Nov 7, 2014

Guest Blog: The Thrill of a New School Library

Guest Blogger Arcbord Mweetwa
Guest Blogger Arcbord Mweetwa

Arcbord Mweetwa works for Room to Read Zambia on our School Libraries program. He recently shared his experience with us about the excitment of not just the children--but the parents--when a new school library opened at a Primary School in Zambia's Southern Province.


Earlier this year, Mutumbi Primary School in Zambia celebrated the opening of its very own Room to Read library. Situated in a farming village 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of Mazabuka in Zambia's Southern Province, the school enrolls 375 children. On the library’s opening day, parents of the village were invited to come see the library and learn about the work of Room to Read. I jumped at the chance to visit the school and speak with parents about the importance of reading and the role they play in developing their children’s reading habits.

When I arrived, I found a number of parents already seated outside the school anxiously waiting for the presentation to begin. The head teacher, Mr. Malasha, introduced me as one of the most important guests of the day and made me the first speaker. Although I had a speech ready, I wasn’t prepared for such an honor!

After I introduced myself and the work of Room to Read, I asked all of the parents to stand up and follow me to the library. For most of them, this was the first time they had ever entered a library. As they looked at the colorful shelves filled with books, I could see smiles on their faces and their eyes light up in amazement as they flipped through the pages of some of the books.

We gathered back outside, and I asked them what they had seen in the library. “Chairs and tables! Shelves! Books and games!” they replied. I then told them that everything they had seen had been provided by Room to Read, but there was not enough furniture for all of the children in the school. “Do you think you can help Room to Read by providing the library with mats and stools for your children to sit on?” I asked. Now that the parents had seen how great the library was for themselves, they quickly shouted in reply, “We shall do so!”

My heart was glad to see the parents enthusiastic about contributing to the library for their children. As I came to my last point, I was confident I would drive it home. “Parents, you are your child’s first teacher! Imagine if you added the habit of reading to the list of good habits you already teach your children, table manners, respect for elders, and good hygiene. What would happen?” I asked them.

“Encourage your kids to borrow books from the library, and find time to read with them at home. If you instill the habit of reading in your children, you and your children will surely change the face of this world.”

Learn more about our work in Zambia.



Inside the library
Inside the library
Jun 30, 2014

Building Sustainable Libraries in Zambia

Ceremonial library opening in Chilanga
Ceremonial library opening in Chilanga

The below report is a recent story from the field in Zambia, highlighting the process of handing over Room to Read libraries to the local community with Room to Read libraries once the three year of Room to Read support has ended.

Sustainability. It’s a word that is now being used to talk about everything from food to clothes to businesses, and about everything in between. Sustainability has become a well-established buzzword, perhaps because there just are not very many good synonyms for the idea, or perhaps because it helps sell coffee, but mostly because it matters. At Room to Read, when we talk about sustainability in education, we’re talking about respecting the dignity and agency of all people, and empowering and equipping communities to take hold of their futures. Sustainability also matters in a world where there are far more things to do than time in which to do them. We need to know that what we’re doing is leading us to a better tomorrow, and that the investments we make can last. This was the precisely question in the air at a recent ceremony handing over 43 school libraries supported by Room to Read in Zambia to the local districts, Chilanga and Kafue.

Samantha M., who has been investing in these libraries and training teachers and librarians for the past three years there, attended the ceremonial passing of the torch to the Zambian Library Service. Even though Samantha knew that this transfer of responsibility was necessary for sustainability, and that it would enable them to start new projects in order to reach more communities in need, she couldn’t help but worry. Like a caring parent watching her child graduate, she says, “I sat listening attentively to the speeches with mixed feelings and worried about a number of things. Of course my first reaction was that I would miss working in these schools and with the Head teachers and the Teacher Librarians in whom I had invested a lot.” She also worried about the improvements she still wanted to make in some of the schools and wanted to know that the new caretaker would help support the libraries and communities. Her fears were put to rest as she listened to the Zambian Library Service representative outline their mandate. “Listening to his speech felt like he was reading our own strategy.” She recalls sharing a knowing glance with our Zambian country director as they both felt a wave of relief knowing these 43 school libraries would be in good hands. “Now we can safely direct our efforts to other districts knowing it is well with Chilanga and Kafue!”

At Room to Read we are very proud of the fact that we have been able to reach over 8,000,000 children, and have built more than 16,000 libraries. While we love building and establishing libraries and watching our progress numbers go up, we are much more anxious that these libraries continue to function at their highest capacity because a library that thrives helps children to thrive.

Therefore, after enough time had passed, we revisited a large sample of libraries years after they had completed our three year project support cycle to see if they were still functioning. We were eager to know whether or not our work was achieving sustainability. An amazing 97% of these libraries were still functioning, and many had made additional quality improvements. And thanks to improved library monitoring and evaluation and community engagement strategies, we expect this trend to go even further so that millions more children may have access to a quality library and a quality education for years to come. 

Room to Read is grateful to GlobalGiving donors who support our work in Zambia and make it possible to establish libraries that are effective and sustainable, and will impact students for years to come. Thank you!

Zambia Country Director delivers certificates
Zambia Country Director delivers certificates


Mar 31, 2014

Story from the Field: Library Success in Zambia

Abigail, an 8th grader in Zambia, always dreamed of becoming a nurse, but that career path always seemed out of reach. That all changed when Room to Read established a library at her school, because she was now able to access books that could help her advance her education.

Abigail’s enthusiasm for the new library caught the attention of her teachers and classmates, and they chose her as a pupil librarian, responsible for re-shelving books as well as the general cleanliness of the library. For Abigail, this just meant having more time in the library and more opportunities to read!

Although at times she still struggles to read books in the local language, since the establishment of the library, Abigail’s English-language fluency has greatly improved, allowing her to participate more in class.

“I am confident I can continue building on my dream career from the valuable information I obtain from the science books in the library,” Abagail says. “I’m able to participate actively in most of the lessons and wish to improve my arithmetic and local language skills as well. With the library books I am now getting the help that I needed.”

Abigail now shares the stories she reads from the library with her two younger cousins, Thomas and James. Through storytelling and simple arts and writing activities, Abigail has turned her home into a mini classroom. Thomas and James are now equally avid readers and have even started borrowing library books for themselves. For Thomas, a 2nd grade student, his goal is to read as many storybooks as he can so he can narrate some of them to his parents. One day he even hopes to be able to read aloud to everyone at a school assembly. Third grader James aspires to improve his English vocabulary in order to be the top student in class.

Every week, Abigail and her two cousins read at least one storybook to each other at home, sharing their dreams and encouraging each other to reach their goals. “I feel like I am on top of the world because the library is the key to my future dream,” Abigail says.

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