In early 2009, MN volunteer Rachel Durfee asked family and friends to donate “A Book and A Buck” to establish a lending library for our students in Kenya. A group of travelers hand-carried 200 books to Nairobi and with “200 bucks” bought library supplies such as cards and pockets to insert in each book and plastic crates to store and transport the books to Saturday Program, creating a mobile NRCF library.
In December 2015, with donations from Nairobi and Minnesota, a milestone was reached: the 2,000th book was added to the library. The library is now housed at NRCF in a dedicated space that doubles as a conference room. The room is lined with bookshelves organized by early readers, fiction, African literature, and non-fiction by subject area including biographies, references, revision books, and many more. In the middle of the room is a large table surrounded by chairs for students to read, write and explore subjects ranging from art to zebras.
In addition to books, the library is a modern multi-media resource for our students. It now boasts three kindles (the first of which was donated by Tarpon Springs FL student Gabriella Kennedy for a school project), board games (Scrabble, Mancala, Candyland Bingo, Legos, and Chutes & Ladders are particular favorites), and DVDs (shown at camp and at gatherings during school breaks). In addition, paper and markers are available for students to illustrate and write about themes discovered in a special book they’ve read.
The library is open all day Monday to Friday. Nelson Mandela Academy, a partner school, sends its students to the library daily and NRCF also shares the library with students from other neighboring partner schools like Jagiet Academy. During school breaks and on Saturdays the library is heavily used by boarding school students. And each Saturday several books are selected and brought for the children to read at Saturday Program.
With an abundance of early readers’ books, NRCF has given some to children in grades one to three to have in their possession. The students were grateful and excited to receive their very own book – a first and only for most of them.
Why the Library Is Important
With Kenyan schooling conducted in English, the more experience children have reading and writing in English, the better their performance on standardized exams. This in turn helps them with their school (and ultimately career) placement. While the library has a number of books written in Swahili, they are not as popular as English language books, especially with younger readers. Books about or taking place in Africa, however, are very popular.
As in the United States, reading allows children to escape to other worlds fueling their imagination and creativity. The more NRCF students read, the more they realize they share many of the same concerns, challenges, and interests as students all over the world. Through the many non-fiction books, they are able to learn about history, science, nature, geography, and other topics. Reference books are regularly consulted to dig into specific subjects more deeply and to supplement students’ English reading and writing skills.
Librarian Norah Keya
The library is managed by volunteer caseworker Norah Keya. She is often guiding students in selecting books they might enjoy, encouraging them to read more books by a favorite author or to try something new. Students are often found browsing through the shelves or reading in the library but are also able to borrow books for a period of a week, two weeks, or a month depending on their availability to read at home during their spare time. Approximately 50 books are checked out at any point in time.
Norah has partnered with Kelvin Thuku, the head of NRCF’s computer lab, to create an online library management database. In addition to providing an inventory of books in the library, it keeps track of books as they are checked out and checked in helping Norah know the number of books checked in/out, names of books, which student has it, and the time stamp of check-in/out. From this, she is able to tell which books are most popular which guides the search for books in the U.S.
Help to expand the library
With some books have been in use at the NRCF library for up to seven years, many volumes have seen their better days. Particularly popular and well-used are several series of books: The Magic Tree House, Junie B Jones, Hardy Boys, and Babysitters Club.
If you have books of interest to readers from ages seven to college age, consider donating them to FONR. Non-fiction books illustrating careers are especially valued since they are used by our post-secondary students to guide them in career paths and courses to pursue in college/university.
Supporters of FONR have held book drives – one at Creek Valley Elementary School in Edina MN and one at Lommen Abdo law firm in Minneapolis MN. We would welcome additional book drives – perhaps a youth group, classroom, or workplace project. Keep in mind all books are hand-carried to Kenya, so books should be current, in good condition, and of interest to students.
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