Libraries for Zanzibar

Education in the island of Zanzibar is free in principle, but the supply of books from the government is sparse and restricted to text-books.

A school library in Zanzibar town (Picture: Salum Abdalla)
A school library in Zanzibar town (Picture: Salum Abdalla)
Mr Hija in his newly-stocked library (Picture: Henrietta Dombey)
Mr Hija in his newly-stocked library (Picture: Henrietta Dombey)

Henrietta Dombey writes: Children learn to read in Kiswahili, the home language of most children and the medium of instruction in Primary School. Zanzibar’s teachers are keenly aware of children’s need to read for pleasure as well as formal study, but most of them simply don’t have the books.

I sensed teachers’ eagerness for change when I was in Zanzibar in 2006, working on a UNESCO-funded teacher CPD programme. One school in particular made a strong impression – Kajengwa Primary School in rural Makunduchi, where 10 teachers work with 600 children. The Headteacher, Mr Hija, had set aside a small room for a library, but had no stock, other than a few quite unsuitable books in English. So I was delighted to discover the Tanzanian Children’s Book Project, http://www.readingworldwide.com/index.php?id=15982, based in mainland Dar-es-Salaam.

Led by three inspired local educators, as well as working with teachers since 1991 to develop reading for pleasure and purpose, the CBP has been running workshops for both writers and artists, on making books for children. This has resulted in the publication of over 300 titles in Kiswahili, ranging from Big Books of vividly illustrated stories for beginning readers, to chapter books the more experienced.

So UKLA set up Project Connect and Mr Hija was able to take a boat to the mainland to collect 115 of these books to grace the new library shelves built by the staff. Since then MR Hija and his staff have collected another five batches of books and 15 other schools have been added to the scheme. But in many schools there is still less than 1 book for each child.

What’s the book/child ratio in your school?

To ensure the productive use of these library books, in 2010 Project Connect arranged and paid for staff from the Children’s Book Project to come over to Zanzibar to provide a workshop for teachers from the first ten schools involved. A further three-day workshop for 32 teachers from 16 schools is to take place in 2017.

The success of Project Connect in changing the reading culture in the schools involved owes much to the devoted and skilful work of Ramla Kindy, a local primary inspector (now retired) and Salum Abdalla, a primary teacher in one of the participating schools. They nominate schools for the project and monitor their use of the books. Salum also takes photographs of the project in action. Both Ramla and Salum were sponsored by UKLA to make a presentation about the project and to participate in UKLA’s 49th Annual International Conference in Liverpool in July 2013.