>Today we set off later, heading south to Decemhare and Mendefera. It’s a much shorter trip than yesterday without the precipitous drop in altitude. It takes us through varying landscapes with dry plains with huge rocks, craggy hills and windy roads, and then across to some of Eritrea’s most fertile land where the staple grain teff is grown along with mangoes, citrus and other fruit and vegetables.
We visit a range of libraries, nine in all ranging from public to school to community. At Zagre Junior School on the outskirts of Decemhare the library is packed with students during the break. A small girl, who prefers not to give her name or to have her photo taken, is reading Heidi and assures me that it is a wonderful story about somebody foreign. She and her friend like reading books about children. There is, though, a shortage of books at the elementary level.
At Decemhare Secondary School, the librarian tells us that “the BAI books are very useful, with nothing out of the range of the students. Teachers and students use the books, especially the fiction and subject material. We are very grateful to Book Aid for sending us the books”.
The public libraries which we visit are being used by students either using the text books which are available here to keep up with their school work, or reading for information or pleasure. At Mendefera, we learn that the public library as well as nine community libraries in the area are being run by the Youth Association. We visit two of the community libraries and meet with Hager Genzay. An extraordinarily articulate and determined young man, he tells us how they re-opened the public library after it had been closed for three years, and planned to build twelve more libraries, nine of which have been completed. Two of the remaining three are urgently needed and he is sure they will find a way to get them operational soon – they have managed to get three new libraries opened in the past year. Responsibility for the public library services has been given to the Youth Association as they are seen as having the drive and commitment to ensure that things get done. With under-35s forming 85% of the population their energy is much needed, and Hager shows why the government has decided to give youth its chance.
As we go back towards Asmara, we visit one last community library. Then we stop off for a much needed beer to watch the sun go down over the huge plains which make you believe you can see all the way to Sudan hundreds of kilometres away, talking to our Eritrean colleagues, Gebrenegus and Michael, who have done so much for the libraries, education and reading and have an unshakeable belief in the future of its people and their potential. It is a great privilege to be making a contribution to their work.