Can you imagine what it would be like to suddenly have access to books when you’d never had them before? Imagine figuring out how to organize a library and teach young children how to use it, when many of them have never even seen a book. That was the challenge, and the opportunity, Kenya Keys’ intern, Kelsey Smith had when she decided to take on the project of opening a library at Bahakwenu Primary School. Here’s how she describes her experience:
The first group I allowed to borrow books was the 1st 2nd and 3rd graders. Looking back on it, I don’t know why in the world I thought a trial run of close to 150 books and a bunch of 6, 7, and 8-year-olds was a good idea. In fact as the day drew to an end I really started questioning my decision and was dreading the thought of learning a lesson the hard way if none of these books were returned the following day.
I shouldn’t have worried. Within five minutes of arriving, three 1st graders came up to me and handed me their books. Before long, I was kneeling on the ground outside the library encircled by children who were placing their books in my arms. Dust was flying as new students ran in and out of the circle, eager to show me that they had brought their book back as promised. For whatever reason, this moment hit me harder than any other. I fought back the tears as I watched their tiny, malnourished arms reach inside their ragged book bags to pull out their prized books, still in perfect condition.
“Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a book.” –Jim Rohn
As Kelsey Smith continued to work in the Bahakwenu library, she learned something that shocked and inspired her (and all of us). She realized one day that one of her 5th grade volunteers, Ngome, had been working through nearly all of the school’s lunch break.
With less than ten minutes before lunch was over, I asked Ngome if he had eaten. He said, “No, I want to help you. I want to work in the library.” I asked if he had eaten any food before he left for school in the morning. He said, “No.” I asked if he would have food to eat when he went home after school. He said, “No.”
Ngome wasn’t the only one, we learned that the library couldn’t remain open during lunch because the students would rather read a book than eat lunch. And for most of the students, the simple school lunch is the only meal they will eat all day. Despite constant hunger, these kids are more interested in reading than eating. The students in Kenya have demonstrated this great hunger to learn so many times, yet it is surprising and inspiring every time.
Click here to view a video about the work of Kenya Keys in providing and maintaining libraries in the schools and the community.