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Volunteers set up a street library to get kids reading

While living in Lindi, Tanzania, on a VSO volunteer placement, Steve and Sue noticed that the children they worked with had no access to books. Together with the whole neighbourhood they came up with a new idea to get local children reading. Steve tells the story...

Children reading on a step in Tanzania Steve Scorer

Members of Lindi's 'street library' getting engrossed in reading

We got the idea of what we call a 'street library' because children in our neighbourhood were able to read but had no books at all in their schools. 

We had come to know the local children, and were sponsoring some of them to attend an English medium school in Lindi. They and their friends loved reading books whenever they came to the house.

A box of books used for the street library Steve Scorer

Local children loved reading, but their schools had no books. We wanted to try and do something to help.

We started thinking of ways to make books available to any local children who wanted to read. We contacted the Tanzania Development Trust, who gave us a small grant. We sourced books from three book shops in Dar Es Salaam.

Making boxes Steve Scorer

Setting up the street library was a community effort! Here the local shoe repairman insets strips of rubber from old tyres to stop books from slippling.

My wife Sue covered all 180 books with sticky-backed plastic. A local fundi [technician] made some boxes to store the books in. 

Steve paints boxes in Tanzania Steve Scorer

My 'weekend job'! Painting the boxes for our street library idea.

I made some 'library cards' and negotiated with a tailor close to our house called Saddiqi, who agreed to keep the boxes in his shop and to run the library.

The library was ready to open!

Tailor Saddiqi in Lindi Steve Scorer

Local tailor Saddiqi agreed to run the street library out of his shop. He stores the boxes inside and puts them outside most days. Here he is with happy customer Hidaya.

The idea was that anyone could sign up with their name and their guardian's mobile number. Saddiqi gave them a card with a number, after which they could read the books on his step or on a step over the street. I decided it was better to do that than let people take books home. There is no charge to join the library.

Street library in Tanzania Steve Scorer

The street library has proved popular with children and adults alike.

Within five days we had over 100 members and more were joining each day! The reactions were very positive. Even though the books are mainly for children, in different grades of difficulty, adults were using the library too.

We also added some board games, which are very popular.

Children playing a board game in Tanzania Steve Scorer

Children enjoy the board games that are also stored in the boxes.

This side-project designed in our 'downtime' was I think one of the most rewarding things we did in Tanzania.

It was in some way a thank you gift to our neighbours for welcoming us so warmly into their lives. The whole community worked together on the street library and that's surely part of the reason it is still up and running now we've returned to the UK.

Girls reading in Tanzania Steve Scorer

Happy readers losing themselves in a good book or two... Working on the street library is one of the most rewarding things we've ever done.

We'll be returning to Lindi next January to visit our friends and help in the English medium school. We'll also be bringing some more books and games to top up the street library with!

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