Thursday, March 1, 2007

Kenya's Mobile Library: The Camel Bookmobile

Life in Kenya, along the unstable border with Somalia, is grueling. People there scrape out a living, moving from place to place in a semi-nomadic existence. Food, shelter and protection from violence are full-time worries. Providing children with books is a luxury the people there simply cannot afford.

Books, as we know, expand the mind. They provide light, hope, and an escape from the rigors of daily life. They also give children a reason to dream, opening them to new ideas while also helping them pass long, wearisome hours.

Here in the United States we are fortunately blessed with libraries, ensuring that even the poorest have access to books. In Kenya life isn't quite that simple.

A group of authors, lead by Masha Hamilton, have started an organization called Authors for African Literacy. Hamilton, along with nine other authors so far, are sending books to these children in Kenya. They're asking others to do the same, donating boxes of books to these impoverished, nutritionally and educationally malnourished children.

Masha Hamilton is the author of the novel The Camel Bookmobile, which will be published this year by HarperCollins. Her book is fiction, but the story behind it is real.
From Publishers Weekly:

"Hamilton's captivating third novel (after 2004's The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naive quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika's grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani's wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed "education" versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world. (Apr.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

If you'd like to make a donation to Kenya's Mobile Library, see The Camel Bookmobile website for more details. A group of people could donate a box of books, to help minimize shipping costs. You may also donate money directly to the drive to help pay shipping, by following the link on their webpage. offers the opportunity to purchase books for the project, as well, via their website. You'll just need to pay a little extra to cover the international shipping.

Seeing children's faces light up at the sight of a book is priceless, especially when you know these are children for whom books are a huge luxury. Sending a book to an impoverished child gives the satisfaction of knowing we've turned on one little light, halfway around the globe. That's one little light with the potential to grow and light the whole world.

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