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What Does It Mean To #LovetoRead In Sub-Saharan Africa?

07/11/2016 11:30

At Book Aid International we are all book lovers, so we've been following the BBC's #LovetoRead campaign with great interest. Here's how the BBC described the campaign:

Reading is one of life's greatest joys and can awaken our imagination, inspire and challenge us - not just as children but throughout our lives. That's why the BBC has launched #LovetoRead, a campaign to celebrate reading.

My belief in the power of reading and books to change our lives is why I decided to get involved with Book Aid International, the leading UK book donation and library development charity working in sub-Saharan Africa.

While we envision a future where everyone across sub-Saharan Africa has access to the books they need, the reality is very different. In the countries where we work, the battle to simply get books into the hands of people who are hungry to learn is still being fought.

That sparked a debate in our office: Would a campaign like '#LovetoRead' have a place in countries still struggling with high levels of illiteracy, or should books in these countries be seen primarily as tools for development?

The barriers

#LovetoRead is all about embedding a love of reading into all parts of society. In other words, it's about a culture of reading.

The barriers to developing this sort of culture of reading in much of sub-Saharan Africa are huge. An estimated 1 in 3 adults are functionally illiterate in the region. In real terms, that means that 182 million adults are unable to read and write.

There are many factors driving illiteracy, but they tend to boil down to poverty. As children, poverty keeps people from being able to attend school and learn to read. As adults, precious resources go toward buying food and clothing, not books. It is rare for families to have books at home.

And yet...

The libraries where we work are full of children and adults reading for pleasure, for study or to improve their life chances.

These libraries are often stocked with the same books that we enjoy here, many donated by UK publishers through Book Aid International. The Cat in the Hat is still loved, and avid readers follow the course of the Hunger Games with the same fascination as readers in the UK.

Even in the most difficult circumstances, people are reading. We ship books to prisons and refugee camps as well as public libraries, schools and universities - and demand is growing.

Books are a critical tool in the fight for development across Africa as they are a tool for giving disadvantaged children here in the UK a leg up, but their practical value does not diminish their almost magical power to transport us to another place and the joy they provide.

One of the librarians we support, Agnes, embodies the passion for reading that we have experienced through our partners:

The children have said that books make them feel like they have gone out into the world even though they are still in their village. Some of the children are 12 or 15-years-old and they have never left their village. A 15-year-old is a mature person who has had so few life experiences, yet they tell me they can travel the world through a book. This really inspired me as a librarian. [read more]

So, what about #LovetoRead Africa?

Bringing the discussion back the original question - could there be a campaign like #LovetoRead in the countries where we work? The answer is, of course.

Avid readers in these countries have the same drive as we do to celebrate the books they love. The parents that we speak to who cannot read or write often tell us that seeing their children read brings them great joy and hope for the future. I suspect they would be delighted if their children got involved in sharing how much they #LovetoRead.

Book Aid International is the UK's leading book donation and library development charity working in sub-Saharan Africa. The charity partners with librarians across 12 countries to get books into the hands of people who would otherwise go without. Last year, the charity shipped 1.1m books which reached an estimated 24 million readers from all walks of life.

Learn more about the charity by visiting bookaid.org or joining the conversation: @Book_Aid.

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