Zimbabwe has a population of over 15 million and is rich both in mineral resources and farm lands. Political and economic instability, the collapse of its manufacturing industries, isolation from the international community and emigration of much of the skilled and unskilled workforce have resulted in a situation in which a great many Zimbabweans find themselves without employment and struggling to survive.
Although the economic situation has improved since 2009, food security is intermittently threatened by drought and longer term by the impact of climate change. Life expectancy has also increased from only 41 in 2003 to 54 for men and 53 for women, but this is still lower than other countries in the region.
Following independence in 1980 the government invested heavily in education and the country at one point had the highest literacy rate in Africa. However, the education system has suffered the loss of many teachers to emigration and chronic under-funding. Recent reports from Zimbabwe suggest as many as 50% of children do not progress in education beyond primary school.
Why we work in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, at one time host country to the largest book fair in Africa, has maintained a strong reading culture despite the limited availability of books that has arisen from the impact of the economic downturn on the national publishing industry and high import taxes on international books.
Zimbabwe also has a strong tradition of public and community libraries, notably the National Free Library and Bulawayo Public Library, and the municipal libraries in both major and smaller towns throughout the country. Book purchase budgets are, however, very limited.
Education at primary and secondary levels is in English, but available funds are spent primarily on textbooks, with very few reading or supplementary books being purchased.
This culture of reading, together with an education system delivered in English, provides a rich environment for the books we send. Strong partnerships built over many years ensure that the books reach beneficiaries in a wide range of libraries throughout the country.
As there is no national library service in Zimbabwe, Book Aid International works through two distribution networks, based in Harare and in Bulawayo. These distribution networks together support 284 libraries, including 232 schools, 24 public and community libraries, 16 further and higher education institutions, nine medical training institutions and two prisons. Very few of these institutions have any budget to purchase books and in some cases up to 80% of the books in their collections have been supplied by Book Aid International.
Our work in Zimbabwe
Supporting public libraries in Zimbabwe
Public, municipal and community libraries remain a vital resource in Zimbabwe where few people can afford to buy the limited range of books available. The books that our public library partners request range from children’s books to adult fiction, non-fiction and life skills books.
In addition to providing books for general collections in public libraries in Zimbabwe, our Open Doors Children’s Corners programme is creating vibrant and welcoming spaces for children in African public libraries, providing brand new books from the UK and purchased locally, grants for library refurbishment and training for librarians in children’s services. We launched our Open Doors programme in Zimbabwe in early 2016 and we will be setting up at least five new Children’s Corners over the next year. Through our Open Doors programme we hope to enable thousands of children in Zimbabwe to discover the joy of reading.
Supporting schools in Zimbabwe
Through our partners we provide books to a large number of primary and secondary schools to support learning and the development of the habit of reading. We also support two school library networks run by local NGOs. The Edward Ndlovu Memorial Library based in Gwanda distributes book box libraries to a network of 27 schools in the local area. The Rural Libraries and Resources Development Programme (RLRDP), supports school libraries in rural areas. To reach the schools, the project uses 15 donkey-drawn library carts and 200 book delivery bicycles to ensure children have a supply of relevant, up-to-date reading materials in school.
Supporting higher education in Zimbabwe
Higher education in Zimbabwe has been impacted both by the mass migration of teaching professionals and by deep cuts in expenditure, in the face of increased demand for places driven by lack of employment for school leavers. University libraries and the service they can provide for their students are facing increased challenges in providing a service for their students.
We work with a range of universities across the country, including the University of Zimbabwe, the National University of Science and Technology, Chinoyi University of Technology and Midlands State University, as well as newer universities such as Lupane State University which is yet to move into its permanent building. We are also able to support special cases for book donation, such as for Bindura University which lost much of its academic stock in a recent flood.
By supplying relevant, specialist and up-to-date books to university and higher education libraries in Zimbabwe we are able to support a great many students who would otherwise have little access to books and the information they need to pursue their studies.
*UN Human Development Report 2014