Imagine Samuel*, a 13 year old Kenyan, waking up alone every morning in a tent he had constructed out of plastic garbage bags, walking 6 kilometers to and from school everyday, and eating only one meal a day. This boy has nomadic parents who graze their cattle most of the year away from home, and every night he builds a small fire to have enough light to do his school work. Intuitively, one would assume he has everything stacked against him – abject poverty, absent parents, poor nutrition, and an overcrowded and underfunded school. Yet, Samuel is top of his class. Why? Because he devours the books in his school library, a library we at Knowledge Empowering Youth donated two years ago. When we donated this library, he started reading any book he could get his hands on, and subsequently his grades soared.
Many of us are familiar with the statistics connecting libraries and reading to academic performance and success. The studies are numerous, and their findings profound; a strong library program leads to higher student scores, even when controlled for student demographics, student-teacher ratios, and community socio-economic conditions; reading for pleasure boosts a child’s performance across all subjects, including math; reading fiction enhances social skills critical for business success – the findings go on and on.
Though 87.4% of Kenyans are literate, they were taught to read without books. 98% of primary schools in Kenya have no libraries, and over 50% of high schools in Kenya have no libraries. These facts have significant implications for students in Kenya, and at Knowledge Empowering Youth we are trying to change this. We believe that all children should have an equal chance to excel, self-determine and make their communities and the world a better place. The transformative power of language, the internet and a well-rounded education give children the best opportunity to do this. This is why we donate libraries.
To date we have invested 1,650,000 US$ in 6 years to provide 20 libraries in Kenya, which we replicated regionally in a school in Tanzania. Our turnkey libraries are hybrid, combining technology with print material, housed in a beautiful and bright space, with attractive furniture. Our libraries start with 2000 curated books, selected to make up a book list customized to the reading level and geographic location of the school. As we cover our own overhead costs, every dollar we get from third party investors goes out to transform lives. We receive tremendous support from publishers supplying our books, whose charitable discounts help make the reach of our donations possible. Without this support, we would only have been able to donate half the libraries we have.
Our goal is to scale up, and target 120 schools over the next 5 years. This would require an investment of 7,000,000 US$, which we are now starting to fundraise for. Ultimately, we want to reach as many Samuels as possible, whose lives can be profoundly changed simply by accessing books.
*The name has been changed to protect his identity, but the story is true.
A guest blog from Niccola Milnes, KEY