Written by Shree Mandke

This year, on 6th March, we will be celebrating World Book Day with some reflection and a hint of nostalgia, as we look back at some of the highlights of our work increasing access to books and libraries, and our work to improve literacy. 18 years have flown by. Here’s what we have been up to:

Books became our lingua franca

Way back in the mid to late 1990s, when Link Ethiopia was called GondarLink and when we were identifying how best to support and work alongside our partner schools in Ethiopia, a country where 84 languages are spoken, one of the first things we did was to arrange for shipments of books to be sent to the communities with whom we were working. Books became a symbol of our friendship and a way to communicate. We arranged two fully loaded shipping containers, as well as various student groups who took around five tonnes of books on their visits. We lost count of the number of books that reached our schools, but we estimate it was more than 35,000.

Continuing resourcing and refurbishing school libraries:

Since that time, we have continued to work with many rural and urban schools in Ethiopia, reaching over 90, and supporting them to acquire relevant books, refurbishing their libraries with new furniture and making them conducive places to read and learn. With the help of many generous donors we built brand new libraries, the most notable being our solar-panelled library in the remote village of Tokumma in Ambo, western Ethiopia. Below are just a few photos, a glimpse of our work, but there are many more photos we would love to share!

Our Donkey Libraries:

We were acutely aware of the lack of availability of books for those attending satellite schools in remote rural areas. Our first Donkey Library started taking books to five satellite schools in the Gondar Zuria Woreda, a large area south-east of Gondar town, back in 2008-09 benefiting almost 2,000 primary students. We carried out an evaluation of our first Donkey Library back in 2010 and found that 85% more pupils were accessing books and the satellite schools wanted us to provide more books for a longer period of time. Our second Donkey Library started taking books to about 3,000 kids across 6 satellite schools in the Kola Diba area (Gondar Dembia Woerda, south-west of Gondar town) in 2012.

Improving literacy through library development:

Our Country Director in Ethiopia was the one who made us aware of how important it was to get children into the habit of reading. His enthusiasm for reading was backed by the fact that even in 2010, by the end of Grade 2, 47% of all children were totally illiterate and youth literacy stood at 36%. We surveyed 43 libraries to find out more about reading habits of children, usage and availability of books, education background of the librarians, and the level of support provided to children in taking up reading. The findings of this survey resulted in us designing a programme of inter-linked initiatives, which will help over 40 schools enable their pupils to improve their literacy skills and, most importantly, getting them into the habit of reading.

We hope that the sum total of our work and experience will help us to nurture not only the future Burt Award winners of the world but also Booker prize winners… we hope we can report even more good news on one of the future World Book Days!