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Empowering children through reading

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Empowering children through reading

Students of Fairway Primary School in Mbale reading in the library

In a country where hundreds of pupils in a single classroom scramble for one textbook, neatly lined up in shelves, savouring every moment as they read fiction and non-fiction books.

Through Libraries of Love, an international NGO that empowers and promotes love among children through provision of books and other reading material, children in Ugandan schools are fast developing a passion for reading.

Libraries of Love has been providing beautiful, well organised libraries in Uganda for 10 years. The libraries contain picture books for the younger students, novels, nonfiction, and reference books for older students.

In the words of Trudy Marshal, a 68-year oldAmerican woman who is at the centre of introducing libraries in some Ugandan schools, Libraries of Love never leaves a library. “Each day is a lifetime commitment. When the books get old or worn, they are replaced.  We now have 34 libraries in primary and secondary schools. We are constantly in and out making sure students are allowed to read each day, and doing training with the librarians, staff, and administration. Training sessions are held twice a term for librarians,” she elaborates

Trudy has lived in Uganda for the past 11 years, and it’s her devotion and love for Uganda’s underprivileged children that has seen her traverse the bushes in rural communities bonding schools and communities through books.

“Libraries of Love provides shelving, book cupboards for each classroom and books. The schools provide and pay the librarian, and must agree to a timetable where children can read each day and visit the library once a week to borrow books. High school students have daily access to the library,” she adds.

The organisation has distributed about one million books to 34 libraries scattered across Kampala, Wakiso, and Mbale. The biggest beneficiaries are the schools in Mbale since according to Trudy, these are the schools that need great help academically, and where performance and literacy levels are still miserably low.

“Each school receives books which equal three times the number of their students. In America, the spine label is typed and placed on each book for library order by volunteers. Each Friday, Dell Computer Company provides volunteers to type the info on the pockets and cards so that students can borrow the books. The books have to be new or like new, and hard cover. The books are checked by three different groups to make sure they are appropriate,” she says adding: “Approximately 27,000 books are shipped each year to create new libraries and restock older ones. An average library is valued at Shs 97million. Libraries of Love feels that the Ugandan children deserve libraries equal to any school library in America. That is what God would want for them.”

Trudy lives in Uganda six months each year to make sure the libraries are working to their fullest potential, and then six months in America helping with book collections and preparation, plus speaking to raise funding for the libraries.

According to Ms Martha Kamiti, the deputy head teacher of Fairway Primary School in Mbale, one of the beneficiary schools of Libraries of Love, the aggressive reading culture among pupils has scaled up academic performance in the UPE school, with pupils of the school being the top performers in subjects like English language. She also says that the teachers have taken interest in reading and using the library material as reference resource.

The school librarian, Sarah Bukosera says she is always overwhelmed by the sheer number of pupils who flock the library to read and borrow books. “I receive a minimum of 200 pupils from P1 to P7, I have to guide them on how to get books from the shelves and the biggest part of the job is rearranging the books in their original order in the shelves. But am satisfied with my job that the children come to read and borrow books than would be the case having this fully-stocked library and nobody coming to pick a book,” she says.

At Maluku Secondary School, another school being supported witha library facility, Jalia Nassaka, an English teacher, testifies that a number of students who initially transited from the UPE schools were unable to read, but with this reading programme they have fallen in love with reading, besides increasing their word power and command of the English language.

Nassaka says that the reading intervention has enabled students in her school to express themselves and boosted their confidence levels. “These students will open up and freely speak their mind. Some of the students go to the extent of living the life of some of the characters they would read about in the books, we also have students who argue out their cases in relation to what they would read in the books.”

One of the students, Gilbert Mayiya in Senior One, is found buried in an inspirational book, “Value of Believing in yourself”. “I come here every day and spend45 minutes just to read a book, reading has opened my mind and understanding on a broader range of issues, I read every book I lay my hands on and am able to understand topics like Astronomy, the history of countries like America, Europe. The more I read the more I get inspired to think of reading my own book,” he says.

The Mbale Municipal Education Officer Joy Manana applauds the efforts of Libraries of Love for enhancing a radical reading culture in schools. “We still live in a society where reading isn’t appreciated, but Libraries of Love hasn’t only provided us with books but also gone an extra mile to encourage the children and parents as well as teachers to read.

This is important,” says the education official quickly remarking that there is a noticeable difference in academic performance among the schools which are partnering with Libraries of Love as compared to the schools where this project isn’t being implemented. She calls on the literacy organisation to expand their scope in the remaining schools within the Municipality.

Daniel Nkaada, the commissioner for primary education  commends Libraries of Love for championing literacy among Ugandan primary and secondary schools. He, however, calls on Libraries of Love to consider local books by local authors as this will enablethe learners identify with the local environments.

Libraries of Love is also implementing the library programme inschools like Kings College-Budo, Mengo SS, Kitante High School and Kintante Primary School, Bombo Military High School and among others.

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