About two months ago I had the rare honour of visiting a community library in a dusty, remote village called Ndeiya. I would love to share my thoughts on what I saw there:
The Cardinal Otunga Library is as modern as modern libraries go. Its catalogue includes much-sought after books like the two biographies on American President Barack Obama. Simply put, the library is a gem for a book lover or anyone in search of general knowledge.
Indeed the library, with a sitting capacity of 100 people, has more than 5,000 books, and more are still to come. Well, The Cardinal Otunga Library is not in Nairobi or any other major town for that matter. It is right in the heart of Ndeiya, the very exemplification of a rural area.
Prior to the construction of the road that runs from Thogoto in Kikuyu to Mutarakwa in Limuru – though incomplete – Ndeiya was pretty much a forgotten place. Ndeyia, which is part of the larger Kiambu, and which cuts across two constituencies – Kikuyu and Limuru – had the dubious distinction of being backward, and people from that area were subjected to much ridicule.
On a good day, the library, which opens its doors at 11 am to 5.30 pm, five days in a week, is almost always full of people willing to quench their thirst of information.
The centre, which is housed at the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Thigio, is run by the Daughters of Charity. Sister Liz Smith, who is the centre’s administrator told Maisha Yetu that the center was established with the interests of area residents in mind.
“We wanted something that would take care of the youth, in the area, who are mostly idle and unemployed,” explains Sister Liz adding that the centre also has a hall which hosts recreational games like pool and table tennis.
Money for constructing the hall was donated from a family in Ireland. “After much consultation on how best the hall would be put to use, it was decided that a library would come in handy,” adds Sister Liz.
Over the years, schools in the area have generally performed badly, partly due to lack of adequate learning materials like books. And when Mrs Ann Mburu, a former teacher, was appointed the librarian, the first thing she did was to order for school textbooks, both for primary and secondary schools.
And this has borne fruits. Students from nearby schools drop into the library during weekends and school holidays to do their studies using the textbooks available. A former student from the nearby Thigio Boys Secondary School, who scored an A- in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examinations (KCSE) offered to tutor other students for free.
“The boy told us that his good performance in KCSE was a result of using facilities at the library,” explains Mrs Mburu. “He therefore wanted to give something back to society.”
At the time we got into the library, there were only three people, including a young girl browsing through the children’s section. As the interview progressed more people started dropping in. Most of them were in school uniform.
Sister Catherine Madigan, who is in charge of the library says that most of the books were donated from the US. “Three schools from Chicago were being closed and they donated all their books to us. We update books according to the demand,” says Sister Catherine.
The library charges a modest membership fee of Sh250 per year for adults and Sh100 for children. Members can borrow a maximum of two books, which they return after two weeks. Membership currently stands at 150.
Non-members are welcome to come and read from the library. “Membership is open to everyone irrespective of their denomination,” adds Sister Catherine.
Since the library was opened in January 2007, there has been some progress especially among neighbouring schools. “Some of the feedback we have been getting from teachers and parents is that pupils are now able to write better compositions in school,” says Mrs Mburu.
Mr David Kimani, who is in the management committee of schools in the area is full of praises for the Daughters of Charity for introducing the library in the area. “Of all the assistance that has been given to people in this area, this is the best gift so far,” he says. “Other forms of assistance create a sense of dependency among the people, but with book, our young people are going to open up their thinking, which will in effect bring about innovation and creativity.”
UPDATE: I am reliably informed that Mrs Anne Mburu no longer works at the library, otherwise everything about the library stands, including what she told me