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Book Aid International: Access to books for 76,000 people in Zanzibar

In 2021, the APIF gave funding to Book Aid International as part of its commitment to support literacy, book access, indigenous publishing and library restoration in Africa. The charity received a grant of $38,000 to open a Community Container Library in the Zanzibarian town of Dunga, creating public access to books in the community for the first time.

Library inauguration

Dunga is a town of 76,000 on the island of Unguja, in Zanzibar. Before the Community Container Library opened, Dunga’s nearest library was 10 miles away. Many young people, particularly women and girls, couldn't make the long trip to the library because of concerns about their safety, and most families there can't afford books. School libraries are also rare in Dunga, where schools are underresourced, leaving many of Dunga's residents without access to books. 

Library under construction

The Community Container Library was built from three shipping containers which were transformed into a building and stocked with more than 5,000 new books, donated from the UK. To ensure availability of material for all readers, the books covered a range of genres, from adult fiction, to vocational texts and curriculum support to picture books.

Book Aid International also provided a GB £3,500 grant (c. US $4,600) to enable the Zanzibar Library Service to purchase 350 locally published books, including in the local language, Kiswahili. In addition, local librarians received training on how to run the library and promote reading, especially to schools, and a grant for a launch event to introduce the community to their new library.

The impact on readers

The library opened in September 2021, to the visible excitement of its future users.

Naomi, a form two pupil at Machui Secondary School said: 'I’m so happy that today I’ve seen and entered a library for the very first time. I used to hear about libraries but I had never entered one. I’m so excited, it is so wonderful. We will take care of the books.'

The wide range of books on offer is helping all sectors of the community, ensuring that everyone can find the information they need on their doorstep.

Librarian supporting readersSaid Musa, Head of Administration Department in the Kati District told us: 'We can now access books easily within the Dunga area. We used to spend a lot of time and transport money to go to Ungunja library, so this library is a great relief. We can simply walk or cycle to the library. The library has a variety of books to cater for all age groups. Everyone in the community can find a book to read.'

The training provided by Book Aid International included a full day on how librarians can create better access to books for women and girls, and work to ensure that gender is no barrier to reading.

Library interiorZanzibar Library Service director Sichana Foum said: 'Before the gender workshop, many librarians thought the library was only for reading. They now recognise that the library can have a big impact on the life of girls and women and the community, economically and socially. I expect big changes in the way staff offer services.' 

The Community Container Library is already embedded in the community and has created fresh excitement about reading, with students, families and local leaders exploring all it has to offer. Book Aid International joins the community of Dunga and the Zanzibar Library Service in thanking APIF for their support.