Amid the putrid stench of chang’aa and busaa dens in the expansive Githurai 44 slum, the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) community library stands out like a beacon.
The alluring fragrance of flowers and the serenity they imbue is in sharp contrast with surrounding chaos.
Aligned with MYSA’s grand vision of empowering young people, particularly those from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the library currently has 2,240 active members.
Kevin Atuya, the volunteer librarian, says children from the deprived neighbourhood have immensely benefited from the books they get here.
“There is little disturbance here unlike in the households where most of the children come from,” Atuya says in regard to the dysfunctional homes that dot the neighbourhood.
The library draws children from Zimmerman, Ruiru and surrounding areas, as well as a host of college-going students from several city estates.
During the holidays, pupils who visit are engaged in a host of activities, such as poetry, music, drum beating and dancing.
“The children also participate in debates and drama to make their learning lively and interactive,” says Walter Mungai, a worker at the library.
However, there has been little support from local donors. Evans Odeny, a staff, says much of the philanthropy is associated with foreigners who besides funding the library’s construction, also donate books regularly. “If you look at most of the books, they were donated by Book Aid International courtesy of our brand,” he says.
MYSA activities have grown since it was founded by Canadian-born Bob Munro three decades ago. However, youths run most of the programmes that revolve around sports and education.
Odeny says MYSA’s mission is to produce a holistic individual with confidence and skills to face the world.
“The goal of the MYSA Community Library is to transform young people to become helpful in their communities,” he says.
The immediate challenge is to create awareness about what the centre offers.
“There are parents who are not aware that there is a library around. Also, some of those who know do not allow their children to access the facility, which is free,” says Mr Atuya.