The poorest places in the world, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Latin America and Asia are so very familiar with famines. They periodically lack enough food, water and critical medicines or access to doctors. But there is one shortage that has stretched on now for decades. That is the lack of books.
Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, in places like Uganda, Malawi and Kenya, where we are today in the process of building libraries, there are just no books. An average school may have one textbook for every eight to twelve students, and absolutely no non-textbook books. As a consequence of this book famine, teachers are often reduced to teaching a subject using the notes they took when they took the same class a decade or so ago. They copy their notes over on to a dated chalk board and then the tests are over whether the student can reproduce by rote memory the same information verbatim.
This is not the kind of education that these people desperately need to catch up with the modern world. Illiteracy promotes a lack of skills that in turn condemns people to a life of menial and often very unproductive labor. Illiteracy promotes ignorance of critical sanitation and health issues which contribute to high mortality rates. Finally, illiteracy contributes to an inability to stand up for your rights, with consequent abdication of those rights to authoritarian leadership.
Finally, the lack of books, other than textbooks, reinforces the notion that the only reason to read is to pass a test and when the test-taking in school is over—so should your reading. When this wrong impression is combined with the absence of any real access to reading materials, you destroy any reading culture. Unfortunately, reading is “a use it or lose it” skill. And so, parents lose the ability to read and that absence of reading in a household is passed on generation to generation.
What Can be Done
Books for Development is dedicating itself to bringing community and school libraries to people in economically deprived areas, including East Africa. This should be done because it is a capacity building way to help some extremely poor people. This involves Good Steward itself shipping books and working with others to encourage them to gather and sort books for the same purpose.
Books for Development engages in building libraries in the sense of the collection of books as opposed to the physical building of structures to house the books. Based on our experience so far, we know that it is possible, even for a small organization like Books for Development, to help many thousands and eventually millions of people, including children, in developing countries.