Doris Lessing bequeathes her library to Zimbabwe

Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author, has donated her entire personal collection of over 3,000 books to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe and her executors have asked Book Aid International to help. During her life, Lessing was a strong supporter of Book Aid International, so we are particularly glad to be able to help carry out her wishes.

Doris Lessing lived in Zimbabwe (which was then Southern Rhodesia) for 25 years, from 1924 to 1949. She returned in 1956, but was declared a prohibited migrant after speaking out about the Rhodesian regime. She was allowed back to into the country in 1982; and after 1988 she visited Zimbabwe and nurtured two initiatives by the Africa Book Development Organisation and the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust to provide opportunities for reading and learning through libraries.

Gardner Thompson from Book Aid International with Vanessa Bloor, Felicity Highet & Lettice Franklin from HarperCollins

Our team, led by Gardner Thompson and volunteers from Lessing’s publisher HarperCollins, spent a day this week carefully sorting and packing up Lessing’s library in her former home in London. Vanessa Bloor from HarperCollins was fascinated by the variety and breadth of Lessing’s library – “A collection to aspire to!” Felicity Highet was inspired to help Book Aid International as she was reading one of Lessing’s books, The Golden Notebook, when the call went out for volunteers. Lettice Franklin works for Doris Lessing’s editor, and helped to make arrangements for Lessing’s memorial service, so she wanted to be there to help make these last arrangements for the author.

Book shelves under the stairs...

... and in the hallway


The view from Lessing's writing room that features in her work

We found books not just in every room of Lessing’s home, but on shelves in every space where shelves could be fitted, in hallways, under stairs – there were books everywhere. Lessing’s collection consists of a wonderful variety of reference books, non-fiction and fiction, poetry, biographies and history books. These books will be deeply appreciated by the people of Zimbabwe, for whom books are a precious but rare resource.

A shipment from Book Aid International is always warmly welcomed in Zimbabwe!

Every year, Book Aid International sends over 50,000 books to Zimbabwe. Libraries in Zimbabwe often have no budget for new books so in many libraries Book Aid International books comprise up to 80 per cent of their collection.

The arrival of the Doris Lessing’s collection will be celebrated at a literacy festival in November 2014, with Lessing’s family, friends and Zimbabwean writers.


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Help us win a life-changing grant!

We’re delighted to announce that we are finalists for a fantastic £5,000 grant from our friends at Better World Books. But we really need your help to win the grant – every vote for Book Aid International will get us closer to a grant that can help us change children’s lives in Africa.

You can vote for us by ‘liking’ Better World Books’ Facebook page -  you will then be able to cast your vote for: Open Doors Children’s Corners in African Libraries.

The £5,000 grant could send 2,500 books to Children’s Corners in African libraries, or train four librarians to make the most of these amazing spaces.

A lively Children's Corner in Ugandan library

The great news is that you are allowed to vote for us once per day every day until 29 August. We’ll be very grateful if you can encourage your Facebook friends to vote for us too – there’s a link on our Facebook page that you can share, and we will be talking about it on Twitter too, so you can always retweet us and support our bid that way.

Thank you for your support!

Help spread the word - Book Aid International books change lives!


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Writing to understand and raise funds

Jennie, Veronica and Tim, three Australian writers, were recently inspired to use their talents to raise funds for Book Aid International and other charities that empower refugees through education.

So inspired in fact, that they decided to get together to make a difference without ever having met before!


After making contact with each other, they met up at the State Library of Victoria, central Melbourne and set pen to paper. Tim wrote letters, Veronica wrote poetry and prose and Jennie wrote poems on topics proposed by their sponsors. It was all connected by the question, ‘what must it be like to need refuge?’.


Their creative efforts raised well over $2,000, which they have very generously donated to Book Aid International and their other chosen charities.

Here’s one of the pieces that Jennie created, which speaks to the refugee’s hope and desire for belonging:

Finding My Place (for Dianne)

Do you understand me?
I am still looking for
a place of peace.

How much must I pay you
to find myself, my place,
a world with a welcoming face?

Do you understand me?
How much will my search cost?
How do I measure my loss?

How much must I pay you
What is the price of peace?
For finding myself, finding my place?

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Books for island communities

We are committed to making books and information accessible to those that need them most.  Our School Library in a Box project in Kagera, a remote rural region of Tanzania, is a great example of this commitment in action.

Thirty-five schools in Kagera now have their first library through this project, including two of the most recent additions on Mazinga Island in Lake Victoria.  Islanders living on the lake are more disadvantaged than the population on the mainland:  livelihoods are almost entirely dependent on fishing and small-scale agriculture;  health services are limited and often temporary in the form of floating clinics, and literacy rates are well below the national average.

Earlier this year, Jonathan Coolidge, the VSO Education Advisor managing the School Library in a Box project in Kagera, packed four library boxes full of new books and made the two-hour boat ride out to Mazinga Island. He was met by students and teachers who carried the boxes through the village and up to the school.

 ”The next two days were full of excitement and joy.  The students on Mazinga Island were thrilled to get books – the first most had ever held in their hands.” – Jonathan Coolidge

At Mazinga and Buyonzi primary schools, Jonathan worked with students and teachers to set up a weekly reading schedule and trained eight pupils in each school as library monitors.  Students were also shown how to use the new English/Kiswahili dictionaries – most students had never come across dictionaries before.  They worked in teams and read simple English books using the dictionaries to find Kiswahili definitions.

Along with Mazinga we have also expanded our School Library in a Box programme to the nearby islands of Goziba and Ikuza.  By providing these island communities with access to books we hope to improve the prospects and life chances of children there.

Later in the year Jonathan will return to Lake Victoria for another week of activities at the island schools.  In the meantime, students are making the most of having story books in their classrooms for the first time.

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A hundred years from now

Last month we heard from Nkazimulo Stewart Dube, a young librarian at the Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library in Gwanda, Zimbabwe. Nkazimulo told us what had initially inspired him to become a librarian:

“It was a page marker I came across back in 2008 when I was doing my internship. I believe it came out of a Book Aid International book. Its words inspire me to this very day.  It read;

” A hundred years from now it won’t matter what your bank account was, what type of car you drove or the size of your mansion. But the world could be a better place because you made a difference in the life of one child.”

Storytime at Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library, Gwanda

“To me that suggested the value of making a lasting contribution to humanity… There are so many billionaires who have walked this earth whose names we have never even heard but a mention of the humble name of Mother Teresa rings a bell to many. It is that sort of contribution I would love to make with my life. Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library has given me the opportunity to reach out to those hearts.” – Nkazimulo Stewart Dube, Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library Librarian.

Storytime at Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library, Gwanda

The Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library is a shining example of a well run community library in an impoverished region of Zimbabwe.  It is well stocked with plenty of  well-organised Book Aid International books, which are also used to run a mobile library service for schools in 27 rural communities in the surrounding district.  Outreach staff from the library visit these schools to promote reading in the classroom and support teachers with basic training in running a school library.

It is clear that Nkazimulo and the rest of the library staff enjoy what they do and very much believe in the power of books to change lives!


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