Street Libraries: favouring access to a free book catalogue. "I'am happy and excited to use mobile phone to learn” Wisdom Dotse, 13 years-old

With the support of the ACPCultures+ Programme, a consortium of NGOs is promoting and creating new Street Libraries in Liberia and Cameroon and updating the existing ones in Ghana.

“People don't realize how a man's whole life can be changed by one book.” - Malcolm X

Growing up as a child, Hayford Siaw lived in several parts of Ghana because of his father’s job. In all these different communities he lived before completing basic schooling, only once did he have the opportunity to set foot in a library, in the capital of the Eastern Region of Ghana. He grew a love for reading, which eventually helped him venture into development related work, where he continually encountered children in rural communities who have no access books other than their school notes. Many children as old as 18 years were illiterate. Indeed, in the summer of 2011, while he was conducting interviews with villagers for some health-based field research, he came to understand the dire effect that a lack of literacy and basic education has on a population’s health.

The misconceptions based on ignorance he witnessed were overwhelming and disheartening. This realisation ultimately led to an in-depth understanding of some deeply rooted societal issues related to the lack of basic education. In August 2011, Hayford started a mobile library by collecting books from volunteers into his car trunk to make them available to children in rural villages. Working closely with communities, Hayford moved his car into communities inviting children to read. He created Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa (VPWE) to run the project.

In early 2014, the “Street Library” became an international project supported by the ACPCultures+ Programme. Led by the NGO Fraunhofer Portugal, the project involves VPWE and other two organisations from Liberia and Cameroon, extending the concept initiated by Hayford in other African countries.

After months of preparation, Youth Crime Watch and ASRAD opened the doors of their first physical Street Libraries respectively in Liberia and Cameroon in April 2015 to grant access to children and other readers. The ACP Street Library in Liberia and Cameroon bridges the gap of traditional reading environments by getting available books on the streets where everyone can have access to not only the great literatures of the world but also those of Africa, no matter the level of education, age, or comfort (with specifically design programmes for children).

The comments from the children highlight the importance of books to discover the world: “I am looking forward to the Open Street Library offering me an opportunity to access cultural information and to learn more about my society. I am happy and excited to use mobile phone to learn” commented 13 years-old Wisdom Dotse, who has been approached by the project.

The project offers also learning opportunities. Desmond Agbemehia, a 17 years-old female, expressed clearly the opportunities she discovered through the project: '”Street Library Digital Repository will enable me to access books online. With the audio integration, I can learn how to correctly pronounce certain words in my local language and English'”, she commented.

“For some people books seem to be a thing of the past, but here in Paynesville books couldn’t be a greater need. Despite the world transition into “digitalization”, there are many places that do not even have electricity every day. This sets some limits on those who seek access to information and educational resources. It was an exciting moment to have children sit in groups reading through the various books that we could give access to them”, commented Thomas J. Barlue, Programme Manager for Youth Crime Watch (YCWL), implementing the project in Liberia.

July 17, 2015
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