Uganda Starts To Build A Reading Culture With Its First Mobile Library

Uganda Starts To Build A Reading Culture With Its First Mobile Library

By Amy Fallon | From The Christian Science Monitor

Clutching a pink plastic folder holding copies of books like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Busy Bear, John Katalaga climbs onto his motorbike taxi, ready for another mission.

His destination is 30 minutes away, where an excited seven-year-old waits for her weekly delivery of three books.

Mr. Katalaga drives a motorbike taxi, or boda boda as they’re called here, to deliver books in and out of Kampala as part of the Malaika Mobile Library – the first of its kind in Uganda.

“I like doing this job,” he says, bracing himself for the afternoon gridlock. “I like that children are reading books now.”

Children are the primary borrowers of this mobile library, which was always the aim, says Rosey Sembataya, who founded the venture in late 2014. As an English teacher and owner of a publishing house, she has seen firsthand how hard it is for children in Uganda to gain access to reading material, and how that handicap has trickled down into the classroom “where the effects of not reading are [so] glaring it hurts,” she says.

The numbers agree: Only 18 percent of Ugandan third graders could read a second-grade-level English story, according to a 2013 report by Uwezo, an initiative that works to improve literacy among East Africa’s youth. The numbers, Uwezo says, puts Uganda far below the 34 percent East African average.

“Overall, of the three East African countries, Uganda’s children were the least competent,” says Uwezo’s Mary Goretti Nakabugo.

Ms. Sembataya sees her mobile library, which send books as far as northern Uganda, as a small solution to a lack of access to children’s reading material, and a way to build a reading culture – “a generation of book guzzlers,” she says.

Indeed, the state of Uganda’s reading culture has been up for debate since a prominent Ugandan writer called the country a “literary desert” in 1969 after comparing it to other African countries. And though many Uganda writers have argued against this diagnosis, others say that the lack of government supports towards libraries and the arts in general is a symptom of a larger national disinterest.

Read more at The Christian Science Monitor