When it first opened in August 2014, the only library in Nairobi’s Mugure slums really was tiny. There were four wooden posts that acted as the open-air library boundary, with nail hooks on top to hang two rechargeable lights. These illuminated two tables, one for reading purposes and a check in-out desk that doubled up as a book display.
Scorching sun meant that the library would only open for three hours from 5:30pm and students would sit on one of the two benches, or building blocks, to use the books and to study.
“I wanted to help my community, and I knew that a literate community is a developing community,” says founder Cyril Peter Otieno. “So I started the library because I knew if my community could read and articulate issues, they had a better chance of finding solutions to issues affecting them.”
Now there are walls covered in beautiful blue and pink paint that complements the freshly-built rooms and well-fitted cabinets. Africa’s Smallest Library offers study space to over 100 students across two library rooms, an office and a bathroom.
Hosea Murei’s child is one of the regulars at the library. “I would like to appreciate the founders of this library. I have seen it grow, and as parent our children’s grades have improved. ’’ Most households in Mugure live in a one-roomed house, making it hard for children to concentrate on their studies. The library also works with local schools that lack sufficient reading materials and run weekend reading clubs with Kenyan literacy foundation Vitabu Vyetu.
The launch of the permanent library, in collaboration with You and Us Development Initiative is a big step. The library is now open until 8pm and has room for up to 40 children at one go. Books are donated from within the community and through social media.
“To alleviate extreme poverty, we need to make books accessible”
Wairimu Mwangi is the founder of Literature Africa Foundation, who have donated books to the library. “To alleviate poverty and teach children how to alleviate extreme poverty in their communities, we need to make books accessible to them,” she says. “So through Literature Africa Foundation we are running a campaign to have members of the public donate books to us. The books are then distributed to different libraries like Smallest Library In Africa.’’
There are plans to expand the Library veranda to screen animations and movies as well as plans to hold wide-ranging of clubs covering art, singing and dancing.
Otieno and his team are providing more than just books. “Every week we have a program called Inspirational Friday, where we use the library as a mobilizing tool. We speak about the challenges that we face as a community: challenges like drugs and substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. It’s all about providing not only learning space but also an awareness platform for children who cannot find that venue back in their homes.”