South African novelist Zukiswa Wanner posted an inspiring story on Facebook, titled “Making Lemonade Out of Covid19,” that we just had to share. When lockdown happened last year and wrecked plans to launch Water Birds on the Lakeshore: An Anthology of African Young Adult Fiction in Nairobi, Wanner partnered with community organizers to build a library offering books in Kiswahili and English to children and young adults in Nairobi’s Korogocho community.

The room selected for the library had broken desks, no ceiling, and was badly in need of paint. But the space has since been transformed to a bright, cozy room with delightful books thanks to the involvement of the Goethe-Institute Nairobi, Black Women in Development (Nairobi Chapter), the Principal of Ngunyumu Primary School George Ochieng, and the Slum Child Foundation. Wanner pulled all these efforts together to ensure that all the repairs were completed.

The literary community helped out with sourcing for books for the library. Lindelwa Mtongana helped out with her book courier service. Africa-based publishers such as Narrative Landscape in Nigeria, Tharientsho in Botswana, E&D Publishing in Tanzania, and Paivapo in Kenya donated books, in addition to UK based publisher Kunda Kids. At the time of opening, there were 65 books in the library’s collection, with about 60 more scheduled to arrive.

Scrolls down to see some of the before and after photos and read Wanner’s Facebook post.

Making Lemonade Out of Covid19: Last year, Goethe-Institut Nairobi indicated that they wanted a Kenyan launch of Water Birds on the Lakeshore. Never one to do traditional book launches, I suggested that we do it by working with an organisation dealing with YAs. Enter Slum Child Foundation. I adapted the stories by Fatma Shafii and Wafula Lukorito in the anthology to speak to each other and it became one play. Our YAs practiced and were stellar performers. That’s how we were going to launch Water Birds in Nairobi. With this performance and a book donation to Slum Child Foundation and Ngunyumu Primary that hosts SCF during the weekends and the holidays.  Then a week before our launch, the country shutdown and we could no longer gather because [COVID 19]. So George from SCF, the new Principal of Ngunyumu Primary, the very visionary Mr Kimani and I regrouped three weeks ago. And decided that perhaps we should think bigger. A more sustainable library with books from across the continent in Kiswahili and English for children who work with SCF and students at Ngunyumu Primary. The library has been painted. The roof has been replaced. The bookshelves are there. DHL (and book mule Lindelwa Mtongana) delivered the books. We kicked off with 65 books but should have about 120 by the end of next week as some are still coming in. My sisters in Black Women in Development (Nairobi Chapter -Lindelwa is one of the members) gave support for the bookshelves and roof and publishers and writers across the continent came on board with book discounts or straight up free books so this has been a team effort. This is the first library of what I hope will be five in five different countries on the continent in low-income areas. In the next few weeks, in addition to adding books,there shallbe some training for the librarian and a program to monitor progress of literacy among the youngsters. Asanteni. Enkosi. Zikomo. Oshe. Ndatenda to all involved. You made it possible. We are officially open. And friends across the continent, if you should want to also get a library in your community, I’m happy to assist with link-up of publishers, writers and some ideas. Let’s ensure every child discovers the pleasure of stories while also seeing themselves in stories.