Category Archives: Africa


Clive Nettleton, our director of Book Aid International, reflects on an evaluation and partnership building visit to Kakuma in 2008.

“Kakuma refugee camp isn’t one of those places conjured from TV images. No rows of tents with a feeling of desperation and humanitarian agencies running feeding programmes. No television cameras recording an unfolding drama of movement, starvation and despair. Kakuma looks more like a huge urban slum, a Soweto or Kibera deposited in a remote rural area. It houses 70,000 or more refugees:  Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Congolese, Eritreans, Ugandans and a smattering of others washed up from decades of conflicts in the region. In Swahili Kakuma means ‘nowhere’ and it is at best a transit for somewhere else and at worst a place in which you are stuck for long, soul-destroying years.

Visiting the camp a couple of years ago, I was struck how people living there survived in the way that poor people in rural Africa do survive.

Despite everything life goes on and people make a life, but it is temporary, and sustained by dreams of moving somewhere better or returning home. There is little beyond survival. But the library started by a hugely energetic group of Ethiopian refugees most of whom had moved on was an oasis of peace and learning. In that oasis, as one Somali man told me “we are all brothers” and he thanked his erstwhile enemies of decades ago, the Ethiopians for their efforts. “We get food and shelter here,” he said, “but the library provides food for our brains.” And, I reflected, it is a huge contribution that Book Aid International makes in providing the books that fill this library. It won’t change the world, but it certainly changes the lives of many thousands of people living ‘nowhere’.”



Ethiopia day three

Here’s Rob once more, with an update on organisations we work with in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia day three: books for development

I start the day discussing potential support to an organisation Book Aid International has not supported yet, the Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO), who run an impressive range of community development programmes particularly in improving access to basic services such as education and health. As part of this, they have a community library and information resource centre programme and have set up four public libraries. These are all outside of Addis but it sounds like they get very busy and I am shown pictures of well organised and attractive libraries, that hold regular activities such as storytelling – unfortunately a somewhat alien concept in relation to books and libraries here in Ethiopia.

JeCCDO works with a wide range of community based organisations and would also benefit from Book Aid International’s ‘Books for Development’ programme which provides specialist books for NGOs and community organisations in areas such as agriculture, HIV-AIDS, natural resource management and capacity building. JeCCDO is a member of the next organisation I visit, the Consortium of Christian Relief and Development Agencies or CCRDA. CCRDA is plays the leading role in coordinationg NGOs in Ethiopia and has benefitted from the ‘Books for Development’ programme since it started 6 years ago. It has an impressive resource centre which is frequented in large numbers by local high school students who find it a great study space, so as well as books for NGO workers, the librarian requests books for the students too!

I finish the day visiting an elementary and a high school, both supported by Ethiopia Reads, an organisation that has established school and children’s libraries in Addis and beyond, and a well-known donkey library service in Awassa, for which Book Aid International has provided books in the past. The libraries I see are very well organised and impressive though the book stock, consisting of books mainly from the States and a smaller number of local books, is a bit of a mixture, with a number of local books. One thing that is clear so far on this trip is that despite English being the medium of instruction in secondary schools and an enthusiasm to improve their English by most students, books in English need to be especially relevant and attractive here because there is a very limited reading habit beyond reading curriculum textbooks for exams, and English skills are quite poor.

Ethiopia Reads tries to create more active librarians that will promote the use of books and run book related activities in their libraries and as part of the training it provides for teacher-librarians runs a literacy development component. Such initiatives may really make sure that Ethiopia does indeed read.

Ethiopia day two

This is the second of our special reports from Rob, head of programmes and operations as he visits some of our projects in Ethiopia. Here’s Rob: 

Ethiopia day two: reading rooms and marabou storks

In the morning, we drive a short way to Mojo to see one of CODE Ethiopia’s reading rooms, and then another short drive to see another reading room at Alem Tena. Book Aid International has been working with CODE Ethiopia for 12 years and provided over 100,000 books for their reading room programme, which has helped established community libraries all over Ethiopia. Together with books from the International Book Bank in the US and a significant range of local publications, many produced by CODE Ethiopia themselves, Book Aid International books make up a good proportion of the target 5,500 books for each library over 5 years.

The two libraries I visit have about 4,500 books so far after 4 years of support. The libraries are busy with students, one of whom, Ashenah Jambo from Mojo High School. He likes the library because there are a range of textbooks and wider reference books which will not only help him to pass exams but ultimately to become a professor at university. He tells me that ‘textbooks are not enough’ because ‘you should refer to different sources to develop your ability and adapt your knowledge’.

CODE Ethiopia’s programme works because they offer a mixture of donated books from abroad, local books, and training for teacher-librarians and library committees. However, it is a partnership model with the local community who need to provide a building and local education officers, who pay the librarian’s salaries. Tesfaye Dubale, the director, has also written some stories which are published as big books and are proving very popular in the libraries.

On the way back to Addis, we pass a Rift Valley lake, with a large number of marabou storks wading at the edge. The storks walk like old men but fly with grace but unfortunately close up look like ugly vultures with a pink sac falling from its neck, and their shape from behind gets them the nickname the undertaker bird!

A special report from Ethiopia

At Book Aid International, our job isn’t just about sending books to sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also to support local organisations and communities in running their libraries, to help them share these rich resources, and to assess just how much a difference is made through our work. That’s what Rob, our head of programmes and operations, is doing in Ethopia at the moment – so we thought we’d share some of Rob’s observations and impressions as they come back to us. This will be the first of six blog posts, stay tuned for the next five!

Day one: dinner by moonlight

After arriving in Addis Ababa yesterday I am on the road to Nazareth, or Adama as it was originally known by the locals and is officially once again. But Nazareth is what many people still call this large busy town of trade, agriculture and commerce. I visit two libraries that Book Aid International has supported in conjunction with our local partner CODE Ethiopia, and with funding from Aggreko plc.

The first library is at Dembela High School and even though our books have only recently arrived, they are already organised and on the shelves. CODE Ethiopia trained the library committee late last year, including staff from the neighbouring elementary school which borders onto the high school and is sharing the library, and also advised on the purchase of local books, which we were able to provide funds for in this project. We also provided funds for furniture and shelves which were built by the local vocational school.

The library is busy with enthusiastic students, one of whom, Biniam Beneberu Ayere, tells me that, ‘in my class there a lot of students that have a lack of habit of reading’, and lack the knowledge they need. ‘So how can I get these kinds of knowledge? Because of this library. Before this library was opened, I had no habit of reading but because of you (Book Aid International) and the initiatives of our teachers, we come here to read and we read a lot of books and get a lot of knowledge…so let us read and let’s change our lives, let’s change our country, and let’s help our families.’

It is clear the school is benefitting hugely from the library and is appreciative of the support we have provided. The same project has helped set up a library in the youth centre just down the road from the school. The books from the UK have not been processed yet but the library has been set up and is very popular on Saturdays. In the week it is only open on Wednesday and Friday but they are hoping the local district government will fund it better in the future.

In the evening, I eat dinner by moonlight (the electricity failed after 10 minutes) by a fountain (with no water) in a rather nice garden restaurant with staff from CODE Ethiopia and the local educational zonal administrator. I go to bed still with a slight tingling sensation in my mouth – a result of the Ethiopians love for chillies in their cooking!

Libraries are for living

About half the population of Nairobi is crammed into the slums, which make up just 5% of the city’s area.

Book Aid International has been working with several organisations in the Nairobi slums to improve the opportunities for the people who live there, especially young people. The issues are many and complex, with a lack of schooling and a growing gang culture being just two of them.

Together with the Kidslibs Trust and the Mathare Youth Sports Association, we have been helping to provide books for the readers at the Mathare North Library, which serves a community of 600,000 people. The library has almost 6,000 members, and 50 young people visit the children’s section every single day. Our books help to make a range of activities possible, including the Little Hands Big Steps programme. This gives parents of very young children a bag of books each week to enjoy together.

Peggy, mother of three-year-old Schofield, told us, “It is a great deal for all us mothers, to come here, have space to teach our children. If kids can come together, develop that reading culture in us, it can change the country!”

The Mathare North Library is just one of many projects made possible by the commitment of librarians and volunteers, the passion of readers, and the support of people like you.

“Every book has the power to change lives”

“A library can be in a building, or it can be mobile, delivering books by truck, motorbike, cycle, donkey or camel. But no matter what form they take, Book Aid International supports libraries in sub-Saharan Africa because we know that every book has the power to change lives – and that libraries are the right way to get books directly into the hands of readers.”

We recently found these words from Book Aid International’s director, Clive Nettleton, which sums things up pretty well.

Where will all the books go? [1 day until World Book Day]

If you’ve been staying up to date with the Book Aid International blog recently, you’ll know that we work mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. But which countries exactly will be benefitting from your support?

  • Kenya
  • Thika Library - internal shot

  • Cameroon
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • National Central Library, Tanzania

  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea
  • Zambia
  • Victoria Falls Public Library

  • Somalia
  • Uganda
  • Zimbabwe
  • Viva Network

  • Malawi
  • Namibia