Digital Projection of Openly Licensed African Storybooks a Hit in Community Libraries

Often as many as 100 children at a time stream into Kibera community library in Nairobi, Kenya to be exposed to African Storybooks read aloud from being projected onto a wall. Saide’s African Storybook Initiative donated a laptop and a digital projector to the library and Dorcas Wephukulu, our Kenyan Country Co-ordinator, has been supporting them on how to use the website.

According to the chief librarian, 14,000 children were reached through the digitally projected story reading sessions at Kibera in just three months in 2016. Teachers from the surrounding 70 schools in the densely populated slum area of Nairobi brought their children for the library period each week. Children also came voluntarily to the library over weekends and in holidays. Children were exposed to 41 storybooks in Kiswahili and English from www.africanstorybook in this way.

This would have been impossible had there been a reliance only on print copies of these books. A large number of books would have to be purchased to reach around 14 000 children in three months. Thus the investment of a laptop and digital projector (USD 919), as well as a small stipend for a volunteer to run the reading sessions for a year (USD 622) amounted to an investment of USD 1540.

The children love the storybooks because of their African content, and they asked for 20 of the titles to be repeated up to eight times.  The five top favourites are all in Kiswahili, and all of them resonate with the experience of Kenyan children.

  • Adie na Adhoch by Christine Nyangate (repeated 8 times)  - about the difficulties when there is more than one wife in the family.
  • Barua kwa mama by Ursula Nafula (6 times) –  a mother is going to hospital to give birth and her daughter writes her a letter. 
  • Barua by Mutugi Kamundi (6 times) - a little girl is ill and has to be away from school; letters are an important way of communicating while she is away.            
  • Akai amefurahi by Translators without Borders and Pete Mhunzi (5 times)  - Akai is extremely happy when she gets shoes for the first time.
  • Basi kubwa la bluu by Ursula Nafula  (4 times) – Ebei and his mother wait for a bus to take them to town to buy Ebei’s school uniform, and are nearly disappointed. 

These five stories are part of the collection of over 200 Kiswahili storybooks on the African Storybook website. It was possible to get to this number in a couple of years by:

  • Removing unnecessary barriers to translation: the vast majority of storybooks in the collection are CC-BY licensed; the rest are CC-BY-NC so that they can be translated without having to pay royalties. The translations can also be easily uploaded onto the site and hence be available to anyone who has acess to the Internet. (We also have a phone App so smartphones can be used.)
  • Making it possible for people to create their own storybooks: the top favourite at Kibera in 2016, Adie and Adoch was a community developed storybook illustrated with images from the African Storybook image bank.

Building on this success, the African Storybook will be supporting three more community libraries in the Nairobi area in a similar way in 2017. Similarly, we will build on positive experiences in community libraries in the west of Pretoria in South Africa. Beyond 2017, we hope to expand our involvement in a community library in Eastern Uganda to nine more community libraries serving different language communities across eastern, central and northern Uganda.