Collections Development Manager Stevie Russell recently spent time in Ethiopia to monitor the progress of our projects there. Here she shares her impressions of the country.
I visited Ethiopia in June with our Director, Alison Hubert, to meet our major partners and monitor the effectiveness of our book donations there. We have strong ties with this country, having long-standing relationships with three main partners based in Addis Ababa: the Ethiopian Knowledge & Technology Transfer Society (EKTTS); CODE Ethiopia; and the British Council. Between them, these three organisations are responsible for much of the country’s free library provision.
On arrival in Addis Ababa, the striking evidence of Ethiopia being a country in transition is all around you: luxurious hotels and office blocks rising up amongst tin-roofed shanty towns, donkeys and cattle wandering freely amongst busy traffic. Public libraries, however, are few and far between. EKTTS is an Ethiopian charity that supports city libraries in and around Addis Ababa and has regional branches in Hawassa and Bahir Dar.
When we visited their modest headquarters in Addis, we were very impressed by how just three staff sort and distribute all 40,000 of the books we send each year.
The British Council took us to visit St John’s Catholic School, just one of the 200 schools and libraries to which they distribute our books each year. Here we found a library carefully managed by the teaching staff and much valued by the children. The school takes in many children free of charge, some of whom have been rejected by their families due to illness. We met one boy from the local orphanage, who just couldn’t keep away from the library.
We found a very different library amongst the slums of Addis Ababa. The Tena Kebena Community Resource Centre was founded in 2000 by two inspirational young people, Alemayehu Akalu and Desalegn Firew, to fulfil their vision of transforming rubbish dumps into sources of food and education.
They have cleared a formerly polluted city dumping ground by the river to create an oasis of urban agriculture and provide free access to books and computers in the resource centre along with IT and English classes.
We spoke to some teenage girls who said without Tena Kebena, they would never have learned to read.
All of these people made my visit to Ethiopia truly inspiring. Over the last year and a half I have seen nearly 750,000 books leave our warehouse at the start of their long journey. Seeing the difference made to children’s lives by just a handful of those books on the shelf of the Tena Kebena Resource centre brought home to me just how great the need for books and libraries is in such places, and how much more we can do to help meet that need.