Community library offering alternatives to learners in slums amid covid-19

With uncertainties on how long learners are going to stay home due to covid-19 pandemic, many school going children are finding alternatives to stay abreast with their studies.
At Amani Kibera library in Kibera, high school and primary school students walk in one by one to the facility. One of the Form Two students at a local school walks in with a text book. He has had it for about a week and its now time to exchange. The library is free of charge to the community.

Amani Kibera library in Kibera
Amani Kibera library in Kibera

About a month and half ago the Amani Kibera started My Home My Library, an initiative  targeting children in Standard Five and above including university and college students who would want to borrow books to read at home.

Ben Ooko, co-founder of Amani Kibera, says learners are free to walk in and borrow books. All they need is consent from their parents the first time they borrow a book. This, Ooko says, is to ensure accountability by the borrowers. “When parents come in, we require them to sign a book where they leave their contact details,” he says.

So far, the library is now serving over 70 learners who come for books here every week. In addition, the facility offers kindle tablets to learners who faithfully and consistently borrow and return books at least three times.
According to Ooko, the book lending initiative started mid May with the aim of offering study materials to learners across Kibera. “We use this opportunity to talk to the youth about covid-19 prevention measures such as hand washing and the need for physical distance,” said Ooko.

Ooko, however, says many of the learners cannot access the reading resources as their parents are unavailable to make the necessary documentation. “The biggest challenge we are facing with the parents is that some are too busy to accompany their children here. For those children who come without their parents we don’t give them the books because we cannot sign an agreement with a student,” he says.

A Form Three student borrows a book from the Amani Kibera Library in Lindi, Kibera.
A Form Three student borrows a book from the Amani Kibera Library in Lindi, Kibera.

The covid-19 pandemic came as a shocker to many and no one prepared young people that schools will be closed for long. They find themselves at home, not knowing what to do next. Most of them from poor families do not have books and those that would ordinarily access free community libraries cannot access them as they are closed. As a result, many of these children stay idle, something that inspired Amani Kibera to begin the initiative. Besides the course books installed in the kindles, the organization has also developed life skill games in the devices to allow the learners play or implement the games while at home.

Ben Ooko co-founder Amani Kibera -
Ben Ooko co-founder Amani Kibera

Dr Oscar Githua, a forensic psychologist and member of Kenya Mental Health Taskforce says parents ought to take responsibility of their children and engage them beyond books. According to him, our culture is only concerned about learning for examination. “As a country we need to start shifting our focus from learning for exams to learning for life. And maybe this is the chance that covid-19 has presented to us; that parents can now engage with their children in a better and a more meaningful manner,” said Dr Githua.

For some children, e-learning is not an option as they cannot access the Internet or do not have the necessary devices to facilitate this kind of learning.

Dr Githua advises that it is time the community takes up the responsibility of offering academic and life skills to such children while observing the covid-19 prevention rules. “The community can take responsibility and be innovative. School is not a physical building. It is the socialization process that happens and we just have to be innovative,” he adds.

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