It is still dark in Kunifaa’s small homestead. The cocks are stretching their necks, ready for their morning wake-up calls. The cattle belch out their sickly groans, the chickens in their agitated restlessness, are ready to call for the freedom morning brings. The sun, majestic master of all, stirs and readies itself for its upward thrust, which is never a timid motion here on the equator.
Kunifaa, age 20, using vision only possible in a people that live in a non-electrified world, reaches for his clothes, has a quick breakfast of ugali (made with water and maize flour), and begins his two hour walk to a small children’s library 10 miles away. He walks in pouring rain and he walks in blazing heat. He will spend from 8 am to 5:30 pm at the library, five days a week, as a volunteer for Kenya Keys. He is part of the new volunteer program that allows students to earn their way to further sponsorship. “The books are very important to the people,” he says. “They have not had books before. I want to help keep the books available.” And he does. As regular as clockwork.
From 4:00 pm on, the library is full of children stopping on their way home from school. During the day he keeps the library open for who he calls, “outsiders,” meaning people other than children. He found that they were coming often during the day; a teacher, or one of the many people with high school educations that have never been able to continue their schooling, or even an illiterate person that has never held a book before and has been pulled in by curiosity. He keeps a careful log of when these “outsiders” arrive and when they leave. I survey the log. Three hours, four hours some of them have stayed. Little did I anticipate that this small library in the bush would offer such a clarion call to those starved for learning.
I watch Kunifaa as he straightens the books and classifies the newly arrived books by putting colored tape on their spines. He has proudly donned his Kenya Keys shirt that says, “Share the light of learning – build a library, build a school.” It is his official uniform. He has long passed the required volunteer hours that will insure him of sponsorship to study electrical engineering at a college in Nairobi. He is now in the library out of grit and determination to serve the cause he has come to believe in. Only Africans have such amazing stamina.
The sun begins its plunge to the earth. Kunifaa grabs his cornhusk broom and frees the floor of its layer of red dirt. He tucks each book in place, locks the door, and begins his walk home. Darkness will soon be his companion.