools that are visited by the library. Students have also improved on national examinations. There are currently 3,500 registered members of the Camel Mobile Library. Books are unaffordable to most people in Kenya in the areas of the library. They have very little money except for what they need for necessities, like food and shelter. The Camel Mobile Library provides specialist story books and books that are useful to their members. They have books that match the syllabus of their current education system.

The Camel Mobile Library has books for young children, secondary school children and adults. Children can borrow 2 books at one time. They have 14 days until the mobile returns to the same center again. Then they can renew their books or return and get new ones. The national illiteracy average in Kenya is 31% but in the areas of the Camel Mobile Library the illiteracy average is 85%. This is due to their way of life (travelling) and poverty.

Books have little or no value to parents in these areas. If they have any money they buy food, not books. Very few books are published in Somali (their local language). Books are in English and Swahili, but rarely in Somali. They read when they need to take an examination but rarely for pastime or knowledge. The Kenyan government gives what it can, but it’s not enough. They would like to have a motorcycle to assist the camel clerks. They would also like to have a holding ground to graze their camels when there is a drought.

CODE Seeing is Believing tour 2008

Every year, Code Ethiopia operates a literacy tour for weatern educators and patrons to experience the reading rooms and libraries which CODE supports. This video is a review of the 2008 tour.

The Children’s Book Project – Tanzania

The Children’s Book Project for Tanzania was started in 1991. It was created as a response to the severe shortage of books in Tanzania, especially for children. This project is supported by International donor organizations with interest in education and books.

One objective of the project is to improve children’s reading ability by producing children’s books in Kiswahili. The second objective is to encourage and support indigenous authorship, publishing, design, printing and bookselling.

The two main targets of the project are book production and training. These were focused on during the first phase of the project during 1991 to 1996. They wanted to produce a total of 220 children’s books. They purchased 3000 copies of each title they produced. These books were circulated to rural libraries, some primary schools and kindergartens, and teacher’s centers. The project organized training courses, workshops and seminars for people in the book industry in Tanzania to improve their skills. It has organized courses for writers, illustrators, publishers, editors and booksellers. During the second phase of the project (1997-2001) there will be an additional activity to the project. This will be a Readership campaign among children. This will have been undertaken in collaboration with the librarians association.

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