Who we are
Rongo University is helping to provide opportunities for women and youth in the two adjacent counties of Homabay and Migori located in southwest Kenya.
Rongo University (RU) is a public university located in Migori County with a mission to provide high quality education through teaching, research, and community service. The university is keen to support local communities through educational empowerment of students and youth, peace building, nurturing a spirit of volunteerism among its graduates, and promoting economic activities in rural areas as a means of improving livelihoods. RU has approximately 6,000 students and 100 staff. RU is also one of the few schools in Kenya with a sizable library sciences program.
What daily life is like here
Homabay County, where PH works, and Migori County, where RU is located, are adjacent counties located in the far southwest of Kenya in the Lake Victoria and Tanzania border region. The geography is dominated by low rolling hills down by Lake Victoria which become more densely forested as you make your way further into Kenya. Primary economic activities in the area are farming, fishing, and light manufacturing of wood and metal products. As in many other parts of Africa, people have to work hard to make a living. While electricity is relatively widespread, it is subject to frequent outages. Water is collected from the lake or is captured from the rains and stored in large barrels. Many women have roadside stands where they sell vegetables and other dry goods. Nearly all the children are required to complete daily chores such as fetching water, collecting firewood, or tending to the animals and fields.
There are over 500 schools in the two counties. Many of them are small and are built on concrete slabs. Particularly at the lower grade levels schools are outfitted with only desks and a blackboard. Very few schools are stocked with textbooks and even fewer have libraries or any books to read aside from textbooks. Officially the Kenyan government has a policy of providing free primary education, but to sustain themselves many schools have imposed fees for such things as uniforms, textbooks, exams, and other activities. Since most families have more than one child, as the children progress through school, these fees become increasingly burdensome and so many children are forced to drop out of school. This problem is particularly acute for girls.
Why we work with the African Library Project
A majority of schools in southwest Kenya, particularly at the lower grades, do not have a sufficient number of textbooks and only a few have libraries. The Kenyan education system also places heavy emphasis on preparing students to pass national exams (in English). Additionally, southwest Kenya has a poverty rate that is higher than the national average, suffers from persistently high school dropout rates (especially among girls), and has a high prevalence rate of HIV. Children, youth, and women are the most impacted by these problems.
By working with the African Library Project we can begin to address some of these problems. Through the establishment of community and school libraries we hope that students will take an interest in reading and be more motivated to stay in school. Our goal is also to provide women with learning opportunities that will help them to become business owners with the potential for greater financial freedom.
How we work with the African Library Project
RU holds meetings in multiple communities explaining what the African Library Project is about and encouraging teachers, parents and community leaders to form library committees. We submit applications to the African Library Project to be matched with US and Canadian book drive organizers. In May, we held a training for the new teacher-librarians in simple library management techniques. The books for our first 32 libraries arrived in April 2017 and were distributed in May.
What we have accomplished with ALP
We've established our first 94 libraries! Before the books arrived RU and former partner Project Humanity worked together to train teachers how to run their libraries and implement programs to promote reading. We’re looking at ways to measure impact. PH fundraised to cover the costs associated with transporting the books overland from the port of Mombasa to Rongo. In May of 2017, we had our first group of volunteers help us distribute the books from ALP and begin to recruit applicants for our next container of books.
Our hopes and wishes
Collectively we’re seeking to make a sustainable impact in a region of Kenya that has a lot of challenges but also has significant potential. Our hope is that the libraries will inspire a young generation of Kenyans to take a greater interest in reading and learning such that they will aspire to remain in school. This is especially true for girls. Our other hope is that through the establishment of community libraries, we can provide an opportunity for men and women who may not have completed school to find a source of life-long learning and a place to acquire the skills needed to achieve greater financial freedom for themselves and their families.
How you can help
Books are at the center of everything we’re doing so please help organize or support a book drive and the African Library Project. In 2019, we aim to start 130 more libraries, but we need the book drives to do it.
Our sincere thanks to the people making it happen
Talk to anyone in a leadership position in Africa and they will tell you that a book had an impact on their life. Whether that book was their own or one they had to share, that book proved to be transformative. We thank the authors, publishers, and re-sellers who serve as the source for all the books available. We’re thankful for the African Library Project and those who organize book drives, and those who donate their time and labor to sort, pack, and get the books onto a ship. We’re thankful for the men and women at sea who protect and ensure cargo gets where it needs to go. And we’re thankful to the parents, teachers, and community leaders in Kenya who find value in reading and who want to ensure the best possible future for the youth of Kenya. But most of all, we’re thankful to you for your interest and support in this project.
To learn more about the African Library Project
Number of ALP Libraries in Kenya: 94 (July 2018)