Creating Libraries For The Community: One Man’s Dream
One sunny Wednesday morning in February 2012 my VSO colleague and I visited a local secondary school 23 km north of Addis Ababa. The purpose of the visit was to see one of the eight libraries which Mr. Ahmedin Mohammed and his organization, Yeewket Admas Library, had set up and stocked with English text books and reference material.
After driving over the northern mountain boundary of the city, we descended onto the Oromiya Region’s farming area. We left the main highway and turned onto an inconspicuous dirt road. The new public secondary school, Sululta Sadarkaa 2, soon came into view. We were greeted by the school’s director, Mr. Fikadu Alemu, who gave us a short guided tour of the school compound.
The school was built on land previously used as a work camp for the labourers who constructed the main highway to Debre Markos.
Mr. Fikadu Alemu (left), Ms. Fatima and Mr. Mohammed in front of the library. The rest of the school is in the background.
The classrooms were clean. There were just under 800 students with 6 sections of Grade 9 (80 students per class), 4 sections of Grade 10 (55 per class) and 2 sections of Grade 11 (37 per class.)
The library is housed in a clean, well organised room with 9 computers set along the walls. These were purchased by the local community. In the center of the room were tables and chairs for 25 students. Behind the counter were English textbooks are bought through donations and shipped from the USA. The publication dates were quite recent and all books had three stamps: the school’s, Yeewket Admas Library’s and a clear label reading “Not for Sale.” The shelves were organised according to discipline and clearly labeled. All students are permitted to take the books out for the weekend which then must be returned on the Monday.
The library provides the school and its students with a very valuable learning resource. However, it is not open for all of the school hours. Mr Ahmedin is arranging a meeting with the Head teacher to help him plan ways in which more access could be given to the students. This could include a published timetable for the library where teachers could book certain sessions for their classes. The library provides students with an excellent selection of reference materials, but Mr Ahmedin is also hoping that he can get some support to include English reading material and books in Braille as the school has two visually impaired teachers.
After leaving the school we drove back into Addis Ababa and on to Woreda (district) 9 to visit our second library on the third floor of the local community centre.
Ms. Genet Kebede (Left), Mr. Mohammed, and Mr. Deqeta Debelan.
Nefas Silk Lafto Youth Association’s library has two qualified librarians, Mr. Deqeta Debelan and Ms. Genet Kebede, and has 80-90 visitors per week that includes teachers, students and members from the general community. The library is open Monday-Friday from 8:30-5:00, but is closed on the weekends because the wages bill is limited. There are no membership fees and members are permitted to take out materials for up to a week.
The shelves are organized and clearly labeled. Library members can borrow books using by leaving their Kebele ID card. A ledger is used to keep track of books borrowed and their due dates. The librarians say that they have never lost a book. When a book is checked members will often wrap it in a protective cover and so that it is returned good condition.
The library provides an excellent resource for the community and many members are using it to support taking further qualifications. Its only disadvantage is the shortage of space as it cannot display all its books or provide study space. Th library is looking for a larger space and if this was possible it could be expanded to include a children’s section, a section for the visually impaired, and a quiet study space.
The stacked shelves at Woreda 9’s community center. Notice the books still in boxes on the bookcase.
Mr. Mohammed’s ambition is to setup 12 more libraries. There are currently 8 libraries set up by Yeewket Admas Library and serving various communities across Ethiopia. This is a major achievement by Mr. Mohammed.
Although books are essential libraries also need commitment from their stakeholders. Dedicated librarians, supportive school administrators, and municipal governments with vision all play key roles in making a vibrant and successful library.
Ethiopia desparately needs community libraries The projects at Sululta Sadarkaa 2 and Nefas Silk Lafto Youth Association are a good start. They will help improve access to quality English books and will be a catalyst in improving English Language education. Mr. Mohammed’s drive, commitment and passion for the young people of Ethiopia are exemplarily and his projects deserve our support.
David J Fenech, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Feb 2012