>Friday 26th March: Spice island libraries

>Hannah: Flying over the water to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island 2 hours off the coast of Tanzania. We were met at immigration by Hamid Juma, Director of the Zanzibar Library Service. Their spanking new library in Stone Town, the capital city of the island, is one of the most beautiful library buildings we’ve seen this trip, with the traditional carved doors of the area. They are still settling in, but they are clearly trying new ways of displaying their stock, especially in the children’s section which was bright, airy and included lots of posters and child friendly bookshelves.

Rob: Then we began the whirlwind section of our day, as we get around 6 more libraries that fall into two main groups – Teachers Centres which also serve as district libraries for communities, and primary schools where the pupils have been benefitting from small ‘book boxes’ of fiction books for children in both Swahili and English. We are hoping to receive funding to extend this scheme to ten more schools and wanted to see how the model was working.

Karen: For me, the most memorable visit of the day was to Bububu primary school, which serves around 6000 children who attend in two shifts, served by nearly 70 teachers. Class sizes can be up to 70, and textbooks may have to be shared by 10 children, who are fitted into the classrooms by sitting on the floor without any furniture. Despite this, Hamid tells us it’s considered one of the best schools in the area, with an unusually high number of children going on to study at secondary school. With this many children, it’s clear the number of fiction books provided by the book box can never be sufficient, but the headmaster still allows the children to borrow the books, encouraging their interest in reading both English and Swahili. We were surprised to see how enthusiastic young children are about reading and understanding English – primary school is taught in Swahili and secondary school is taught in English, but they all seemed very aware of how learning English early on could help their chances later. We will need to talk more about how the project could be expanded, but we finish our last official visit feeling optimistic about the opportunities to help development in libraries in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

We are writing this on a terrace overlooking Stone Town in Zanzibar, with a well deserved drink at our elbows. Looking back on the week, Karen is tired but optimistic, and will be going back to Camberwell, London with a renewed sense of purpose. Hannah has got some great footage of the readers of our books and can’t believe how much of a difference they can make – it’s been a great opportunity to find out what happens after the funding comes in! And Rob would be relaxing, but is already thinking about his next trip to Zimbabwe in May, where no doubt he will be blogging enthusiastically – and Karen will be following up the contacts she makes in a project development trip in July for what we hope will be the first of many repeat visits to Tanzania.

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