KITENGESA COMMUNITY LIBRARY
It is nearly fifteen years since Emmanuel Mawanda and I decided to set up a community library near the trading center of
Kitengesa in Masaka District, Uganda. The library consisted at first of a box containing about 150 books, but in 2002 it grew into a
building and in 2004 sprouted solar panels and lights. By 2009 we had a bigger, three-roomed building, which we opened formally in
2012, complete with a computer center and a community hall –
and a collection of about 4000 books.
The physical growth of the library has been remark-
able, but more important is the expanding range of services that
we offer. To begin with we just lent books to the students at the
secondary school that Mawanda founded, but with a building
we could offer a space where they could read and textbooks and
reference books for them and their teachers to study. In 2004
we began an adult literacy class, which has since evolved into a
family literacy project, and we initiated a library scholarship
scheme, paying students’ school fees in return for their help in
the library. With the library scholars’ help, we began working in
2005 to attract primary school children; and now that we have the hall we can entertain whole classes of sixty children at a time. Since
2011 we have run a health reading camp every year, and from that we have developed an ac-
tive youth leadership group. In 2012 we reached out to the neighboring school for the deaf; its
students come regularly now to the library, we have a deaf library scholar, and through the
library’s Sign Language Club many hearing library users have learned how to talk to the deaf
ones. We’ve had a newspaper club, a writers’ club, workshops for teachers, computer classes –
once there is a library, the possibilities for promoting literacy are endless.
That fateful first box of books,
and the start of the first construction.
The assistant librarian talking to
one of the deaf students.
Please make your check out to FAVL (Friends of African Village Libraries) and mail to:
FAVL, P.O. Box 90533, San Jose, CA 95109-3533.
To tell us how you’d like us to use your donation, write “Kitengesa Community Library”: and/or “UgCLA” on the memo line of the check.
But it’s not only about literacy. One of the most exciting things about the
Kitengesa Community Library is the number of social and economic activities that
have spun off from it. As soon as we got solar electricity we began charging people’s
cell phones. At the same time a visitor to the library initiated a tree planting project,
employing boys from Mawanda’s school; that project still raises its seedlings in the
library compound, supervised by the first of our library scholars. Another visitor
helped the women who attended the literacy class to form themselves into a microfi-
nance group, and each member began a small project – some chickens for one, a cow
for another, one or two goats or pigs for another.
The women then acquired a tent and chairs, which they rent out, and some
of them have learned how to make beads and other craft goods that they sell. In Janu-
ary we invited all the “library ladies” to tea, and now they want to learn how to make
cakes for sale – so I’ll be giving them lessons when I get back in June. Another couple
of visitors, after research done at the library demonstrated the need, worked at
Kitengesa to develop a sanitary towel that could be washed and re-used and sold in
discreet and affordable packets – AfriPads (see http://afripads.com). They are now
selling thousands of packets, manufacturing them in our old library building and
employing sixty local people. Fi-
nally, Dan Ahimbisibwe, our li-
brarian since 2002, now has a Mas-
ter’s degree in Development Stud-
ies and is managing a development
project in a nearby village. He can do so while still running the library because two of
our former library scholars are working as his assistant librarians. The library is sup-
porting their further education, and so we continue to build more capacity for the
library and the community.
There’s still another chapter to the story. By 2006 I had learned there were
other community libraries in Uganda, and with a number of friends began looking for
a way to bring them together in a network. The Uganda Community Libraries Association (UgCLA – www.ugcla.org) was founded in
2007 and has grown dramatically. At present it has 41 paid-up members distributed all over the country. The Kitengesa Community
Library is one of its leaders, and so the ideas we develop and the knowledge we accumulate can be spread through conferences and
workshops to libraries across Uganda.
That initial box of books cost me about $100, and it’s hard to imagine a more productive
investment. But I have been far from the only investor: the growth I’ve described has been made
possible by the generous donations of friends in the United States and elsewhere. We’ve worked
hard to ensure that every $100 – or $500, or $50 – that is donated bears fruit, in children reading,
women raising their incomes, and students learning how to contribute to their communities.
Friends of African Village libraries helps us to raise and manage these funds (see www.favl.org, and
search for “Uganda” in the blog). We are grateful to FAVL and still more to all of you for your gen-
erosity. Thank you.
The tree seedlings.
Making crafts, raising cows, renting chairs.
The library ladies take tea together.
Afripads girls busily at work.
And it all began with a few books....