Scientist opens first public library in Mabafweni, Kwale

The public library which opened its doors in October 2015. [PHOTOS: BRIGID CHEMWENO/STANDARD

KENYA: That Mabafweni Community and many primary schools in Kwale County had no libraries gave Esther Ngumbi sleepless nights.

Ngumbi, who hails from Mabafweni, believed that building a library would expose students and the entire community to the world of books and meet their information needs.

The researcher at the Entomology and Plant Pathology Department of Auburn University in the US realised her dream in mid-October 2015 when she opened the doors to the first library at her Mabafweni community.

“The library has books and inspirational banners that serve as a source of inspiration for anyone who sets foot in it. It acts as an essential space where students and community members gather to explore, interact, imagine and quench their thirsty for knowledge.

For the younger students, they can study, connect with their peers and find inspirational books to inspire them to dream big,” Ngumbi said when we met her for an interview.

This is, however, not Ngumbi’s first step toward enlightening her people. In 2011, she together with her parents, Harrison and Bertha Ngumbi (both retired teachers), started a primary school - Faulu Academy. She says she was driven to do this due to her firm belief that education is the gateway to ending poverty in the community.

Ngumbi notes that education is more than just establishing a school hence the reason why she set up the library four years later.

“The idea to have a library has been in my mind for a long time. More than just books and computers, I believe that a library is an essential component of a sustainable community. Through books, I want young Kenyans to be inspired and reach for the stars. It was my dream to have a public library,” he says.

The library located at Faulu Academy is open to both students and members of the community.

At the school, students begin every morning by spending an hour in the library. Retired teachers and elders from the community also have a book reading club and they too congregate at the library.

Ngumbi credits realisation of this dream to a partnership with other like minded individuals.

“In 2011, at a Clinton Global University Initiative meeting in US, I met a photographer named Edwin Santiago. I told him the projects I had in Kenya and my dream to build a library. He also shared with me what he was doing in the Philippines where he had built learning centres which provide books, computers and teaching aids to underprivileged families living in rural villages."

"In August 2014, he called and informed me that he had found a donor who was willing and would support in building the library. The journey to build the library started in November 2014,” she says.

Knowing the endless possibilities that can result from reading books and other inspirational materials, Ngumbi was determined and she carried books from the US to Kenya in order to share them with young Kenyan students.

“I was determined to bring books, and magazines containing inspiring stories of young people who are making headway in their careers. I was set for anything that would raise the curiosity of young Kenyan minds and inspire them to rise up and discover their talents,” she says.

Besides promoting the culture of reading, she observes that libraries help build stronger and unified communities while supporting local culture.

One of the challenges she pointed out was getting the library fully equipped with both primary and high school text books and to make them available for student users.

However, she says they are hoping to digitise their book collection to make sure that the library users are exposed to a vibrant reading culture and technology.