World Book Night

Last night, our Communications Executive Jenny Hayes flew the Book Aid International banner as she volunteered for World Book Night, giving out copies of Lynda La Plante’s crime thriller Prime Suspect. Here’s how she got on:

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Books packed and ready to go!

I decided to give my 18 copies of Prime Suspect out on an estate in West London, an area where people might not have such frequent access to books. I was ably assisted by two friends, Will and Katie, who took photos and helped carry books. My plan was to simply knock on doors, but on the way I got quite nervous – what if no one opened their doors? Or what if nobody accepted a book? My fears were soon assuaged – as we entered the estate, we encountered a lady returning to her flat from the playground. I took courage, went up to her and offered her a book, telling her about World Book Night. And that’s when the magic of the evening began – she smiled, seemed genuinely surprised and pleased by the unexpected offer of a free book and accepted it with thanks.

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Katie proudly bearing a copy of Prime Suspect

We met all sorts of people and met with all sorts of reactions, some wonderfully encouraging, some slightly less so. We bumped into one gentleman as he was leaving his flat. He didn’t want the book, was sorry to be blunt but he only read about World War Two. Not a problem – it was good to know he knew what he liked! Another couple opened the door together, thanked me for the offer of the book but said that reading wasn’t really their thing. I couldn’t persuade them to give it a try, which was a shame. World Book Night’s aim is to encourage people to read for pleasure, but I guess you can’t win every one.

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Knocking on doors

But amidst the ‘no thank yous’ there were many more ‘yes pleases!’ People’s reactions to my offer of a free book, even once I had explained all about World Book Night, were very interesting. I could tell from their initial looks and questions like ‘what’s the catch?’ that there was a lot of mistrust but as soon as they understood that the book was completely free and I didn’t want anything in return, the smiles, the looks of surprise and genuine delight were wonderful. I hope many of them retained that sense of excitement and opened the book after I left . I hope that for some of them this will be the beginning of a new love affair with books. And I hope that because of the unusual way this book came to them that it’ll compel them to pick up another book once they’ve finished this one. And another. And another.

At Book Aid International, we believe that books have the power to change lives – that’s why we sent one million new books to sub-Saharan Africa in 2014. And that’s why I wanted to volunteer for World Book Night – to share that same power with people a little closer to home.

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All the fun of the fair

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Without the generosity of the publishing industry, Book Aid International’s work would not be possible – 94 per cent of the books we send to our partners in sub-Saharan Africa are donated by publishers. London Book Fair, an international trade fair for the book industry, is therefore a must on Book Aid International’s calendar each year. It’s a place where you’ll find a publisher for every type of book imaginable all under one roof – from children’s and adult fiction to academic, educational, law, business, science, technology and medical.

And so we were there last week, promoting the charity and meeting with publishers, both current and potential book donors, so that we can continue to broaden the categories of books and reading resources we supply to our partners in Africa.

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View of the ground floor of the Grand Hall at London Book Fair – there were other halls (and floors) filled with publisher stands too!

As well as meeting with publishers, we had a small stand at the fair adorned with photos of and leaflets about our work. We were delighted to have so many people visit us to find out more about what we do.

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Our stand, small but perfectly formed!

As Book Aid International was the London Book Fair’s Charity of the Year in 2014, we were invited to attend the opening ceremony. It included speakers representing the publishing industry of each continent and it was a wonderful encouragement to hear their passion for books. English food writer Mary Berry officially opened the fair as part of the ceremony.

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Mary Berry declaring London Book Fair 2015 ‘officially open’

We also held a drinks reception, hosted by our Chair, Lord Boateng, to celebrate the work in Africa which we’re able to do thanks to the generosity of the publishing industry.

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Our Chair, Lord Boateng, thanking our donors for their help with our work

We were thrilled to have the international bestselling author Ken Follett (pictured below) join us as well as Sabelo Mapasure (below) from one of our partners, the Zimbabwe Library Development Trust.

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Our Chair, Lord Boateng (left) with international bestselling author Ken Follett (centre) and Book Aid International Director Alison Hubert (right)

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Stevie Russell, our Collections Development Manager (left) with Sabelo Mapasure from the Zimbabwe Library Development Trust (right)

It was a joy and a privilege to be at the London Book Fair – to meet with publishers who are so enthusiastic about our work and see the thousands of new books that are soon to be published – so many new stories to read, skills to learn and insights to be shared. It’s a great reminder of why Book Aid International does what it does: so that libraries in sub-Saharan Africa can benefit from the amazing creativity, ideas, information and learning to be had from all the wonderful books the publishing industry produce.

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World Book Night

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On Thursday 23 April, while the world celebrates World Book and Copyright Day, here in the UK we’ll celebrate World Book Night – an event dedicated to inspiring a love of books and reading in adults who don’t usually read for pleasure. The ethos behind this event is a belief that reading has the power to make a positive change to people’s lives – a belief that Book Aid International shares.

Flying the Book Aid International banner next Thursday night, our Communications Executive, Jenny Hayes, will be volunteering for World Book Night by giving out books in her local community:

Jenny Hayes

Jenny Hayes

I was very fortunate to be brought up in a home where books and reading were wholeheartedly promoted and encouraged. Looking back, I can see that this shaped my future for the better and I think the fundamental basis for it all was that books and reading gave me an imagination and inquisitiveness. In books, I could go on far flung adventures or learn about what it was like to live in the olden days, I could meet other cultures and have my assumptions and ways of thinking challenged. Yes, that probably made me a bit of a swot at school but that came from a genuine thirst for knowledge which I firmly believe came from the fact that from an early age my parents had exposed me to the wonderful things that books contained. 

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Just one small part of our warehouse!

And that’s something that has stayed with me to this day – I find the Book Aid International warehouse a thrilling place to go because of the sheer volume of books in there. It’s amazing to walk down the stacks and look at all the different books we have there – from fiction to business, medicine and law – knowing they are going to end up in libraries in sub-Saharan Africa where people might not otherwise have access to books.

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So on World Book Night I’m going to a deprived area in west London to give out copies of Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante (the book which I have been allocated by World Book Night) hoping to share my love of reading with those who might not have such easy access to books, especially books of their own.

We’ll bring you a full report on Jenny’s World Book Night experience after the event. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how you’re going to be celebrating World Book Night – get in touch at


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Librarian training in Cameroon

At Book Aid International, we passionately believe in the power of books to change lives. Our work in sub-Saharan Africa never ceases to confirm this belief; take Elina for example (whose story we shared on the blog recently) who was able to self-study for her end of school exams at the age of 38 using books we supplied to her local library, many years after having to leave school early because her parents couldn’t afford the fees.

But without librarians who are trained in basic library management skills, library users are unable to make the most of the books we send. A trained librarian can guide readers through the collection – recommending the next book for them to try, or helping them to find the information they need. We therefore provide training wherever there’s a need and funding allows. And so, as part of our work to create Children’s Corners in libraries in sub-Saharan Africa, we not only supply books and grants for refurbishment but we also provide training in children’s librarianship.

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Judith Henderson (centre) with Andrew Nyenty from Education Information Services International (left) and Caroline from Bamenda City Council, Cameroon (right)

Judith Henderson, our Project Manager (and an experienced librarian) visited Cameroon recently to deliver the first of two training sessions to a group of 23 librarians from libraries across Cameroon which are developing Children’s Corners. We asked her to tell us about the training and why it is so vital to the success of our Open Doors programme.

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Librarian training at Limbe City Council Library, Cameroon

Being a children’s librarian requires a different approach and skill set to a ‘regular’ librarian working in the adult section of a library, and yet training in children’s librarianship isn’t something offered in most library qualifications and courses in Africa. This makes the training we do as part of setting up Children’s Corners absolutely vital as it teaches librarians how to work actively with children and make the most of the books they have in their collection.

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The training is delivered in two parts, with each workshop lasting three days. The first covers basic issues related to children’s spaces and this is what I covered when I visited Cameroon recently. We looked at how to create the right library environment (everything from colour schemes to shelving), the skills and qualities of a good children’s librarian, how children learn, how libraries can support literacy, how to organise the library so that children can access the right books for their age and interests and how to engage the wider community with the Children’s Corner.

During the second day of the training, we invited some local school children in for the librarians to work with and try out some of the activities we had been discussing. The room really came to life and the amount of energy and imagination flying around was amazing!

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Librarians try out activities with children from a local school in Limbe

It was wonderful to see how fired up the participants were at the end of the three days – they all seemed very eager to return to their libraries and put what they had learned into practice. Here’s some of the feedback we received:

“I want to do more outreach to boost the image of my library and to have an impact in my community.”

“I’ve learned that I need to be more time conscious in order to enable users to study hard and learn more new things each time they come to the library.”

“This training, especially the part about outreach, has really broadened my job description way beyond just sitting and waiting for children to come to the library.”

I’m looking forward to finding out how they have been getting on when I return in about nine or ten months time to deliver the second workshop. We leave quite a long time between sessions so that the librarians have had the chance to put all they’ve learned in the first training into practice. That way, I am able to tailor subsequent workshops to the needs they have identified over the intervening months. Topics we might address in the second session include local fundraising, reading promotion, child health and safety and publicity and marketing.

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Librarians in the Children’s Corner we have created in Limbe City Council Library. This is the first Children’s Corner that we have created in Cameroon and is the model library for the project to give librarians ideas about the possibilities there are for their spaces.

My hope for all the librarians that are taking part is that they’ll have increased confidence in working with children and begin creating strong links with schools and other community groups. Ultimately, this is how we can ensure the impact of the books we send will last long after the refurbishment is finished and the Children’s Corner is launched.

Posted in Blog, Cameroon, Children's Corners, Countries, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Open Doors | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A view from Zambia

In February this year, our Head of Programmes, Jill Haynes, went to Zambia to visit our partners and scope out the next phase of our work there. One of the partners we work with is Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS). Here are some of the highlights of what ZOCS do and how we work in partnership.

Zambia is a very young country – more than half of the population are 16 years old or younger. This puts a huge strain on the country’s education system, which is already challenged by a lack of teacher training, infrastructure problems and a huge gap in resources between urban and rural areas. Because of these issues, around a quarter of a million children in Zambia do not attend school.

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Children reading in Chipata Open School Library

ZOCS supports a network of community schools in Zambia to help tackle this problem. The community schools are set up for children who cannot attend government schools. There are many reasons why children cannot attend government schools – some live in remote areas too far from a school, and others cannot afford the costs that come with a government school, such as textbooks or uniforms.

ZOCS works in nine provinces and over 500 schools in Zambia. Through this network, they are supporting around 177,000 children who are taught by a team of over 2,000 volunteer teachers. ZOCS provides a range of support for these community schools, from teacher training and bursaries for students to providing books for schools which would otherwise have none.


Children learning from phonics books in Rosa Mystica School

Book Aid International has been working with ZOCS for several years, providing brand new, carefully selected books for them to distribute to their network of schools. There is no government mandate for schools to have a library, so many schools have no library at all. This not only means that children have very little or no access to books, but also that they are often unsure of how to use a library. For many young people who go on to university, knowing how to get the most out of a university library is a real challenge and this can be detrimental to their studies.

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Phonics books can help with literacy in English and local languages

Recently, we provided ZOCs with a series of phonics books. Students first learn literacy in their mother tongue, and one of the strategies they use for this is phonics. In Grade 4, when children are around 11, they transition to English as the language of instruction. This transition is made easier because they are already familiar with phonics as a learning method.

Jill witnessed a school class who were in the transition period from mother tongue to English. They were using the phonics books that Book Aid International has recently sent to ZOCS. The books were being used exactly as intended and the children had either a book each or one between two – quite a rare sight in some schools, where children might share one book between ten.

Rosa Mystica Library

Children reading from phonics books in Rosa Mystica Library

We have just sent off a shipment of 21,789 books to Zambia and we’ll be planning more trips there this year to help libraries and partners like ZOCS to change more lives through books and reading.

Posted in Africa, Blog, Countries, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Schools, Zambia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment