Books for Kibera Initiative: Providing Textbooks for Africa's Largest Slum
In an era of increased globalization, it is becoming more and more obvious that education, and the benefits associated with education, are not equally accessible to citizens around the globe. While there are 9,198 public libraries in the United States (ALA, 2008), there are just two in Kenya (V Smith, personal communication, September 30, 2008). With such an immense gap in resources, it is no wonder that Kenya lags behind the United States in education. In order to reduce this disparity, education and literacy tools need to be accessible to Kenya's youth, particularly within the nation's Kibera slum.
The Books for Kibera Initiative was founded after a May 2007 trip to Kenya. Upon seeing the living and learning conditions within Nairobi's Kibera slum, CSB/SJU students on the trip felt compelled to do something. Currently experiencing the value of education themselves, they sought to share the gift. After observing the impact of global solidarity throughout the trip, the students wanted the project to be based on a cross-cultural learning symbol, a library. The goal of the project is to fundraise in order to purchase local books to fill the shelves of Christ the King's library within the Kibera slum. In doing so, the Books for Kibera Initiative hopes to provide Kibera residents with access to educational materials that would otherwise be denied to them.
Christ the King's Library is one of only two public libraries in all of Kenya. Because books are a scarce commodity, most libraries are not open to the public. Christ the King's was recently created in Nairobi's Kibera slum by Vikki Smith, a Mary Knoll Lay Missioner. Kibera is considered to be Africa's largest slum; Over 1 million people are squatting on 550 acres of land, making it one of the most crowded places in the world. The population density is 30 times higher than that of New York City, and also lacks multi-level housing to accommodate the congestion of people (Kibera Slum Foundation). Approximately half (500,000) of the slum's population is comprised of children, one hundred thousand of which are orphans. However, because the Kenyan government views Kibera residents as illegal squatters, no public funding is provided to them: no public schools nor sanitation. Non-profit and non-governmental organizations have worked diligently to pick up the government's neglect (V Smith, personal communication, September 30, 2008).
Smith's Christ the King Public Library has provided a safe and quiet haven amidst the chaos of slum living. The library allows students resources and a study space that they would otherwise not have access to. It has not taken long for the slum's youth to fully utilize this facility. Library patrons from over 40 different secondary and primary schools within the slum, two nearby universities, and three colleges use the library. There is an average flow of 73 patrons a day, and the facility has even had a maximum of 160 users at one time (V Smith, personal communication, September 30, 2008).
Smith recently noted, "The number of visitors continues to grow as word spreads and we are at maximum level in our secondary school because students say they like our library. I purchase all the books very carefully since this is not a pleasure reading culture and I am trying to introduce them to other types of literature and resources." Unfortunately, there are still at least 40,000 school-aged children in the slum who do not attend school and use Christ the King's Library for self-study (V Smith, personal communication, September 30, 2008). Smith caters to school students needs by purchasing current textbooks and exam preparation materials for those who are not allowed back into the school system until they can pay their fees.
Access to primary education and current materials is crucial for young students to succeed. According to Smith, "education is where it all begins for these young persons. Having a secondary education is the same as having a college diploma in the U.S. For most Africans it enables them to get a job and hope for a good life, which means a roof over their heads, food and the basics for themselves and family." The Books for Kibera Initiative works to provide the youth of Kibera with the resources necessary for them to succeed. This semester, the project will work to fundraise in order to increase the library's literacy and educational materials. The addition of new materials will increase the number of library patrons, thus exposing more of Kibera's youth to an academic setting and resources that they otherwise would not have access to.
As Kenyan Parliamentary candidate, Karambu Ringera recently stated, "Education breaks the cycle of poverty and disease that has afflicted the past two generations of children. Too many children never complete primary school let alone secondary and college. Low education attainment has resulted in a weak local economy and the belief that we Kenyans must depend on other people to change our situation" (Ringera, 2007). The Books for Kibera Initiative hopes to help Kenyans help themselves, and in turn, break the cycle noted by Ringera.
By providing resources to Christ the King's Library, students lacking the funds to complete primary school are given the opportunity to further their education with self-study in a supportive and calm environment. This advancement in education in the nation's traditional low-income, education-deprived slums, will work to decrease the 'brain drain', a term to describe when Kenya's best and brightest study and stay abroad (Daystar, 2007). The impact of this project goes beyond providing tools for basic literacy. Providing educational resources in slums like Kibera has the potential to change the economic and social constructs of the nation.