Child Sara with Wings

In Mathare, a notoriously poor neighborhood in Nairobi, few families have books. Even schools lack suitable reading material. Across Kenya, only 2 percent of public schools have libraries.

Viola is now a Grade 9 student at Joy Primary School in Mathare. Before, she and her friends had very few chances to practice reading. The whole school had just a box of a few textbooks.

When Viola first arrived several years ago, she was far behind her peers, with no way to catch up. “I was not good at reading,” she admits.

That changed when Joy School gained a library, thanks to a Kenyan nonprofit that raised funds for libraries with its Start-A-Library campaign, supported by the Aga Khan Foundation and the Yetu Initiative. The new library at Joy brought in 1,000 storybooks, and Viola started devouring them.

Viola in Yetu School Library

“I come [to the library] at least once a week. The library has helped me improve my reading, language skills, and writing composition.”

“I come [to the library] at least once a week,” Viola says. At home, she made time to read every night. “The library has helped me improve my reading, language skills, and writing composition.”

The Start-A-Library campaign made headlines when it first launched, a shining example of online philanthropy. The nonprofit arm of a Kenyan publisher founded by author Muthoni Garland, has a mission to put a book in the hand of every Kenyan child. Yetu helped grow their campaign strategy.

At Joy School, students performed better, and teachers saw improvements in the learning atmosphere. The school library won the National Library of the Year Award in 2016.

Yetu School Library

The Joy library also boosted students’ confidence to practice conversing in English outside of class. Seeing this newfound confidence in their students’ English skills, teachers started a debate club to boost their growth even more. Soon Joy School students were competing with other clubs across Nairobi, and winning.

The library, Viola says, “helped me to have the confidence to speak frequently in front of many people.”

These results are a dream come true. Garland says they have soared past their campaign target of launching 100 school libraries across Kenya. Viola shows how that investment gives wings to Kenya’s future.