The Jirani Project Library
Libraries the world over represent the human quest for knowledge and enjoyment of reading. Some are designated as Children’s Libraries, such as the one supported by the Jirani Project. Many of the popular children’s libraries around the world are funded and designed with specific purposes in mind. For example, the Library of the Muringa in Burundi is housed in a separate building made of local clay and wood materials and has been labeled “a forward looking, exciting place for children to read and hang out.” The Treehouse Library in Singapore was constructed using recycled plastic bottles contributed by the community and most of the holdings have an environmental emphasis. The “niños conarte” (Children’s Library) in Monterrey, Mexico is designed to look like a space ship inside and has colorful lighting. Reading, education, and exploration of ideas for eager minds seem to be at the forefront of all children’s libraries.
The Jirani Project library in our simple small office in Lumakanda, Kenya was the unintended result of repeated donations of several books at a time brought by Crossing Quest young people and other visitors to the Jirani Project from the U.S. and Europe. Over the years about 4,000 books have been donated, and are catalogued and displayed on the shelving originally built by Project Coordinator Mark Okello. As the book collection grew, so did the readership: at first only a few children sponsored in school by the Jirani Project used the room. Now about 30 children and an average of 10 adults from the community come regularly to read, study, and check out books to take home. Though the Jirani Project does not have specific library staff or programming, we do have an office helper and a volunteer teacher from a nearby Teacher Training College who assist with labeling the books and checking them out. Children are allowed to check out one book per week. In a country where the “oral tradition” has been prominent in passing along knowledge, it is rare to see a well-used children’s library.
Over the past few years, donations from out of country visitors have not been brought from abroad but purchased with donated funds from the very fine East African Texbook Centre in Nairobi, a vital source for local textbooks and fiction by East African authors.
Some Textbook Centre publications are in Kiswahili (the national language), and are particularly welcome. Many of the locally-acquired text books used for exam preparation are also found on the shelves of the Jirani Project library.
A vision of what the Jirani Project Library could become – perhaps with funding for staff who could lead story hours or teach effective reading skills - is a topic for board discussion and future grant writing activities. For now, the library is a functioning, vital part of the Jirani Project’s mission to “honor the promise and expand the opportunities of Kenyan children through education and holistic support.”