>Breakfast at dawn

>I begin the day telling the Africa Dawn Rotary Club (it does indeed meet at dawn or rather just after at 7am!) about Book Aid International over a breakfast meeting and thank Rotary for their assistance which as well as distributing books includes organising activities during national literacy month and providing essential training for teacher-librarians. I visit ZACRO next, an impressive prison welfare organisation, supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners, which has set up 3 prison libraries utilising BAI books but wants to set up 65 more!

The Harare hospital is the next destination, where BAI books are much appreciated in the school of nursing, which now sees virtually all students pass thanks they say to BAI books – only 3 students failed in the last exams compared to 20 before and the books are the only real difference. The principal tutor tells me with a suitable medical analogy that ‘what we teach them in class is only a skeleton, now students can research on their own’.

Next is City of Harare Libraries. The HQ library, Highfield, has deteriorated much since I visited it in 2002, with a leaky roof and stalactites forming! The other two I visit are not too bad, but the city library service, which has also introduced charges recently, is very under-resourced,and a far cry from what it used to be, despite the best intentions of its librarians. Library users tell me that they need more books on commerce but several were using BAI books on motor vehicle mechanics and accountancy. One named beautifully in the African way as Honest, was using a geography book but told me (appropriately to her name) that she would prefer a different one, Geography- An Integrated Approach, which is also one of BAI’s most requested books!

Young Rotarians known as Rotaractors have been helping to set up a school mobile library scheme based on two clusters of schools. I visit the two schools that hold the main stock and whilst it is clear the scheme has some way to go, both schools are using the books and keen to encourage reading. The schools and the city library service discuss ways for pupils to also use the public library as the books available in the schools (which have 1800 pupils each) are too limited.

The last visit of a busy day takes me to the Women’s University in Africa, a university we have been supporting since it started 8 years or so ago. Like many younger universities, it has an enthusiastic staff and is very appreciative of BAI support. The library only has 4000 books, about half of which are from BAI, and many BAI books were in use in the library.

Harare seems little changed at a glance, but economically the country has been hit hard. Everything is now paid for in $US and although the local Spar is once again full with as wide a range of food as anywhere else in the world (the shelves were empty not so long ago), and there is fuel for transport (which was not the case in 2002), it is clear that the $US is only providing a sticky plaster to bigger problems that have yet to be overcome. Libraries of all sorts have seen their budgets collapse and most cannot afford books any more.

I finish a busy day with a drink in the beautiful Bronte Hotel gardens before heading over the road to my cheaper hotel for a good night’s rest!

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