This week Book Aid International launched a new programme to improve the reading opportunities of a quarter of a million children in Africa. Inspiring Readers will provide book box libraries for over 300 schools - giving each school 1,250 brand new books, which will help children not only learn to read but learn to love reading. The scheme will be run from the local public libraries' Children's Corners (set up by Book Aid International) and will allow children not only to access reading books in their schools but to use and enjoy the services of the local library as well.
Children under 15 make up 40 per cent of Africa's population and are key to the future of the continent. And yet, for many of them, the future isn't nearly as bright as it should be due to a simple lack of books and resources.
Since the Millennium Development Goals were set, many countries in Africa have made great strides in their provision of primary school places. This however means that classrooms are more crowded, there are more pupils for every teacher and resources such as reading books are stretched more than ever.
In the countries where we work in Southern and Eastern Africa, almost none of the primary schools have a library and sharing one old, out-of-date book between ten children is common.
We believe that every child should have the opportunity to read - both for pleasure and study. Reading offers children the chance to progress in their education and ultimately, to shape their own futures. That's why we've launched our Inspiring Readers programme - to change the fortunes of thousands of children in Africa.
We launched this new programme at a great event in Stationers' Hall this week. We were especially lucky to hear a speech from Mary Kinyanjui, a librarian from a community library in Kibera, Nairobi - East Africa's largest slum. Her library is supported with books from Book Aid International and we have recently run an outreach project for schools in this area to provide book box libraries.
Mary spoke passionately about the difference that books make in the schools in Kibera. The children there rarely have books at home and many of the schools, which are informal schools (rather than government schools which usually receive some funding) have no budget to buy books for their children. As Mary puts it in this short film, "This project will help children from disadvantaged areas to improve their school performance and develop in a reading culture. They will be in a position to compete with other children and they will be able to move forward with confidence. I believe they will do well because of this project."
Many of us could tell stories of the books that have changed our lives - books that have inspired us, helped us to make decisions, to see things differently, or to learn new skills. When I was a child, I remember going to the local public library and enjoying the huge amount of choice this gave to me to explore reading and develop my own reading tastes. Having a good supply of books in my primary school meant not only that we could improve our reading skills outside of our lessons but also that we could appreciate the value of being able to read - discovering a whole world through reading. This is something that is sadly denied to many children in Africa - even those who learn to read in school often have no reading books with which to practice their new skills.
Without a decent supply of books, the issue is not only that children struggle to learn to read. They are also denied the opportunity to explore the world through books, to find the stories, information and knowledge that could change their lives. That's why it's so important that we provide reading books for these schools. That's why it's so important that we provide training so that teachers can bring books to life in the classrooms and encourage children to become not just children who can read, but inspired readers.
Visit www.bookaid.org/inspiringreaders to find out more about this programme and how you can support it.