Ethiopia day four: back in prison

Rob’s journey continues to Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia day four: back in prison

Once again for Book Aid International, I find myself in prison.

After prison visits in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya, I now end up a prison on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The reason of course is that wherever our books go, BAI staff need to follow. Books have been provided for the prison via our partner, the Ethiopian Knowledge and

Technology Transfer Society (EKTTS) which is distributing books to public libraries in Addis and prisons.

The prison is very impressive and has a strong rehabilitation programme including technical and vocational skills such as carpentry and weaving workshops, an education programme ranging from high school studies to accountancy and IT, and an IT lab with computers from Computer Aid International who also work with EKTTS. There are two libraries – one for prisoners studying for high school examinations and one for vocational and professional studies. Books for children are needed because mothers have to keep their children with them in prison if there is no family to look after them. Yemisrch Akalu, the Head of the Department for the Rehabilitation of Prisoners, is clearly proud and says that ‘we have brilliant students’ and that ‘working with prisoners gives you satisfaction of the mind’. This is quite a turnaround for a country that used to have a very repressive prison system.

Following the prison visit, we visit a number of public libraries across different parts of Addis Ababa, with an interlude for a burst tyre in between! EKTTS has recently distributed books from the last Book Aid International consignment to 8 libraries and we visit most of them, which range from a library in a shanty town-style corrugated iron building to brand new libraries that are part of the city’s drive to construct more libraries (sadly this does not extend yet to stocking them or staffing them with trained librarians). It is too early to know the impact these books will have, but it is a significant increase in stock for most libraries, which typically have around 100-200 users a day. Although many of the librarians are untrained, they fulfill a basic caretaker role to keep the library going for the use mainly of high school students. More training would allow them to take a more active role and engage younger children too.

Many of the areas around the libraries are undergoing great change – the shanty towns or ‘villages’ in the city are being demolished to make way for new buildings with the residents relocated into newly built condominiums a bit further out of the city. Most people seem to think that this is a fair deal, including the Director of EKTTS, who himself has been relocated, but it makes parts of Addis look like a war zone! EKTTS themselves are in no danger of relocation – they have free office space in a building owned by the great Ethiopian marathon runner, Haile Gebrselassie, and their warehouse space is provided free by a well known Ethiopian construction company.

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